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.
Caitlin McConnel was born into a sixth generation farming family that will be celebrating its 180th anniversary in 2021. Founded in 1841, Cressbrook Station in Toogoolawah is a remarkable property that has a deep connection to Australian history and was settled before Queensland was even registered as a State, by her great, great, great grandfather. Now, it is recognised as Queensland’s oldest residence and oldest identified family business, as well as one of the third oldest identified family businesses in Australia.
When you are born into an intergenerational farming family of this stature, you’re born into a high-pressure environment that naturally carries some difficult circumstances. In this episode, Caitlin unpacks the impact that the concessions of the business had on her parents as they navigated through issues like family succession planning, the deregulation of the dairy industry, the millennium Australian drought and ongoing challenge of carrying the weight of responsibility to uphold their family legacy. As a by-product from living and breathing through the stresses that her parents were experiencing, Caitlin had a jarring relationship with the farm from an early age. She had to steer through cloudy territory where she felt both an unrivalled connection and passion for the land, but also a distaste for farming life and the burdens it can bring.
After years of overcoming various adversities, getting life experience, working hard and seeking professional support, Caitlin found her feet again in the agriculture industry and returned to back to her roots on the family farm. Caitlin’s story is an inspiring piece that teaches us the important age-old lesson of listening to our inner voice and speaking up if we don’t feel right.
About Caitlin McConnel
Caitlin is a young woman that has a big smile and contagious warmth. However in her own life, she has faced three bouts of clinical depression and some incredibly low periods. Her mental health struggles occurred from as early as her high school days right up to more recently in her corporate career as a litigator at Australian law firm, Clayton Utz. Outside of her job, Caitlin is a high-achieving agriculturist who has a lot on her plate. She’s the Chair of the Royal National Agricultural and Industrial Association of Queensland (RNA) Future Directions Committee, a Director of the RNA Foundation and a Non-Executive Director of the Future Farmers Network. The combination of her busy life, unique childhood, family situation and pressure for success had an enormous impact on Caitlin’s emotional wellbeing and ultimately led to her mental health suffering.
Intergenerational Mental Health
Caitlin’s story is highly compelling because most would assume that being raised in a long-standing family business would provide a solid foundation for a carefree, happy upbringing. However beyond the rich history of the commemorated property were a family who were constantly running an uphill battle and working strenuously hard to manage their business that was regularly in a state of unpredictability. This experience had a deterrent effect on Caitlin’s feelings toward the farm which led her to take time away and explore new areas.
“When I was young I actually had no interest in going home because I could see the difficulties that Mum and Dad were having, the stresses on the relationship and conversely the effect it was having on me as a child and a teenager,” said Caitlin.
Times were undeniably tough for the McConnel family. Caitlin candidly opens up about some of her darkest moments, such as days where she truly believed that her presence was not good enough. Caitlin shared “because of the issues associated with our family’s succession planning over generations, there were actually times when I thought that Mum and Dad would be better off without me around.”
It’s hard to hear, but it just goes to show what level of impact people can experience from the calamities of life on the land. Caitlin highlights how anyone within the agriculture industry tends to be working at such high-pressured levels consistently which can predispose them to the very traits that link to mental illness. This is why it is all the more important to start the conversation, share our stories and check in with our mates.
Caitlin recalls a moment during one of her second rounds of clinical depression where her Dad stepped up to make sure that she was okay. “It was a very powerful moment to actually have Dad, who I'd seen struggling forever to not comprehend really what was going on in his life, to then ask me if I'm okay and actually to tell me that he did want me around. That was pretty powerful,” said Caitlin.
As a high achiever, it was difficult for Caitlin to summon the strength to speak up, however she eventually realised “if I don’t speak, no one else will.”
