Milk in her veins

By Natalie Lewis. As featured in The Country Web 2020 annual

Renae Connell laughs at the suggestion that there must be milk in her veins, but as a fifth-generation dairy farmer, it’s a strong possibility. It’s a lifestyle that chose her, rather than the other way around.

Renae Connell, NSW Young Farmer of the Year. Photo by Gethin Coles

As the youngest of three children and the only daughter of Lloyd and Rowena Walker, her family didn’t push them into farming.

‘My parents had a Jersey stud dairy at Bowraville. It was an average-sized farm and we ran about 90 milkers. My parents didn’t push us to follow in their footsteps, and I just helped out when I wanted to.’

Her husband Scott also grew up on a dairy farm. They took over his parents’ place 12 years ago and now run Valley Rose Jerseys near Megan on the Northern Tablelands with a herd of 350, milking about 190 cows.

‘I said I wasn’t going to marry a dairy farmer but here I am. He was green keeping when we met. We were together for five months when we both moved in with his parents and ended up buying his parents’ farm.’

On that journey, Renae has looked up to her mother and grandmother as role models.

‘I have a lot of respect for my grandmother. Dad was the youngest of nine children and he and my grandmother took over the farm after my grandfather passed away. They were on the edge of bankruptcy but Dad and Grandma pulled it back from the brink.’

Renae said her mum always inspired her to care for animals and lovingly refers to the cows as her ‘girls’.

‘I’ve always loved animals. Mum taught me that it’s about their welfare—if you treat them well, they’ll treat you well. That’s really stayed with me and it’s how we run our business now, it adds that extra care factor.’

As well as looking after their general wellbeing each day, the Connells have added a concrete lane way and creek crossings to aid foot care and accessibility for the cows.

Ensuring their herd is well cared for is something Renae hopes to share with her two children, Layla and Makayla.

‘We’re really keen to teach the girls what we know. They are now raising their own calves and feed them before school—it’s been a great teaching tool.’

Last year Renae was named 2019 NSW Young Farmer of the Year. It was a title that she embraced once she saw that it was about recognising women as farmers.

James Jackson, Renae Connell, Chris Hall, and Minister for Agriculture and Western New South Wales Adam Marshall at the Farmer of the Year Awards

‘Women don’t get enough recognition in farming. It’s nice to get wider community recognition for everything that women have been doing as a massive part of agriculture. In the past, the recognition hasn’t been there. There’s definitely been a huge shift.’

Since receiving her award, Renae has expanded her network by joining the Women in Dairy, NSW Branch. She said it has been nice meeting new people and being a representative for others.

Renae also acknowledged her husband, saying that she couldn’t do what she does without him. ‘I’m only as good as I am because he’s here. It’s both of us and how we work together. We rarely fight. If you can travel a successful road, it’s much better to do it with someone.

‘What I’m most proud of is what we have achieved and the passion we have for it, even though we’ve been dairying for years.’

Renae and Scott Connell on their dairy farm. Photo: Gethin Coles

Like every pathway, being a dairy farmer does have its obstacles and Renae said the biggest challenge is that it never stops.

‘It’s hard to switch off because your brain keeps going. You need a whole variety of skills to be able to do it every day but I wouldn’t have it any other way! I love all of it, I’m living the dream and we’re enjoying our life. It’s second nature to me.’ ■

More information

NSW Farmer of the Year Awards

Women in Dairy NSW
Facebook @nswwomenindairy 

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The 5 most asked questions on farm succession and financial literacy

By Claire Booth, Duffy Elliott Lawyers

As featured in The Country Web 2020 annual Young Farmer Business Program special feature

Claire Booth with her husband Brendan and their young son on the family farm.

A first-generation farmer, Claire Booth is a Senior Associate solicitor with Duffy Elliott Lawyers specialising in Wills, succession planning, and the transfer of wealth and legacy across generations involved in the farming and business sectors. Claire challenges families to use the opportunity of succession planning to ‘reset’ their family business, to create a great business for many generations to come.

In 2017, Claire was awarded a Nuffield Scholarship and published a report, ‘Looking under the covers: How identity, financial literacy and patient capital can prepare the Australian family farm for the next 50 years’.

