Living a life less ordinary

I am currently reading “One Good Turn” by Kate Jackson and I love it. I am not quite sure why. I know  I love the way she gets inside the characters, I love the humour or perhaps its those innermost thoughts that the characters share that make you reflect on your life

Lets look at Martin the school,teacher who hates his job working in a boarding school, despising he fact that he lets people walk all over him and can see life passing him by yet writes best selling detective novels   ,  

“I’ll just do this for a bit and then perhaps I will go travelling or take another qualification or get a more interesting job and a new life will start, but instead the old life carried on, and he felt it spinning out into nothing, the threads wearing thing, and sensed if he didn’t do something he would stay there forever, growing older .. until he retired or died … He knew he would have to do something proactive, he was not a person to whom somethings simply happened. His life had been lived in some sort of neutral gear’”  

I must admit ten years ago I felt just like Martin and I just had this gut feeling my time must come and I just couldn’t spend the rest of my life working 24/7 to fund and support other people’s dreams.

Tonight they will announce the 2013 Rural Woman of the Year. This is a very important award  because it provides a highly visible platform platform for the winner to get their “cause” in front of the people who can make it happen

Tonight I am hoping that person is Alison Fairleigh, not because she necessarily stands above all the rest but because I think her cause stands above all the rest and I know that she will not rest until rural mental well being is elevated to level of priority it should have

It takes a special person to pour their heart and soul and every waking hour to lobby for something that is beyond the 3’c’s (‘cute, cuddly or cancer”). In this country and many other first world countries we embrace warm and fuzzy and elevate people like Lyn White to hero status and put so many human social issues in the too hard basket.

I want Alison to win for all those farmers and people living in rural and regional Australia  who so need some-one to take their emotional problems seriously. 

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Milk comes from thistles or is that coconuts

This post is in honour of International Bacon Day which just happens to be today (now I bet you didn’t know that) 

According to Wiki ‘Bacon Day celebrations typically include social gatherings during which participants create and consume dishes containing bacon, including bacon-themed breakfasts, lunches, dinners, desserts, and drinks’.

Bacon Day was conceived in  Massachusetts in 2000.  International Bacon Day has now spread to Canada and other countries where it is often held at different times of the year   The record for the number of different bacon dishes belongs to Thomas Green, of Ottawa, Ontario who created ( I don’t think he ate them all ) 12 bacon dishes. This list included candied bacon, maple bacon and chevre points, bacon screwdrivers jell-o style, bacon vodka gazpacho, chili bacon vodka, pork stuffed with bacon, apple and sage, bacon donuts, chocolate bacon brownies, banana bacon cookies, bacon martini, bacon burger sliders and bacon and egg sliders. A veritable pork smorgasbord

The post is inspired by this twitter conversation instigated by Farmers Angel Alison Fairleigh yesterday that believe it or not revolved around bacon and its origins

Bacon 

This reminded me of this picture and then of course who can forget that frightening statistics from the @OZPIEF study that found that too many kids think yogurt grows on trees

Cat milk

Now as you know it breaks my heart that farmers don’t have the marketing power and financial might to tell the real story of agriculture but as you can see there is one hell of a great opportunity out there if we can just get it right.

This week I spoke at the ABARES regional conference in Bega. This is part of what I had to say and a couple of my key messages    

I have a vision for agriculture that is full of promise.

I want an innovative exciting dynamic and profitable agrifood sector. A sector that our next generation best and brightest sees as a career of first choice

I see my role is to turn my vision for agriculture into everyone’s vision

We need smart and articulate and capable people working in agriculture so we can take it to the next level?

We need a supply chain culture that values our farmers

We need government and industry programs that believe in our farmers and invest in them?

We need to identify our young people in agriculture, nurture them and promote them and ensure we retain this talent.

There was a lot of questions from the floor about how we best tell Agriculture’s story with the limited resources and funding we have. It was very clear that the Young Farming Champions program concept truly resonated with everyone in the audience.

But there is nothing more powerful than a living breathing example of the program in action and no-one was more proud than me to see Young Farming Champion Jess Monteith in action on the ABARES panel which rounded off the conference  

Jess Sonia and Lana IMG_5196 

Jess Monteith, Young Farming Champion with Sonia Muir and Lana Mitchell  on the ABARES Bega Panel 

Now this isn’t an easy gig for a young person. Check out the panel topics which included demographic change, agricultural trade and markets in an Asian century, water, energy, trade and efficiency, future producers, labour and skills, future industries (& foods), new technologies and regional development  futures, Agri-tourism, Urban-rural relationships, land-use (conflicts).

When Dr Anna Carr from ABARES asked me to put forward a name that fitted the brief “Non farming background, young face – someone who has energy to burn and ideas in abundance who will show agriculture in a new context” Jess’ name sprang instantly to mind.

Like me fellow panellist Sonia Muir believes creating a community which is engaged with, & informed about agriculture is our most important job and the way to do this is to ensure we have articulate, well educated, charismatic young farming people telling our story for us.