“I really used that year to also get to know my local community again"
Sense of belonging
Caitlin’s turning point was when she had finished university and decided to go home and spend time on the farm again. As a young adult, Caitlin learnt a lot more about her history and instantly felt re-connected to the property. When talking about the moment her sense of belonging was reignited, Caitlin said she realised the farm was an intrinsic part of her own identity. “You realize that it is as much of a part of you, as you are of it. I realized that it was indeed an integral part of who I am and what I do and why I do it.”
“I really used that year to also get to know my local community again. I took that opportunity to reacquaint myself with the community and people now, who I have a great relationship with and I adore, and they do exceptional things in the area. It was really that year that made me realize that I had to be involved in agriculture and my home and by extension, our community, going forward.”
A common theme for people who grow up in small communities is that innate sense of connection to their land and community. It’s hard to find anything that beats the tight-knit, spirit that exists between families, and also the sense of belonging that always keeps you coming back. It is that sense of community that Caitlin is also grateful to experience at Clayton Utz.
As a result of being involved in two highly different careers, Caitlin has a profound appreciation for the true simplicities of what farm life can bring. “In the corporate world you do tend to get lost in your computer screen. You can get lost from reality. I think going home and building a fence or working in the yard, or just digging in the dirt in the garden brings me back to nature, and brings me back really to what is necessary in life. It makes you think about what you actually need in life, to survive. All I need is a patch of dirt, my beautiful family and my friends around me.”
To listen to the podcast, head to the Humans of Agriculture channel on Apple or Spotify and select Episode 37 “HoA: ‘A career in Law & Farming’ with Caitlin McConnel”.
By Lucy Ziesemer
I’m writing this on Sunday night feeling oddly optimistic.
I know all the ‘be your best self’ gurus would advocate we use the weekend to fill our hypothetical cups instead of draining the more hold-in-your-hand variety, but I’m a realist and know most of you aren’t opposed to the celebratory clink of champagne glasses and beer bottle necks. In my experience and much to my continued dismay (insert eye roll here), Sunday nights are usually wrought with the ick, where the thought of Monday morning sans friends, fun and folklore far from blows your hair back. No matter how much you love your day job, the weekend exists for a reason. Now I’m no TED talk fiend, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve realised it’s possible and actually quite an organic process to fill both one’s life cup and their beverage cup simultaneously. It’s all down to the people you share “here’s cheers” with, and with my marriage to a Western Man only a couple of months away, I’m now unwrapping deeper layers of what it is to be a woman on the land thanks to snippets of insight shared over beverages of all kinds (Bushells tea, Pimms, a good old fashioned red- you name it) by women who really know the drill.
I’ve always been quite independent and sure of my abilities and direction. Living in the bush, you learn to handle certain things yourself rather than wait days, weeks, maybe even months for perpetually “flat out” professionals to sort it for you. I specify ‘certain things’ because I would rather dig a 4 foot deep long drop in the paddock than go to the toilet with a frog in the bowl. It’s called being resourceful. But as I discovered this weekend, independence is only sustainable with a support network of likeminded individuals lingering in far flung fringes out of sight but certainly not out of mind.
On Saturday, I was introduced to a group of women, some who travelled 700 odd kilometres, to celebrate and welcome me to the “wild western women’s club.” Without exaggeration, I was starstruck. These ladies offered me pearls of wisdom money couldn’t buy about what it takes to stay married to a Western Man. More than “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach...” who knew?!
(N.b- I’ve learned that ‘Western Man’ is actually a proper noun and widely used by long married women residing in rural and remote areas of Queensland, hence the capitalisation.)
While the effort the ladies went to to be there did not escape me, it was clear they truly wouldn’t have been anywhere else. And the big resounding lightbulb moment from all of this, was that women on the land are a force to be reckoned with. In my young life I’ve experienced one significant drought. In theirs they’d endured dozens. They’d surmounted isolation, hardship, and no doubt numerous uphill battles and revelled in joyous victories, small wins and happy days in equal measure. Garth Brooks (up there with Shania Twain in my books) sings a song he dubbed “The River.” It describes life for the ebb and flow that it is, be it rapids roaring and dragging with an invisible undercurrent daring you to lose your balance, or a gentle ripple where a leaf could fall and float undisturbed, peaceful. The western women reminded me that we are unique, multipurpose vessels of strength, hope, humour, love, determination, passion and power. They reinforced the importance of connection in order to combat the oxymoronic feeling of being smothered by so much space. They encouraged things I already knew, like not losing sight of what’s important and using nature as a source of energy- a practice I try to employ daily.
