Beauty or beast?

We have an image problem.

There I said it.

Many will say “How can you look at yourselves in the mirror” that we as an industry (farming) are a disgrace.

This might well be the millionth article or blog or opinion piece you read on this this week. Perhaps even today. Why? Because we have a BIG problem, and I have an opinion. And if every other Tom, Dick and Harry in the country can voice theirs (however ill-informed) then so can I.

The problem doesn’t appear to be with our overseas markets either (or so I understand). It’s on our own back doorstep. Which is even scarier.

In a country that once held farming in the highest esteem, where farmers were considered to be the backbone of the country, is now a country that has turned its back on farming and farmers. The people that stand up for farmers get all but a public flogging for their efforts.

To this I say shame on you New Zealand.

Read the comments section on any farming related article on main stream media sites and you will read the same thing time and again, the comments of which aren’t even worth repeating. Some comments could be considered a form of bullying, others said out of pure stupidity and lack of education. Some of those comments are moving a step forward into reality as was seen recently with the slashing of irrigator tyres.

So what now? What’s the root cause of this? Misinformation? misrepresentation? Too many left wing vegans ? (yes I said it!) Or a creation of our own making?

Whatever the reason. Things need to change.

But how?!? I hear you scream?

There have been many suggestions made that I have read over recent weeks. The most prominent one being to be completely open with the public, open the gates to the dairy and let people see a working farm. (Health and safety eat your heart out!) But will this actually increase the public’s UNDERSTANDING of farming? probably not. But perhaps it will be a step in the right direction.

As the country has increased in population, gone are the days where most people knew a person that owned a farm or spending weekends at your mates farm to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Urbanization in our population has become a thing and there is an increasing proportion of people who have never stepped foot on a farm. God forbid ones losses cell phone reception or has to walk on grass that has cow pats on it. So yes, opening the farm gates is a good starting point.

But all of this has been said before. It’s nothing revolutionary or unique. Nor is the following suggestion: spread more positive stories.

Now I’m not talking about the guy who increased his milk production and got himself out of a financial hole (although that would be a great story) or the guy who renewed 60% of his farm in one year because his pasture was sh*t. I’m talking about the life changing stories, the literally life changing. And I came across just those sorts of stories last week.

Last Wednesday I was invited up to Ohakune by the team at Land Based training and got the opportunity to check out Te Pa station which is owned by the Atihau-Whanganui incorporation. (AWHI) a Maori incorporation started in 1970 following an order of the Maori Land Court to take back 101,000 acres of land vested into the Aotea Maori Land Council by Whanganui Maori in 1903.

A few years ago AWHI joined forces with Land Based training to establish an accredited training establishment that would help train and engage young people. AWHI have a focus of training young Maori who want to step into the agricultural space.

After chatting to some of the people involved in the training and running of the programme it soon became apparent that for many of the young kids that come through the doors of the training school it can be a life changing experience.

I was told of one kid who came from a not so great background. Dope and drinking were a large part of her life until she came to the station in Ohakune. A zero drugs and alcohol policy meant giving up her previous lifestyle cold turkey but more importantly she found a sense of direction and purpose in life.

One of trainers said that quite often, these kids just need someone to believe in them and get them to believe in themselves.

“Having a sense of purpose and being given boundaries and structure really has the ability to turn it around for people.”

This student has since gone on to be one of the top students in her class and has found a passion for agriculture she may never have found if not for the opportunity to spend a year in Ohakune working her tail off.

Her story is one of many where young kids have had their lives turned around because of farming. Lives that were otherwise headed down a dank dark road.

I think this sort of thing is amazing. These stories are the ones that never seem to make the news. Amidst the hoards of people that seem to believe that farming is to farming what George RR Martin is for the folk of Westeros, but what about all the good farming does? For communities and individuals.

So how do we go about spreading these stories to the general public and make them stand up and take notice of them? For me as a journalist, I know it’s my job to seek out these types of stories and write them. I write them, they get published in my magazine then the poor people on  my Facebook feed get bombarded with links to those stories. My Facebook friends are probably quite well up to speed with all things farming I imagine.

But how to get the main stream media buy in? Farming stories only ever seem to make the feature pages of online media if its negative. Doom and gloom sells. This is largely in favor of click-bait stories about celebrities we will never meet but for some reason are more invested in their lives than that of those who might be our neighbours, friends or relatives.

It seems silly that the news of a celebrity divorce is more newsworthy and ‘important’ than young kids turning their lives around and other positive stories.

Perhaps the media are the ones who need to take a look at themselves in the mirror. As far as I know, New Zealand was founded on the land, not on the size of Kim Kardashians bum.

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