The question was asked of Jess how do we get the real story of agriculture out there into the wider community

She answered “Engagement is the key, we need a nationwide network of young farming champions like the group I am part of, professionally trained to go into schools and tell our story and agriculture’s story to young people and the community” 

Jess is so right. Who better to tell the real story of food than the farmers, the hands that grow it and the caretakers of the land that produces.   

Its time to get smart agriculture we have a few skill sets to hone but if Jess is an example of what can happen with the right skills sets we could make no better investment   

Have you heard about the Great Cafe Challenge?

Our favourite angel Alison Fairleigh and team have launched with the support of The Land newspaper this challenge

“We challenge every café owner across Australia to carry at least one weekly rural newspaper in their shop”.

Cafe challenge 2

That’s it. So simple. It won’t cost much; it won’t take much time; but the benefits to rural Australians of having more urban people with a greater understanding of where their food and fibre comes from, of the people and communities who produce it, and the conditions under which they produce it, could be extraordinary!

More than likely most people won’t pick up the rural newspaper as their first choice; but when all the other papers are gone, they may just flip through the pages and begin to see a world they know very little about.

Will you accept the challenge? Will you help spread the word?

The Great Cafe Challenge

Alana and Chris at the Chippendale Roastery Cafe have!

Go into your local café today and ask: “Do you carry a rural newspaper?” If not, let’s change that!

(Follow the Great Café Challenge on Twitter & Facebook) and read the background on Alison’s blog here

Farmers Angels – The Alison Fairleigh story

During the last ten years I have met some very special people who I refer to as #angels.

They are knowledgeable, stimulating and inspiring people who have influenced me in a positive way. They have taught me that true leaders encourage and shape future leaders, not followers. They have helped foster the way I am in the present and what I will be in the future. They are people I can look to for advice in the ‘sticky’ times and the good times. They give me words of wisdom, a shoulder to cry on and a swift kick if I need it!

I have also had the pleasure of working with amazing,inspiring and selfless people who don’t farm and chose to spend their non working hours lobbying and supporting  and AGvocating on behalf of all Australian farmers.

I will be inviting a selection of these people who have crossed my path to write guest blogs to share their stories over the next 12 months.

Sadly I have found some farmers (too many) see themselves as victims and fail to acknowledge the wonderful networks of people who support them, appreciate them and fight for them every day.  

I am starting with the angel of all angels Alison Fairleigh  

Alison is founder of the “Farming is the New Black”  Facebook site

Some examples of Alison’s campaigns AGvocating for farmers  

The Great Cafe Challenge

More Questions than Answers

and one from the heart

What ANZAC day means to me

The Alison Fairleigh story………..

13 Feb 2012

I was born and bred on a farm in SE Queensland and into an entire extended family of farmers – from beef cattle production to dairying, poultry and cropping – but I wasn’t your typical farm girl. I did not relish growing up on a farm … in fact, I couldn’t wait to leave, which I did as soon as I was old enough: heading to uni and then, as a teacher, to discover the world.

Like the majority of Australians, I became very complacent about farming and agriculture as a whole, and my attitude didn’t begin to shift until a few years ago when I took up a position with the Australian Agricultural College and moved to north Queensland. While working for AACC I saw, learned and experienced things about our farming sector that caused me to become extremely concerned about Australia’s future food security. Things that the average Australian is completely oblivious too:

  • Once thriving agricultural colleges closing down due to lack of enrolments, lack of support from industry and government policy that just “doesn’t get it”.
  • Farmers encouraging their children to do anything BUT farming because they don’t see any future for them in the industry.
  • Male farmers and male farm workers having one of the highest rates of suicide in Australia.
  • Agricultural workers being drawn away from farming to the high wages available in the mining and construction sectors.
  • Urban-based young people who are eager to work in agriculture but who cannot find support from industry.
  • Governments, both state and federal, de-investing in agricultural research and selling off valuable research facilities and land.

What is the future of food production in Australia if we do not have family farmers growing it?

Do we want multi-national corporations and foreign governments to own and operate our agricultural lands and be responsible for our food production? Some see no problem in that. I on the other hand do. I want to see sustainable agriculture and I don’t trust multi-national corporations to do anything sustainably other than whatever it takes to make mega profits. At the end of the day, farming is a business but at least the majority of family owned farms throughout Australia operate ethically. I want to be able to buy food that I know is produced with the highest degree of environmental stewardship and animal welfare standards.

One of the things that frustrates me so much about campaigns against Australian farmers by certain animal welfare groups is that we can encourage and legislate for the ethical treatment of animals in Australia. If our farmers are forced to leave the industry and we do become a net importer of food, we have no control over how animals are treated in other countries. People are not going to stop eating meat or seafood. If they see it in the supermarket, whether it is Australian or otherwise, they will buy it. While restrictions have been placed on the live export of Australian animals to Indonesia, this does not improve the treatment of animals in Indonesia – in fact, as Indonesia seeks to go it alone, conditions may get far, far worse: Indonesia tests “breedlots” as self-sufficiency solution. That is not a win for animals.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that people who have little understanding of agriculture and farming systems, should be very careful about the long-term consequences of what they campaign for. If we don’t have farmers, we don’t have food; and unless people have had their heads in the sand the past year or so, Australian farmers are being expected to feed a large proportion of the world. What happens to farmers in Australia has global consequences. We need to take care of them and listen to them.