Western Women, and yes they can be a proper noun too, are a breed of their own. Not better than Eastern Women, but maybe different in minuscule ways the naked eye or otherwise concerned wouldn’t recognise. The best metaphor I can conjure is that Western Women are chameleons, equally comfortable serving party pies at tuck shop, on their annual salt and sand craving pilgrimage to the coast, or branding calves and changing the oil in crusty rust bucket Toyotas at home.
I feel honoured to be inducted into the club- it’s a cool one. Honoured and grateful, to the strong woman who raised me, the strong women who’ve featured in my life thus far, and the strong women I now call friends into the future. How lucky we are to live where we live and do what we do- a distant, out of touch dream for so many.
~ So here I am, happy on a Monday morning!
Raised in Hughensville in regional Northern QLD, Sam Fryer is a bloke that had a supportive upbringing, received a good education and is now involved in the operations of his family-owned property. With a wife and two children of his own, Sam’s life seems to look and sound pretty good on paper. As we have discovered, it’s important to dig a little deeper. Beneath the unassuming happy-go-lucky life of Sam, is the story of a man who has faced more life challenges than he can count on one hand.
In this episode, Sam opens up and shares some incredibly heart-wrenching tales that he went through from his childhood, right up to the present day as a devoted dad. Through facing testing hardships like growing up with a sister who had special needs, managing mental health demons, seeing the loss of a close mate, suffering serious injuries and navigating the challenges of family succession planning, Sam has been on a tough and turbulent journey.
One of the reasons that makes Sam’s story so great is how he has chosen to use his life experiences as a catalyst to be more positive and appreciative. Despite all that he has been through, Sam has a profound optimism and zest for life that is simply infectious.
Sam came onto our radar during Movember last year when he was looking for an agriculture related team to support. After a chat, we were immediately blown away by his story and knew it had to be shared with the Humans of Agriculture audience. Sam is a true storyteller who will steal your undivided attention and leave you feeling grateful for the simplest things in life, like your arms and legs.
Following on from last week, if you need someone to talk to or you're worried about a friend or family member you can reach out to the TIACS support line and either text or call them on 0488 846 988.
Disabilities in the bush
An area that is rarely mentioned or given the attention it deserves is disabilities in the bush. Being in a remote location can make things more difficult in terms of barriers like healthcare accessibility and support. Sam's family faced these circumstances head on with his younger sister Alex being born with cerebral palsy. For the Fryer family, that meant regularly taking the 4-hour trip to Townsville for appointments with specialists while still trying to manage the family farm, bring in an income and raise three kids.
For their family and the community, it was a normal and accepted part of their lives as they never knew any different. Sam reflects that the support of neighbours and locals really helped their family manage the challenges. “Where we lived, we had some amazing people just down the road that would come up and help Mum on the place when Dad was away. Without the community around us I don’t know how they would have done it.”
The role of the local community in supporting families just like the Fryers is critical, whether that is checking in, helping with school drop offs or checking water. Sam credits these years as fundamentally shaping him and is passionate about giving back to those around him.
"It's a massive part of who I am and who my parents are. We are involved in a lot in the community and with events, it's one way for us to say thankful for those years when I was younger" he said.
Another topic woven throughout the discussion is around mental health and specifically the role and exposure people working in agriculture and Rural Australia have to it. For an industry where workers can often be isolated and spend time alone, it has become increasingly important for mates to watch out for each other and ask if they’re okay. With Sam connecting with HoA for Movember – it was clear that advocating for mental health was an important issue close to his heart.