1. Where do I start?

Most of our clients who are between 50 to 75 years of age have adult children asking what happens when mum/dad retire or pass away. The bank, accountant, and/or children are asking for something to ‘happen’, but they don’t know where to start.

It often becomes clear after listening to the client that the main issue is communication between family members, uncertainty around taxation of assets, or how retirement is funded, or how new debt might be serviced. Depending on the issue, I involve an expert who can assist with this initial hurdle. We set the client with one initial task as I find if people have a little win with one part of the process, they become more interested in tackling other aspects. Attempting to do everything at once—tax, cashflow, Wills, debt, communication, managing expectations etc. is a recipe for overwhelm.

2. It is all about my children, isn’t it?

Following on from the first question, the first stage, for me, does not include adult children. I want mum and dad to know this process is about them. They’ve worked very hard, and we need to look after them in retirement. It is common for couples to not have discussed their expectations about retirement with each other so that’s where we start. When they have a shared vision, they are invincible in front of their kids and it is much easier to progress the needs and wants of the next generation.

3. My husband has no interest in discussing retirement or what happens when he dies. How do I motivate him, as this is important to me and the children?

Often, male Australian farmers’ entire sense of self—their identity—is linked to what they do. We need to be mindful when approaching people about their identity as they can be defensive or scared about change.

I encourage them to meet with a solicitor, at no charge, for an hour, maybe over coffee at a cafe instead of in the office, if that’s less daunting. I then explain that transferring land, farm assets, and debt, is just one part of the puzzle—the bigger question is transferring the decision-making processes. Who is the main decision maker? Who shoulders the risk?

Once there’s a realisation that day-to-day life doesn’t need to change, that they can retain assets if that is important to them, and it is tax effective, then I focus on the aspect of handing over the decision-making process to the children. Here are some tips for working through that process:

  • Take the children with you to the accountant and bank meetings.
  • Do a two-year trial in a new partnership and see if it works.
  • Review the plan after two years. Is it still working for everyone?
  • When you are comfortable, then transfer the assets.
  • Make sure mum and dad’s Will sits alongside any trial process.

4. Why does ‘such and such’ seem to have it all together and we don’t?

Succession processes are still very taboo. It’s a private process that each family walks in their own special way and everyone has their own personal challenges. However, families who have covered the following areas are the ones who often manage succession better:

  • understand the numbers of the business;
  • maintain ‘budget to actual’ processes (this is code for keeping themselves accountable);
  • regularly plan business activities; and
  • treat the business as separate to the family.

These businesses tend to attract cheaper debt pricing, have better access to capital, and access opportunities more quickly when they present (such as expanding or funding the retirement of parents as examples). They also tend to manage succession better than those who don’t understand their numbers.

5. I don’t think we have a big enough farm to treat the children fairly. What do I do?

As farmland values continue to increase across most of Australia, the days of an off-farm child wanting the BHP shares or house in town are coming to an end. Astute off-farm children understand holding a capital appreciating asset (especially water licences) is an asset class that can generate income to service debts, whilst the underlying capital growth plods along over the decades.

Currently, the productive income from farming has firmly divorced itself from the land values. For those clients who can wrap their minds around this, and see there are two opportunities for income, we discuss leaving assets in trust structures, with leases and agreed pathways for income to be shared and equity to be available for leveraging purposes.

For some clients, the kindest thing they can do for their children is sell the farming assets and divide the cash between the children, enabling them to create their own empires. Each family is unique, so all options should be on the table.

In all these scenarios and situations, reach out. Succession planning is not the part of your business to DIY. Use the support of your business advisors. Start conversations early and have them often. ■

More information

If you would like to explore the topic of succession further, DPI’s Young Farmer Business Program Propogate podcast Season 2 talks with farmers who have been through succession or are planning for succession. This series uncovers the essential ingredients for a positive succession plan with experts sharing tips on communication and professional avenues for support as well as advice to keep family relationships and the farming business on track.

Listen to every episode of Propogate or subscribe through Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcasts or Spotify on your mobile device and new episodes will be delivered to you automatically.

