By Lucy Ziesemer
When you’re born into something, do you remember ever undertaking the process of learning the ropes? Or did you just grow legs, bounce up on the bike and take the lead? I have been handling cattle since I could hold a yard stick. I’m sure I bore the brunt of a few four-legged skeptical sideways glances at my very obvious insignificance as a five-year-old stock person. Granted, I was probably more effective then than I am now, with the childhood gift of fearless, guns blazing gusto.
I’ve said it before, but as a small child I yearned for knowledge about the world I was nothing but a mere blip in. All children do. Show them a spaceship and they ask- how? Tell them rain makes corn and corn makes whiskey and they ask- why? Show them cattle grazing in a paddock or sheep in for shearing and I bet they’d ask who, what, when, where, why and how- all deeply important questions we agriculturalists love to dive into.
My question is, why isn’t agriculture a compulsory subject in the Australian curriculum? Agriculture is a wholesome sensory experience- it is tactile, visual 👀 , auditory 👂🏼 , olfactory 👃 and gustatory 🍽. It involves mathematics and communication, and general common sense. The latter, I believe, could be a subject of its own!
Agriculture is an untapped realm for higher learning with so many teachable moments waiting to be explored. Maybe its graduating students would not go on to pursue a career in ag, but maybe they would. At the very least, they would leave with a much more rounded, balanced understanding of the world beyond the school gates. Let’s not ponder why today’s youth are out of tune with primary production. Instead, give them opportunities to foster grass roots connections with the bush and watch as East meets West like never before.
By Lucy Ziesemer
I was recently in Port Macquarie to see two wonderful friends get married. If you walk along the headland, there’s a dramatic view of the surf smashing against the rocks and of surfers far braver than I bobbing about in the waves offshore. As I meandered my way along the footpath I wondered, rather absentmindedly, what those surfers were thinking about. It was a Saturday morning, so I assumed the first thing on their agenda post surf was brunch. I guessed the more motivated of the fray would have risen at dawn to catch the sunrise over the ocean before they dipped a toe in- mainly because I would do the same myself. Maybe they’d finish their avo, eggs and halloumi on sour dough add bacon (my order) and take their dog for a walk, sit in the park with a good book, head home for an afternoon nap, then rally for casual drinks with friends that night. In another life, this would be my ideal Saturday.
I jolted myself back to reality and pondered the difference between coastal living and bush living. How people east of the Great Divide live compared to those on its western boundary. Truth be told, us graziers often scratch our heads and wonder why even though it’s a mere 200km distance between regions, we feel worlds apart. We wonder why the work we do receives so little celebration. Why is a new lane on the Bruce Highway of upmost importance and applauded as such, but the continuous supply of premium food and fibre as commonplace and mundane as making your bed in the morning?
We are few in numbers out here. Our areas are vast and you really can’t see your neighbours- it’s true! Some drive hundreds of kilometres to fetch groceries, some are delivered to properties by plane. We are isolated and we love it. There’s just so much space. Sometimes the night sky honestly takes your breath away and looking up at it is a good reminder that you’re not as big as you think you are. We’ve got some of the most unique, historic old pubs with beer colder than Caxton Street’s, mark my words. Bakeries with fresh cream donuts and more cinnamon than you can poke a stick at. People say hello first. They ask “how ya goin?” and stick around to hear your reply. I could go on for days with examples of what’s to love about living rurally and what is, in my opinion anyway, what sets us apart.
So why don’t more people know about it? Or, why don’t more people care? It’s because they don’t need to! Tell me why, if you were an urban dweller working your nine to five, gym before work, pick up some milk and bread on your way home, why would you give a hoot about what’s going on out in the sticks? You wouldn’t even give a moment’s thought to the yahoo cowboys kicking around in the dust chasing cows, or something.
The reason our urban cousins don’t pay us much attention is because we are completely unrelatable to them. From our point of view, we are, because we can relate to ourselves and each other and also to our city pals- we recognise a runway quality road when we drive down one because you sure won’t find one in the west! But if you don’t live and work out here you wouldn’t know the first thing about our lifestyle and the ways of being we inherited from our forefathers in order to make a life worth living.
When I was young, my city cousins would visit on school holidays and relish the experiences we gave them, so far from the reality of their day-to-day. Things like making face paint from a mixture of crushed rocks and spit were outlandish to them. Driving old paddock-basher Toyotas requiring exceptional timing to bounce down from the pillows on the seat (you didn’t have pump up driver’s seats to enable vision over the steering wheel in those days) to get both feet and full weight on the brake pedal in order to stop was madness to them, but they revelled in it. They were the days when real life was mythical and imagination was concrete. And then we grew up.