Sam reflects that even from a young age, he felt the heavy weight of his life challenges taking a toll on him. “I needed to see someone and needed to talk to someone,” Sam recalls, after his move to boarding school as a young adolescent. “I came from a school of five to a school of 1,500 and I had just lost my best mate. I just wish I had of had someone to talk to during that time.”
Through his very own up and down roller coaster, Sam shares the insight and wisdom he learnt on how to overcome his struggles and help his mates beat theirs too. He is a beacon of knowledge, who really positions you to stop and realise that we all have a part to play in helping those around us and starting conversations.
“It can’t just be a couple times a year that we decide to call our mate and see if they’re okay, it’s all during the year. If you know something’s wrong with your mates you should be able to give them a buzz.”
After seeking professional support and having a network of loved ones, Sam shared that he has reached a really strong point in his life. This is significantly noticeable through the way he speaks and shares his ideas. After a tumultuous set of circumstances, it remains his priority to focus on the positives and be grateful for the little things.
In the podcast, you’ll hear Sam touch on his idea that he actually feels lucky. It’s a powerful moment that highlights how we can give ourselves so much strength through the way we process the bad times. Sam said, “I’m very lucky, I suppose I probably keep saying that but mate I’ve got two legs and I can walk around, and you know I’ve got both my arms still which is pretty lucky on another level. The experience I’ve had has made me the person I am today. I am thankful for that. it changes my view on the world and makes me appreciate everything a bit more because I’m still here.”
To listen to the podcast, head to the Humans of Agriculture channel on Apple or Spotify and select Episode 36 “HoA ‘I’m lucky’ with Sam Fryer”.
By Lucy Ziesemer
How else could I start this post than HAPPY NEW YEAR?! Here in the sticks as beef producers we were largely exempt from the trials and tribulations of the Covid-19 saga and thankfully for us were able to watch the pandemic unfold from afar. Of course, our little towns closed down and our usually sleepy streets went into full blown comas, but when you’re used to the peace and quiet of rural life an exaggeration of that isn’t too hard to cop.
Take nothing away from the small businesses that felt the full force of 2020- our hearts are still with those families doing it tough because we’ve all been there.
We branded the last mob of calves at Taroom this morning and sweat out every last morsel of the silly season- no juice cleanse required! Our biggest mob in both numbers and size, it was a tough slog to end on.. kind of like the way 2020 ended for a lot of people really.
HOWEVER! Let’s be the glass half full types and look back at what went right hey?!
In short, the cattle market skyrocketed and it rained - jackpot!
Still, what I enjoyed seeing most in 2020 was the general public’s brand new appreciation for food! It was as though we were watching the human race awaken from a spell, where Covid-19 forced people to think beyond the fridges of Coles and even beyond the trucks that stock those fridges. Forgive me, but wasn’t it fantastic to see the thought process evolve, see families buying veggie seedlings and planting herbs on their windowsills? People bought chooks! There was a two month wait on laying hens!
Demand for Aussie grown proteins jumped because finally, the luxury of popping to the deli and picking up a pack of t-bones was out of reach and everybody looked up from their phones while grocery shopping to say “hang on, where am I going to get my steak?”
Private, grass roots butcher shops have become as popular as Pizza Hut and we’re seeing Aussies opt for locally grown produce as opposed to imported goods. I can’t explain the joy this brings me.
Australia is an oasis for food production - we truly live in a salad bowl where almost any delicacy can be harvested one day and dished up the next. I’m grateful, truly, for Covid having such a profound effect on Aussie agriculture. I wish it hadn’t taken such a massive kick up the bum to change perspectives but as they say, you gotta do what you gotta do.
To me, this year is like the first page of a new book, or the ‘this book belongs to’ page with a line for you to write your name."
I’ve often wondered what it would cost to make agriculture relatable and had numerous conversations where the general consensus has been “teach them what it’s like to go without.” Statements like these aren’t malicious, but there’s only so many times news stories about food production can be ignored before those in the hypothetical backstage crew start clutching at straws. As it turned out, we didn’t need to go on strike and the hens were free to keep up the good work as consumers saw the world through new eyes organically and of their own accord.