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Sleep Effect for mums ‘n’ bubs

By Dimity Smith with Kate Ross. As featured in The Country Web 2020 annual

Kate Ross established Sleep Effect following the birth of her three beautiful children. All three journeys to parenthood were vastly different and throughout these experiences she sought professional help for problems with breastfeeding, settle and sleeping issues. The advice and support she received was a game changer for her family and it became her passion to help other parents through these precious, but challenging, early years.

Kate grew up in Narrabri and has worked as a Registered Nurse and Midwife in large Sydney hospitals right through to smaller maternity units within rural NSW. It was while working back in her hometown hospital that she became aware of the great challenges many people face accessing healthcare in rural areas and the significant amount of travel required for families needing specialised services.

After meeting her husband, Kate moved to Tamworth where she enjoys working casually at the local hospital while raising her young family and balancing having her own business. Since starting Sleep Effect she has completed her Child & Family Health Nursing qualification, become accredited in Neuroprotective Development and is soon to qualify as a Lactation Consultant.

What made you follow your dream?

I know how frustrating and exhausting it can be to have breastfeeding problems and a child who won’t sleep, even with all my professional knowledge. Sleep deprivation is nothing but cruel. I had help and it changed my and my family’s life. I was so lucky to have support services available close by, but in regional and rural areas this is often not the case.

I am a big believer in a family’s right to have options and choice in their healthcare, particularly that your geographic location should not be a limitation on the services you can access. My mission is to empower parents with evidence-based education that is accessible no matter where they live. While there is a daunting amount of information available, Sleep Effect aims to provide families with honest, reliable support which
is practical for everyday life.

How have perceptions changed over time?

Society has so many expectations these days. Feeding, sleep and settle approaches have changed over the years, however when it comes to babies, we naturally look to the women in our lives to guide us. This support can be wonderful, although strict rules such as feeding every four hours or letting them ‘self-settle’ are outdated. It’s far better that we nurture our new parents, fill their cup with enthusiasm and kindness, then send them in the direction of a professional to guide their decision making.

What are some key statistics that you can share around mums, bubs and mental health in the first six months?

  • 15 per cent of mothers experience postnatal depression
  • 10 per cent suffer from clinical anxiety
  • 20 per cent of babies cry excessively under 16 weeks
  • 38 per cent of families report sleep problems at four weeks
  • 95 per cent report they want to breastfeed at birth and 39 per cent of mothers are able to exclusively breastfeed at 16 weeks

(Dr Pamela Douglas, Possum’s Online)

I find these statistics quite alarming and believe I have an opportunity to help families and change these trends for future generations.

How do you support mums and babies who are living in rural and remote areas?

I can help families wherever they are located! I do home visits (including overnight stays) in and around Tamworth, plus virtual support through an online platform like Zoom. I offer consultations with a variety of ongoing support periods, so changes can be monitored and embedded. Sleep Effect packages include breastfeeding, sleep, settle, cry-fuss issues and low maternal mood. I also help with any issues which arise up to the age of five, including introducing solids, toilet training, transitioning to a cot or bed and so much more.

What are your top tips for a family with a new baby?

If your baby is really upset, change your environment—children need sensory nourishment so take them outside, mother nature is our best friend.

If your budget doesn’t allow for an individual consultation with an accredited practitioner, I highly recommend the outstanding resources from Possums online:

If information or advice you are given does not feel right, it often means it doesn’t align with your values and that’s okay. You are the expert of your child. Remember: you can’t love your baby enough!

More information

Kate Ross
B.Nurs, M.Mid (RN/RM) Grad. Cert. C&FHN
Accredited in Neuroprotective Developmental Care
Sleep, settle and breastfeeding support
Mob: 0402 905 400

Support for parents with breastfeeding, sleep,
crying infants and maternal mood concerns

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Helping women achieve financial freedom

Article as featured in the 2020 annual issue of The Country Web magazine

Prue Barry (pictured with her son) is the Corporate Manager at FairVine Super. She recently spoke to us about her country upbringing, financial issues unique to women, and the new super fund that caters specifically to the retirement needs of women all around Australia.

What is your connection to the countrywide?

I spent my formative years in the country. For the first nine years of my life, I lived in a small farming town in the Central West region of NSW called Blayney. Then my family moved to Orange where I lived until I was 18 and moved away to Sydney to attend university.