I would never have thought to become an ‘AGvocate’ except for social media. I have used it to speak about the things that concern me and to raise awareness for rural mental health. To my utter surprise, people have listened. If you were to meet me in person, you’d find a woman that country people call a ‘city-chick’ and a woman that city people call ‘country’. I have the best of both worlds and I feel comfortable in either setting which has given me the opportunity to be a ‘bridge’ between the two. It’s been frustrating at times because farmers are not the easiest people to advocate for: they are stubborn and self-sufficient, which is why they are so good at what they do. But I have a vision of an Australia that sees, loves and supports its rural communities as a valuable part of a whole. It’s not easy, but it’s absolutely, 100%, definitely worth it!

(Alison now works for the Mental Illness Fellowship of NQ as a Rural Development Officer. You can learn more about her advocacy by visiting her blog: ( www.talkingfairleigh.blogspot.com.au )

Alison tweets at @AlisonFairleigh

The first cut is the deepest

A toast to health, wealth and happiness

Art4agriculture is a proud supporting partner of the National Centre for Farmer Health photography competition and I am speaking at their conference in September

The Centre provides national leadership to improve the health, safety and well-being of farm men and women, farm workers, their families and communities across Australia.

The NCFH has been operating since November 2008 and the Centre focus revolves around the ethos “that a healthy Australian farm is a healthy farm family”

Worryingly the the Victorian Government has just cut the Centre’s budget by $1M which will seriously impact on its ability to continue to function.

Passionate advocate for rural communities and rural mental health services Alison Fairleigh has started a petition asking the community to join her “in sending a message to the Victorian government that our farmers are important to the future of this nation and we will not let them be undervalued in this way”

“Last week I was left flabbergasted by news that the Victorian state government had cut funding to the National Centre for Farmer Health which will have implications for farming communities across the whole of Australia. Farmers make an extraordinary contribution to the Victorian economy, as they do to our nation’s economy.  It defies reason that a government would entre into a false economy by cutting back in important areas such as health, mental health and welfare, which will only cost them more in the long term. We as a nation can ill afford to lose any more of our farmers!” said Alison

According to the federal Member for Wannon, Dan Tehan, it is unlikely a cut to continued funding for the National Centre for Farmer Health was a political move and was more likely about tough economic times than politics. He is appealing for a Federal Government lifeline for the centre.

Greens leader Christine Milne says “The greatest challenge for rural and regional Australia is to lift productivity without access to more land and without access to more water. That means massive investment in research and development.”

“They (regional Australia) also need an investment in mental health services, because there are huge consequences for individuals and communities in rural and regional Australia, who have very limited access to mental health services, and they are entitled to their fair share.”

Senator Milne said more investment in nation-building was needed to move Australia “away from the resource based economy it is dependent on and towards a creative, brain based, service and information based economy”.

I am not a great fan of the Greens but Christine is spot on here and it saddens me this country cant seem to get the right balance between health and wealth.

In the case of our farmers we readily admit non-one is forcing us to farm. The majority of us go into it with our eyes wide open to the fact that farming in this country has a volatility index of at least 300%. That’s 3 times that of big supermarkets.  We chose to farm knowing there is no government support and we are at the mercy of both the weather and international events.

Farm Cash incomes

Last ten years have been a bit scary and dairy farmers are not alone

One farmer recently described the last 10 years for farmers in Australia as akin to putting everything you own on black at the roulette table and red came up.

Dairy farmers who supply the domestic milk market are selling their product into a hostile environment.

  1. At processor level and retail level – milk companies like Lion who don’t have a profitable market for their milk are cutting farmer quotas not because consumers aren’t buying fresh milk but because the milk price wars are destroying the milk supply chain
  2. At consumer level. – Modern consumers have little knowledge of modern farming practices and are often unnecessarily concerned about intensification of the industry, environmental stewardship and animal welfare

The declining terms of trade are impacting on farmers ability to manage risk and our ability to secure capital.  This is evidence by the bank sectoring tightening lending for dairy farmers particularly in NSW and QLD. This does not bode well for the future of fresh milk in this country.

Far too many of our farmers are being pushed to the limit physically and this seriously impacts on our ability to cope emotionally

Lets not forget our farms and farmers produce so much more than food that we as a community often take for granted. They produce experiences and values that are often overlooked like our farming culture and heritage and generations of handing down of skills and knowledge,

I agree with Dick Smith when he says

I believe that we have reached the time
when our political leaders should show leadership and say there is always a time when
“enough is enough” and we need to stabilise and  grow the quality of life, not  just the
“quantity” of life.

This petition is the perfect opportunity to send a message to all our governments (State and Federal) that if you don’t have health, wealth becomes meaningless.

You can have your say by signing the petition here

Our farmers our future