What we need now is to not forget how far we’ve come. It’s so important. We love growing food and we love that shoppers love dining on it. It is an extremely rewarding experience sending a load of prime grass fed steers to slaughter knowing that beef will be enjoyed in ritzy restaurants, first class steak houses, over the counter at surf clubs and hot off the backyard barbeque. To me, this year is like the first page of a new book, or the ‘this book belongs to’ page with a line for you to write your name. When you make your mark on this, the first year of a new decade, don’t just write your name. Make your mark as an active, enlightened consumer of Australian agricultural produce. Buy your groceries with eyes wide open and aim to learn something as you wander the aisles. A fun fact.. lots of fresh produce actually has the name of the farm and its location detailed on the label, which I reckon is pretty cool!
So welcome 2021, you barefaced, clean slate beauty! This year I desperately hope everyone’s veggie gardens thrive, their chooks don’t go clucky and we keep supporting the Aussie farmers who will never let our fellow Australians’ fridges go bare.
By Oli Le Lievre
Wow, well what a year it’s been, I feel like 2020 has thrown it all at us and then some. It only seemed fitting that I do a quick year in review from my bedroom - which has been my home and office this year.
At home in Australia, the lead in to 2020 was hazy, our cities spent months blanketed by smoke, our regions devastated by drought followed by the worst fires in history as we lived through the ‘Black Summer’ of 2019/20. 24 million hectares burnt, three billion animals were killed or displaced (9 News), followed by flooding rains the impacts of Climate Change on our doorstep with the world watching.
On the 8th of January I was in the freight facility at Melbourne Airport looking at Rock lobster bound for China as the first indications of the impact of Corona Virus began to show its face. Before we knew it our streets were empty and the shelves were bare, friends were losing jobs and a virus, in effect nature was in control. The world stopped.
With our lives fundamentally changing before our eyes I had so many questions that I wanted to ask - we needed to actually talk about these challenges, engage in real dialogue and challenge the status quo to deliver solutions that create more vibrant and prosperous societies.
In order to make agricultures influence in our daily lives relatable, I knew I needed to broaden our perspectives as who we see influencing our food and fibre system from paddock right through to plate. I needed people to share their own stories, yet I lacked the confidence and courage to speak about it myself and dreaded to put my face to it – my first video took me more than a week to upload after recording.
I reached out to Chef and co-Founder of Three Blue Ducks, Mark LaBrooy and with a gentle shove from Brianna Casey the Humans of Agriculture podcast was launched, complimenting our photo stories we were sharing.
Providing me the chance to ask those ‘dumb questions’ (that I really wanted to ask); to understand more about people, to get better at listening to their stories and develop my own understanding. Some 41 episodes on, our content has been downloaded more than 15,000 times in 56 countries around the world. Thank You!!
There’s been a lot of memorable moments and so I wanted to share a couple that really stand out and to me, they were moments when things clicked and I felt like maybe despite feeling like I was going around in circles there could be relevance:
And yet amongst a year of challenges, through grief and some incredibly lows, we were able to put the wheels in motion for a community of people that have an interest in bettering themselves and the world around them through their relationship with agriculture. Through sharing more than 105 stories we are able to create a better understanding of the role agriculture plays in the lives of every person everyday.
We’re 1% of the way to our goal of sharing 10,000 stories of people involved in agriculture. In 2021 we’re looking to partner with people and organisations that share our vision that agriculture is fundamental to healthier, happier and more prosperous communities. We know storytelling is incredibly powerful to help grow our understanding and shape the futures we desire.
So if you’re interested get in touch with me email@example.com as we get More People, More Often, Identifying with Agriculture.
I hope you have a safe Christmas, and that 2021 is a year of opportunity, that we continue to learn and adapt to the world we live in and that we acknowledge the importance of connection.