I am still very much a country girl at heart. While my main residence is in Sydney with my husband and two kids, we have a family farm in Willow Tree and family in Orange that we try to visit at least once a month.

What are some of the financial issues that you see as unique to rural women?

In the country, there are a higher proportion of women doing unpaid work in the home or on the farm. There also tends to be more income volatility in rural areas due to droughts, floods, fires, and now the coronavirus. In small country towns, there are also fewer fulltime employment opportunities and more seasonal/casual work. This makes it harder for rural women to be financially independent, both for day-to-day living and in retirement.

Rural women are also more likely to experience domestic and family violence compared with women in urban areas, and this extends to ‘financial abuse’, which is when someone takes away your access to money, manipulates your financial decisions, or uses your money without your consent. It’s less obvious than other forms of family violence (such as physical violence and emotional abuse) and frequently goes undetected, but it’s extremely destructive and can rob you of your independence.

How does FairVine Super cater to the financial needs of rural women?

FairVine Super actively helps its members add more money to their retirement balance. Recognising that many women don’t have as many employer contributions going into their retirement fund—either because they’re not working, have reduced hours, or have lower pay—FairVine Super has a variety of innovative savings tools built-in that enable members to grow their super independent of their work situation and without them having to change their lifestyle.

This includes FairRewards, which is a shopping portal that gives members a cashback of up to 20c per dollar whenever they shop at more than 300 online retailers. The beauty of this feature is that members are able to top up their super without having to contribute their own savings. You just buy the things you normally would from retailers like The Iconic, Adore Beauty, Cotton On, Booktopia, Petbarn and Blackmores, and the retailers deposit the cashback straight into your super.

I know a lot of rural women shop online because they can’t just walk into a local Westfield to do their shopping, so something like FairRewards, which continually offers special deals and discounts on top of passing cashbacks directly to your super, is perfect for helping them grow their retirement savings.

The other great feature that’s ideally suited for rural women is FairShare. This feature gives spouses the ability to share their super, with the main breadwinner of the house able to split his/her super with their spouse who is doing unpaid domestic or farm work. This has tax benefits for the breadwinner, and also helps to ensure the non-paid spouse is able to maintain their financial independence.

More information

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At my desk … a message from Rural Women’s Network

As featured in the 2020 annual issue of The Country Web

Allison Priest

The past year has been like no other I have experienced. The challenges and changes felt by many of us due to drought, fire, floods and COVID-19 have pushed our limits and forced us to recreate ourselves. We have all had to look inwards and truly value the importance of connection and taking care of our own, and others, wellbeing.

For Rural Women’s Network (RWN), this year has challenged us to adapt and change the way we deliver some of our programs.

In the lead-up to this year’s 2020 NSW-ACT Rural Women’s Award announcement and gala dinner, our state was put into lockdown, and our annual event could not go ahead. However, while we could not celebrate in person at Parliament House, RWN delivered a virtual event that celebrated and recognised our Award finalists—Cressida Cains and Tammy Galvin.

As part of our online event we heard from our finalists about their projects and plans for the future, sponsors showed their support through personal messages to our finalists, and Minister for Agriculture and Western New South Wales, Adam Marshall gave an address announcing Cressida Cains as our 2020 NSW-ACT Award winner. If you missed the online event you can read more about Cressida and Tammy in the latest issue.

There have been additional changes to the Award with the announcement of our 2020 National RWA winner and runner-up to now take place in September 2021. This means the next round of Award applications will now open September 2021 for the 2022 Award program. If you’re interested in applying, now is the time to start putting your ideas on paper and to start developing your proposal to present to our 2022 judges. For more information and to stay up-to-date on award activities see:

Another change this year has been the postponement of the 2020 Rural Women’s Gathering at Forbes—the first time in the gathering’s 27 year history that we have not been able to bring women together to network, learn, gain inspiration, and share ideas and information at this annual event.

The Forbes RWG committee are now re-engaging with each other and the community to talk about the exciting opportunities for next year’s event on 22–24 October 2021. Keep an eye on the gathering Facebook page (NSWRWG2021Forbes) for regular updates and don’t forget to mark this new date in your diary. We look forward to seeing you all in Forbes next year—it will be a celebration worth the wait!

