WHEN SCHOOL students started questioning Troy Peterken’s description of how milk is made, he knew it was time to do something about it.
“We’ve had some kids say ‘no, mum gets our milk from the supermarket’,” Mr Peterken, who runs Inglenook Dairy near Ballarat with his wife Rachael, recalls.
Some city-based students might dispute his story of grass, cows, farms and milk when they hear it in the classroom, but this lack of knowledge about dairy farming has prompted Inglenook Dairy to introduce its own education program.
Inglenook Dairy has started hosting school tours, giving students first-hand experience of how farmers and their cows turn grass into milk and then process it for drinking.
With a new dairy museum and a niche milking facility to complement an existing processing plant, students can see the whole food chain from the cow to the cup.
“We already go out to schools to educate them about the dairy industry and processing. There’s huge demand for that but they wanted to come here and see how it’s done,” Mr Peterken said.
“There aren’t as many farms as there used to be so there aren’t as many kids coming from a farming background or able to access farms. We want kids to understand where their food comes from and why it’s good to support small processors and local communities.
“Kids are getting a bit detached from farm life but they love this sort of stuff when they get the chance.”
Already one Melbourne private school has booked four visits per year and others are adding the farm trip to their curriculum.
The education program is mainly aimed at primary-age children, although Mr Peterken said the more scientific side to processing also appealed to secondary school students.
Inglenook Dairy has been processing for five years. The idea to build the processing plant at Dunnstown, just out of Ballarat, arose out of concerns about low milk prices.
Troy is from a trade background, but Rachael and her parents, Basil and Sheila Britt, had a dairy farm with a century of local history.
“We were sitting around the table one night saying the milk price wasn’t good enough,” Mr Peterken said.
“I piped up and said let’s build a milk processing factory and get a better price for local farmers.”
He admits the workload was incredible. “When we started we didn’t know anything about pasteurisation or marketing; we were just hard workers. We took two years to build the factory.”
Despite the tough process, they remained confident they had a good product to sell.
“Everyone commented on the quality of Rachael’s parents’ milk; they could tell the difference between farm milk and supermarket milk,” Mr Peterken said.
“We had a massive belief that if the pasteurisation process didn’t alter the taste we’d have a product unlike anything else on the market.”
While they were building the factory — mostly completed by the extended family — the $1 a litre milk price war sent a scare through the camp.
“We were worried that might hit us but we believed in the product and that it’s what people want,” Mr Peterken said.
Their equipment goes back to the early days of pasteurisation and the process is kept simple, trying to tamper as little as possible with the natural taste and colour.
They are now processing 22, 000 to 25,000 litres a week, but at full capacity they could do 60 000 to 70 000 litres.
The plant mainly serves small greengrocers and coffee shops. Mr Peterken said the “workability” of the milk was its main appeal.
“Our milk quality doesn’t deteriorate during summer,” he said.
“We get feedback from baristas that they can’t foam supermarket milk and it splits. The coffee scene is a huge market and they realise they need good quality milk.
“Those coffee shop owners have invested a lot of money in their cafes, just like our small business, so they’re willing to pay more for premium milk knowing they will get consistency through the whole year and their business doesn’t suffer.”
Inglenook Dairy is sourcing milk from local farmers and paying a better farm gate price, which was the main reason for starting the business. They use predominantly Friesian herds, with a sprinkle of Jerseys.
“We do a lot of researching and testing the milk to make sure the workability is right. The Friesians provide constant quality and the fat and protein ratios are really good,” Mr Peterken said.
At the dairy education centre, the school tours will see a seven-minute video that tracks the arrival of cows on the farm (six cows were driven from Colac by Rachael’s grandparents after their house burnt down) to the development of the processing facility and functional dairy.