Our reality now as agriculturalists is working hard, reaching goals, striving for progress. Not different in essence, but different in a practical sense. In 2016, just 2.2 per cent of Australia’s working population were employed in the agriculture sector. Most people don’t care to relate because agriculture isn’t exciting enough, it doesn’t provoke the imagination and conjur dreams of endless possibility to outsiders. It does for us though, and that’s what we need to promote.
I’m talking a mini movie theatre in the fresh food section in Coles featuring real, gritty, organic people telling how they came to be supplying broccoli to lawyers, doctors and council workers. Or showing a young family working together in the shearing shed readying the bones of a luxurious winter sweater.
We could have segments on the big screen at NRL and AFL games reminding the crowd their steak burger was ethically and sustainably produced 1000km west of where they’re sitting, but they’d never know unless they knew because how jolly FRESH does it taste?!
CELEBRATE!! Celebrate agriculture. Be proud of what you grow so that consumers can be proud to enjoy it. We need to tell our own story and be our own voice. There will be arguments that these things cost money (true) but we are an industry worth investing in. Understanding and support stem from relatability and common agendas. To be relatable we need to be present and while distance creates limitations, the World Wide Web wasn’t christened that randomly. Let’s put ourselves in the city in our rawest, most real state of being and give the people something to envy.
By Grayson Webster
Coming into the New Year, resonating on the last, there has not been a person I have spoken to that did not struggle in 2020. All had encountered some sort of emotional or mental turbulence through a very unprecedented and traumatic year. Particularly dear friends and loved ones in the agricultural sector.
It flagged with me the somewhat nonchalant approach we have within agriculture to managing our overall wellbeing and proactively taking steps to ensure we are personally operating optimally. There seems to be somewhat of an undercurrent to our culture of suppressing the impact events have on us and just “pushing through”.
“Fill Your Own Cup First” is not a sentiment that ever overly resonated with me until recently. Anyone who has grown up on the land or is from a farming background knows there is too much to be accomplished in the day. Too many other living, breathing entities that rely on us for survival, to be worried about any other “cup filling” exercises unless it is of the caffeinated kind of a morning or a particular glass one of an evening…
The agricultural industry places a heavy emphasis on technical and hard skills. One's ability to operate machinery, analyse data to increase efficiency, manage a budget, load a boat with thousands of heads of cattle, manage projects or succession that involve living, breathing animals is what often defines one’s ability to be successful.
Modern society has created a giant apparatus for the cultivation of hard skills yet failed to encourage or cultivate cultures that develop the moral and emotional faculties down below. As the next generation of leaders in our industry we are coached on how to jump through scholastic hoops and are constantly looking at how we can be better, do more and evolve our skills to effectively tackle the challenges that lay within agriculture and its development into the next century.
There is no KPI or industry regulation to follow to alleviate the pressure created within our own mind and bodies.
Yet our soft skill set will be the fundamental matrix to leading a truly fulfilling and happy life. By far the most important decisions we will make in this life are about who we marry, who we befriend, what to love, what to despise, and how to control our impulses. On these matters of the mind and the heart, we are often almost entirely on our own. There is no KPI or industry regulation to follow to alleviate the pressure created within our own mind and bodies.
As an industry, we are good at talking about material incentives, animal welfare and delivering outcomes but abysmal at talking about emotions, intuitions, and overall human wellbeing. We are exceptional at teaching technical skills but when it comes to the most important things like growing one’s character, or managing mental health, we have almost nothing to say.
Don’t get me wrong, hard skills are essential, but they are only one aspect.. Soft skills are what ultimately amplify one’s hard skill set and help us, and others grow as individuals. They are often innate, but in my experience, they need to be built and enhanced consistently through continual learning. Just like learning the intricate management of cattle onboard live export vessels or mechanically maintaining your prime equipment during harvest, these soft skills need to be understood, focused on and continually developed the same way we maintain hard skills. Managing our perspective and practicing patience, is as equally important as learning to pull a pressure pump apart or ploughing your best paddock for the ultimate crop to grow for example.
If we do not start to implement and support cultures where vulnerability is championed, struggles are open and addressed as teams and knowing where to get support is as easy as logging onto Facebook - we will inevitably fail ourselves.
If we partnered the level of investment that we see in our stock handling training as that of our emotional intelligence and leadership development, we would be looking at an agricultural workforce that had more power than the NASA Building…
We would also be looking at the highest risk age bracket of individuals with lower depression, lower anxiety, and the gaps of those that slip through the middle would slowly begin to sew itself shut.
“The conversations around mental health aren’t nearly as dangerous as what we create through our silence” – Oli Le Lievre, Humans of Agriculture Founder
*If you or someone you know needs help or advice on how best to deal with mental health then you can reach out to beyond blue, lifeline or call our friends at the TIACS hotline on 0488 846 988.