This year has provided some new opportunities for RWN and we have delivered a number of new initiatives for women in farming and fishing.

In July, we welcomed Dimity Smith to the RWN team as our Project Officer. Already, she has been involved in the development of a new online RESET program for women in farming and fishing, with our first pilot completed in September. These new sessions focus on personal and business resilience to help women make effective decisions both on and off the farm.

In addition, Dimity has been running free online Zoom training sessions to ensure rural women feel confident and are able to access our new programs.

As part of our celebrations for International Day of Rural Women in October we launched a new initiative, our BEtreat: Reset sessions for rural women. Focussed on reclaiming wellbeing during crisis, this series was developed in response to the challenges that the prolonged drought, fires, and most recently COVID-19 is having on rural communities, in particular, rural women.

We partnered with The Rural Woman to deliver these free online and immersive events, which were hosted and presented by women with lived experience in disaster recovery. The sessions provided women with an opportunity to breathe and reset. We had more than 1000 women register for these fantastic events. If you missed out or want to know more you can access the recorded sessions on the RWN website or at the BEtreat event page:

We look forward to continuing to find new and exciting ways to engage with rural women as we re-shape our program for the future. We are already planning a special event in Moree in March 2021 to celebrate International Women’s Day. Make sure to follow us on social media to stay up-to-date with event updates.

If you would like more information on any of our programs you can message us at

On a final note, with Christmas just around the corner, I wanted to take this opportunity on behalf of myself, Dimity and Simone to wish you all a very safe and happy festive season and may 2021 bring happiness and joy to you and your loves ones. RWN will be taking a short break with our last day in the office Monday 21 December. We will be back on Deck Monday 11 January.

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Rural Women’s Award win for dairy industry with Cressida Cains ‘Dairy Cocoon’ project helping transform small dairy farms

As featured in The Country Web 2020 annual

Cressida Cains is a successful businesswoman and owner of farmhouse artisan cheesery, Pecora Dairy. A cheesemaker and farmer, Cressida lives with her husband Michael and their two sons on a 200 acre farm at Robertson NSW. Growing up in the Southern Highlands Cressida says her heart has always been on the land.

‘I grew up on a property, so I have always had a strong connection to rural Australia. When I married Michael, we were living in Sydney and working in the wine industry, but it soon became obvious to both of us that we were more suited to rural living. ‘We moved to a small property an hour out of Sydney and it was then that we developed the idea of sheep milking. We spent six years on research and development—learning the art and science of cheese making and growing our flock of East Friesians.

The Australian artisan cheese industry is young, but growing strongly, with a number of farmhouse makers producing outstanding cheese. Pecora Dairy has always been at the forefront of the industry and has been consistently rewarded for their innovative approach, particularly in relation to their work with raw milk cheese.

‘Pecora dairy produces cheese and yoghurt with a strong focus on ethical and sustainable farming. Our approach to quality is totally uncompromising and we have worked incredibly hard to create benchmark Australian ewe’s milk cheeses,’ says Cressida. In 2019 Pecora Dairy took out the trophy for the dairy section with their raw milk feta at the National Delicious Produce Awards. They are also the first cheesery in Australia to be licensed to make raw milk cheese.

Despite their individual success Cressida says that through her years in dairy she has noticed a worrying trend. ‘In 1980 there were 22 000 dairy farms in Australia, however today, there are little more than 5000. With 98 per cent of small dairy farms being family owned, it is deeply troubling to see the industry in such crisis, where small dairy farms are closing their gates because they cannot make a profit under the current model of selling milk to the large processors.’

Cressida conducted a survey of small dairy farmers to gain a greater understanding of the current state of the industry. Alarmingly, 40 per cent of respondents rated the viability of their farm as poor. ‘Their fate was lying at the mercy of huge retail and processor market power. On the other hand, Australians are consuming more yoghurt and specialty cheese than ever before, but currently this increased demand is being met by overseas product, and it’s growing on average by an extra 4000 tonnes each year.’

Considering this, Cressida says that for some small family dairy farms there is a clear pathway to survive and thrive by operating up the value chain. ‘I came up with the idea for Dairy Cocoon in response to this crisis in the Australian dairy industry—to assist farmers to take back control of their businesses by supporting them to produce their own branded products, like milk, yoghurt, gelato or cheese.

