Otago Corrections Facility (OCF) won the dairy farm section in the Otago Farm Environmental Awards recently.
Judges were on site in Milton in March to view the 120 hectare site, assess the health and wellbeing of the 340 milking cows, and talk to the team there.
Staff were surprised by their selection as finalists given the quality of others in the running, so winning the dairy farm section was outstanding.
Corrections Inmate Employment Area Operations Manager Roger Leslie and the team were delighted by the win. “I didn’t think our operation was anything like what they were looking for,” says Roger. “The judges took a really keen interest in our community orientated approach. We make a point of having our tractors repaired locally, for example, rather than going with national contractors. We donate some of our vegetables to the Salvation Army and we try to get the prisoners involved in every single aspect of farming, right down to taking a professional interest in the somatic cell count* of the stock and the quality of the vegetables. We also try hard to be a good neighbour.”
The judges are peer-reviewers and are constantly trying to improve good farming practice. “They were most excited with how well we engage with the community. We try to be the face of Corrections in the community,” says Roger.
Judging criteria included the management of waterways and water use, energy efficiency considerations, providing for employees and the local community and pest control. Other factors judged were whether land types were matched appropriately and future planning considerations.
The environmental awards celebrate learning as much as winning; they look for a commitment to practical solutions, support for diversity (recognising that there’s never one right answer; it’s about what actually works) and a down-to-earth approach.
Approximately 10-16 prisoners work daily on the farm. Roger says they’re very enthusiastic about the work. “The men see it as a plumb job – outside, milking the cows; getting involved in every aspect of farming life. They also learn to stay calm with the stock,” says Roger.
Roger also said that the awards ceremony, held on 13 April, was a great opportunity to network with farm leaders, and other like-minded folk who care about the environment. Leaders in the rural community have a clear understanding of the need to repair broken and polluted eco-systems but many have not given much thought to repairing broken lives and having them return to the community with skills and pride in their work. This was a great opportunity to get that point across.
*white blood cells, and a marker indicating possible infection. OCF cows have amongst the lowest five percent somatic cell count in the country, indicating excellent farm management.