Embracing te Taiao – On the Farm: 7 Farms, 190+ Students, and a Whole Lot of Fun

Collaboration & Partnership

Community Catchment Plan

Community Wellbeing


Healthy Ecosystems

Rural Development

Te Taiao

Earlier this year we had the privilege of welcoming the Year 8s from Te Kura o Tititea / Mount Aspiring College onto farms throughout the Upper Clutha, as part of our programme: Embracing te Taiao – On the farm.

Our ‘Embracing te Taiao – On the Farm’ education programme connects tamariki and rangatahi to rural initiatives happening in our communities. It’s a unique opportunity that explores the environmental issues and solutions local farmers are tackling firsthand. 

Tasting organic grapes at Rippon Vineyard, visiting Te Kākano’s nursery and having a go at stream health monitoring at the Waterfall Creek

school kids in between the vines at rippon, lake wanaka

Field trip one kicked off with a visit to Rippon Vineyard, where we were greeted by our knowledgable guide Shannon. She led us through the vineyard, showing us how their organic grapes are grown and introducing us to different varieties of grapes at various stages. Everyone got a chance to pick and taste a few grapes to compare.

“I learned you need about 1000 grapes for one wine bottle. Fascinating to know that it uses so many grapes!” – MAC Year 8 Student

We also learned about the vineyard’s composting practices, with an emphasis on the cyclical, full-circle nature of sustainable farming.

After our vineyard tour we headed down to Waterfall Creek where WAI educator’s Eva and Jose led students through a stream health activity. Together we examined macroinvertebrates in the creek and went through a list of visual indicators, helping to paint the picture of what a healthy aquatic ecosystem looks like.

We finished the afternoon off with another short walk up to Te Kākano’s plant nursery. Kris and Jo from Te Kākano introduced the students to different native plants of our region and how they are grown in the nursery. The day wrapped up in a QEII block next to the nursery with our team, where we had a trap demonstration and conversation around predator control.

WAI wanaka teaches mac students about water health and the importance of looking after our environment

Growing kai with no irrigation at Dr.Compost’s property and wool production at Mt Grand Station

Our second day of fieldtrips took us to Ben Elm’s (aka Dr. Compost) orchard followed by Mt Grand Station, providing a mix of horticulture and farming insights.

embracing te taiao at an orchard; mount aspiring college students listen to farmers

Ben guided us through his orchard, explaining small-scale fruit and nut growing without the use of irrigation. He discussed the challenges of growing food in a dry area, as well as how much mahi – planning, pruning, strategic placement of plants – goes into his endeavours. The students enjoyed picking their own plums and taking some home to share with their whānau (kā mihi Ben!). We finished this leg of the trip off with a visit to a native restoration site on Ben’s property, where we dived into dryland restoration methods and completed a native plant hunt.

“I learned from Dr.Compost that you have to pick the fruit off trees for them to grow more and also that charcoal helps plants grow and helps the environment because more plants equals more oxygen.” – MAC Year 8 Student

Back on the bus we go to Mt Grand Station, where Rick and Erin hosted us in the woolshed to talk about wool production, quality, and modern wool economics. Mt Grand is held in trust with Lincoln University, where profits help fund a postgraduate scholarship.

After getting our hands in some high quality wool, we took in views of the sheep in the yards and learned about animal health and welfare management.

in a woolshed at mt grand station: students in mac uniform sit down for a talk about wool production

Eco-tourism and soil health at Lake Hāwea Station

Our third field trip took us to Lake Hāwea Station, a farm known for their harmonious blend of agriculture and tourism.

embracing te taiao: educating mount aspiring college students at lake hawea station

We spent the morning with Richie, learning the ins and outs of eco-tourism and the educational aspects for guests. The students explored the topic of biodiversity on-farm and, as if the timing couldn’t have been more perfect, a beautiful kārearea (NZ falcon) flew over our head’s as we chatted about bird life.

We got our hands in the dirt by performing visual soil assessments in small groups, comparing a regenerative paddock to a traditional mixed-species pasture by digging up and examining samples from each area. We finished our day together with a trip into the woolshed, where Richie gave a talk on wool production.

Strawberry picking and sustainable farming at Red Bridge Berries and Forest Lodge Orchard

Our fourth field trip was filled with hands-on learning at both Red Bridge Berries with Ben Trotter and Forest Lodge Orchard with Mike Casey and Euan White.

Ben Trotter of Red Bridge Berries and Black Peak Farm led us through the strawberry plantation where students picked buckets of strawberries – the more the merrier, what a treat! We got an intro to crop planning, planting, and the benefits of land diversification and irrigation. A great discussion ensued around the economic benefits of sustainable practises, such as using compostable punets and reducing plastic use by moving away from bales and back to silage.

fresh strawberries picked at red bridge strawberry in wanaka
forest orchard lodge, mac student learning about cherry growing

Our next trip of the day took us all the way out towards Cromwell to Forest Orchard Lodge, where Mike and Euan introduced us to electric cherry growing. They showed us how electrifying conventional orchard machinery has made them the world’s first 100% fossil fuel-free orchard – how cool is that!

In the equipment shed, students learned about solar energy, the grid, and how much money, as well as carbon emissions, can be saved by switching to renewable energy for farming. A brave MAC teacher even got to take the electric tractor for a spin.

“I learned that there is only one electric tractor in New Zealand and it is at the Forest Lodge Orchard.” – MAC Year 8 Student

Electric fishing and stream health at Alpha Burn Station with Chris Arbuckle

Our final field trip of the programme took us to Alpha Burn Station, where we dived into the ins and outs of agricultural operations and on-farm conservation efforts.

The day began with landowner Allanah McRae chatting to us about Alpha Burn’s operations, from numbers of sheep, cattle and deer to the current price of wool, to their conservation efforts.

We were lucky enough to have local freshwater scientist Chris Arbuckle of the Wānaka Catchment Group join us for the second half of our trip, together we focused on catchment management and freshwater conservation. Chris led students through activities such as macroinvertebrate identification and electric fishing – a method scientists use to temporarily stun fish and safely capture them. This helps to capture data related to population density. We were all excited to see some freshwater creatures up close, from tiny macroinvertebrate ‘bugs’ to juvenile native fish such as common bullies.

alpha burn stattion with wai wanaka and mount aspiring college students
“I learned every animal has a very important role in the ecosystem no matter how small it is.” – MAC Year 8 Student