Stay safe and stay sane and see you in 2021!
By Lucy Ziesemer
It may be hard to believe, but I’ve never given too much thought to the fact that I’m a woman in agriculture. With no sons in our family and being the eldest, I guess I assumed the role of Dad’s right-hand man/ gopher early on. I loved the outdoors, especially watching Dad work cattle and observing his way with stock. I have memories of sitting on the top rail in the backyards watching Dad and his stockmen yard up. Prior to the advent of cross breeding and knowledge of the ways it benefitted the Australian beef industry, a significant number of beef operations were Hereford based. By the time I was old enough to know the front end of a beast from the back, Mum and Dad had moved into Charolais cows for their Charbray operation. It was an artwork to six-year-old me. White cows flowing like foam from a wave funnelled together by an invisible fence conjured by some sort of magical force the men created placing their bodies and directing their eyes to just the right spot. It was mesmerising and I yearned to know the secret. I wanted to know where to point that magic yard stick that was an unspoken language between human and beast.
It never occurred to me that Dad’s ringers were always male. I would blunder into the yards with Mum delivering smoko and share an Iced Vo-Vo with the men, listening to them discussing things I didn’t understand. I still remember the day I realised ‘beast’ was a singular term for cattle and not the savage monster from my imagination. As I got older, I didn’t care that I had skinny arms and needed both of them to close the slide gate when the men shut it with a finger. The same is true today. Some may call it poor parenting, but I couldn’t disagree more. I was not mollycoddled as a kid. If I fell off my bike and skinned my knee, Dad would quite literally “rub it better” so hard that the friction burn distracted from the stinging graze. Cut up hands from fencing with barbed wire? Find a solution- get some gloves. If a pipe needed digging up, you marched into the mud with your shovel and dug like you had a job to do, not like a girl. I was never treated differently for being a female even if some days I would have loved someone say “you’re right darlin’, have a spell.” That’s why I never paid any attention to the fact that a woman working on the land was somewhat unusual. I knew I wanted to be there come Hell or high water, so I got on with it.
There will always be aspects of the job I’m less capable at. Take something as simple as straining a fence for example. I can get it pretty damn tight and totally stock proof, but I’ll guarantee if a bloke came along they’d get one more click on the chain every time. This doesn’t worry me in the slightest, it’s just a fact. But there’s a conflicting ideology applied to women in the workplace, whatever workplace that may be, that puzzles me. We’re seeing women in traditionally male dominated roles more and more and on the one hand we call out for equal representation because we’re good at what we do and it’s normal for women to perform these tasks, and on the other hand we expect to be cheered along the way for simply doing a job. Shouldn’t the goal be to get the job done and share a knock-off beer at the end of the day?
The rise of #womeninag excites me. I’m on board for celebrating women in agriculture, and before you shout HYPOCRITE, I will say I think the hashtag serves a greater purpose of celebrating agriculture itself. I think it’s great we’re showcasing women’s achievements on the land because it’s drawing attention to what we’re actually trying to promote- Aussie agriculture. We know we’re tough and fine-tuned to hard work, but we love what we do and the daily grind it entails for us. It is my hope that #womeninag inspires the next generation of producers to question where their food and fibre comes from, encourages them to embrace Australia’s vast landscape and the potential it holds, and fosters a love for agriculture through watching the men and women paving a path before them.
By Lucy Ziesemer
It’s that time of year again. Most WAGs wake up on the morning of November 1 with fear in
their bones. They’re adamant they won’t look, won’t pay it any attention in the hope the
novelty will wear off and it will just ‘go away.’ By the same token, those wives and
girlfriends are also equally proud (while they may not admit it) of their partners’ ability to
grow the thickest, most dense and perfectly groomed moustache among their mates. And
while they may complain and declare “this is DEFINITELY the last year it’s happening,”
they’re actually achieving the whole point of Movember, aren’t they? They’re starting a
Aussie blokes are typically a rowdy bunch. They’re all about a bevvie at a barby where the
conversation flows as fast as the tins. Enter the words ‘mental health’ and I bet you’d
almost hear a pin drop. Or that’s at least how things used to be, until movements like
Movember became commonplace and in turn normalised mental health, working towards
turning it into a conversation topic as common as the weather.. or close anyway.
