All inclusive farm

Aquaponics coach Rohan (right) works with clients on the water tanks. 247387_08

By Shelby Brooks

Aiming to one day be Australia’s most inclusive farm, Sages Cottage in Baxter hosts a range of training opportunities five days a week for young adults with different abilities.

Owned and operated by Wallara, Dandenong’s leading disability support not-for-profit organisation, the farm allows opportunity for clients to gain skills in hospitality, retail, horticulture and animal care.

Farm lead Michael Eden oversees the 34 acres of heritage listed farm as well as client programs like woodworking, aquaponics and garden maintenance.

“We see it as the client’s farm. They come here and look after it. We are just here to coach and support them to maintain their farm,” Michael said.

Between 40 to 50 clients a day attend the farm, which is able to continue operations during lockdowns.

The Grassbusters program that is run out of Sages Cottage, as well as locations in Keysborough and Pakenham, is a popular starting point for many clients.

“Grassbusters is for clients to start at the very beginner stage, they will learn their basic lawn mowing, whipper snipping skills as well as OHS safety,” Michael said.

“From there they go onto an offsite Grassbusters where we go into the community and help less fortunate people.

“Then from there if they are capable, able or willing, we try to get them into supportive employment which we run out of our head office at Keysborough.”

Michael said the Grassbusters program allowed participants to feel a sense of pride.

“A lot of the guys pride themselves in their ability to mow dead straight lines and keep things really neat,” he said.

Paula has been a participant at Sages Cottage Farm for five years.

“I like being outdoors,” she said.

Wallara subleases to wedding company Baxter Barns for weekend use, however their contact expires at the end of 2022 and it hasn’t been renewed.

“We are hoping to extend the trade with the Harvest Café into seven days a week,” Michael said.

The cafe is another opportunity for clients of Wallara to learn skills in hospitality.