If you ask me, there’s been a massive shift in men’s attitudes towards discussing their
mental health. I have been in or around numerous social conversations where men have
openly made statements like “I did it really tough when this happened” or “yeah, it really
took a toll on me.” It took me a second to realise what a massive step this was in terms of
societal progression. For women, a large part of our conversations revolve around how
stressed, tired, overworked and underpaid we are. We say we need a holiday every week!
And we do- we totally deserve one, of course. Jokes aside, I am in no way trying to
downplay women’s mental health, merely pointing out how far men have come in
Traditionally, men don’t like admitting defeat. I’ve grown up around some of the most
steadfast, determined, hard-headed men you can imagine. Men who, in years gone by,
would certainly have never contemplated TALKING about how they were FEELING, goodness
no. And to an extent, that generation of men are probably still struggling with opening up-
after all, those are long held traits that were ingrained and passed down from generations
before them. Our generation owes a lot to social media, and yes you could argue avenues
like Instagram and Snapchat are just highlight reels and for the most part- they are. But if it
weren’t for a few brave men who realised there was a dire need to get men talking about
the big stuff, put their money where their mouths were and used social media to promote
their idea, men may not be knocking the top off a cold one while simultaneously discussing
the dark places their minds had taken them all this time later. I think we’ve come to realise we all have mental health, the same as we all have heart health and gut health. I can’t explain scientifically why for so long men have denied themselves the capacity to talk about their mental health as they would chest pain or stomach cramps. When you really think about it, anxiety and depression can have the same fatal outcome as a heart attack, so why on earth is it only recently we’ve started taking this seriously? I reckon it goes back to the old theory of man equals provider and protector. The rise and rise of equality for women has done nothing to abate this and come on, what woman doesn’t want to feel protected by her man? But heck, I’d want to make sure my man
was strong mentally way before he was strong physically. At the end of the day women are
proving they can ‘do it themselves’ sure, but that doesn’t mean men lose their innate desire
be the strong one in all forms. The good news is, men are now realising it’s perfectly normal
to talk about their problems and women get to be the backbone when this happens in their
From an agricultural perspective, there are a multitude of everyday occurrences capable of
really testing one’s mental endurance. You may be staring down the barrel of another dry
summer, watching another crop wilt and fail or pulling bogged cattle out of dry dams. That
day, the tilly might have blown a tyre as you were on your way to get the rifle to put down
another beast too weak to stand. You start walking, arrive at the shed and realise the pump
has packed it in and the paddocks under its guard will be without water for three days in 40
degree+ heat, as it’s Friday afternoon and nothing will be open to buy parts until Monday.
You run into the office in a last ditch effort to reach the local water services bloke and your
eyes rest on the most recent bank statement- overdrawn, no extension.
A man (and we’re talking about men’s mental health so we’ll keep it specific) with strong
mental health would no doubt find these challenges immensely stressful. Throw an
undiagnosed illness such as depression into the mix and you’ve got enough to potentially
push that same man over the edge. Left untreated, mental illness is deadly and none of us
Movements like Movember have helped men, particularly men on the land, turn a corner
when it comes to talking about their mental health. Similar movements throughout the year
such as RUOK day prompt us to keep up our focus on checking in with our loved ones not
just in the month of November. As a woman on the land engaged to a man on the land, I
hope to raise strong, resilient, brave kids on the land. I’m grateful though, for the work
Movember and its counterparts have done to make sure my future husband and children
know it’s not a sign of weakness to speak. In fact, speaking up in my eyes is a sign of inner
strength like no other.
So let’s relish in the moustaches- may they grow in abundance this Movember and every