‘Most recently, during COVID-19, we have seen a strong push towards Australian products, cheese in particular. There are huge opportunities for small Australian dairy farmers. ‘I am really excited that through the Rural Women’s Award I am going to be able to use the knowledge and experience I have gained over the years to support other small dairy farmers to stay in the industry and thrive by helping them to transform their business and farm.

Dairy Cocoon will be delivered in the form of a powerful online platform and support hub and will be a place where smaller dairy farmers can plan and formulate their transformational business plan, access training and education, and be connected and supported. ‘The importance of smaller dairy farm businesses cannot be underestimated in the Australian dairy industry, because once they are gone, the landscape of the industry will be changed forever.’

‘I have seen small dairies transform and create fantastic brands. I want to help more small dairy farmers do the same—to break the shackles of being a price taker and start seeing the profits for all their years of hard work. ‘Our small dairy farmers can drastically decrease their herd and still be more profitable. That means, reduced stress on the land and on the dairy farmer, while also lowering inputs and associated costs.’ Cressida looks forward to growing the industry and supporting small dairy farmers through her Rural Women’s Award Dairy Cocoon project.

Reflecting on the relevance of this Award to rural women and communities across Australia, Cressida says it is so important that women continue to be supported and involved in Australian agriculture at all levels.

‘It’s important for women to be involved in agriculture in Australia. With the new technology and advances it is an exciting time to be working in this industry.

‘I want to encourage more young women into agriculture as they lend a different perspective to agriculture and farming. Having a strong female presence in agriculture will benefit everybody.’

■ ■ ■

The AgriFutures™ Rural Women’s Award is Australia’s leading award acknowledging and supporting the essential role women play in rural industries, businesses and communities. The award provides a platform to inspire and support Australian women to use and develop their skills to benefit their industries and communities.

Each state and territory winner receives a $10 000 bursary for innovative ideas and projects, access to professional development opportunities and alumni networks.

The Award is open to all women involved in rural industries (agriculture, forestry and fisheries), rural and regional businesses and rural and regional communities.

Location is no barrier. If you want to create impact, innovate and make a difference and/or contribute to enhancing the prosperity of rural and regional Australia, then we want to hear from you.

Know someone who should apply for the AgriFutures™ Rural Women’s Award? Email their name, contact details, and project area to:

How to apply

For detailed award guidelines and information on how to enter see

Applications for the 2022 program will open in September 2021.

Posted in agriculture, Awards, business, farming, food, Innovation, inspirational, leadership, Marketing, networking, NSW Rural Women's Network, primary industries, Research, Rural Australia, rural women, RuralWomen, RWN, The Country Web, women, Women leaders, women's networks | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Country Web 2020 Annual – Think Well, Feel Well

The 2020 annual issue of The Country Web is themed ‘Think well, feel well‘. It includes ideas for staying well and tips for overcoming life’s challenges.

The Country Web 2020 Annual - Think Well, Feel Well cover

As part of our 2020 Annual issue we have a special feature on the Young Farmer Business program, an article on helping children after the bushfires, and our ‘Men’s Matters’ feature discusses how to avoid a relationship breakdown.

You can download the entire issue online from the RWN website or we will be sharing weekly stories on the blog.

First up is our guest Editorial from Minister for Mental Health, Regional Youth and Women, the Honourable Bronnie Taylor MLC.

Editorial: Bronnie Taylor MLC

Bronnie Taylor MLC, Minister for Mental Health, Minister for Regional Youth and Minister for Women

As NSW Minister for Mental Health and Women, women’s health and wellbeing is something I am extremely passionate about.

Rural and regional NSW has faced incredibly difficult times recently, with drought, bushfire and now the COVID-19 pandemic. While many of us are coping well, some are struggling with the ever-changing emotional, physical and financial realities of life-as-we-know-it being turned on its head.

You, or people you know, might be feeling anxious, sad or afraid. People who experience mental illness know these feelings all too well. They struggle with them every day and they find the courage to live the best life they can, regardless of the cards they were dealt. What we all have to do now is find the same courage.

I have found that so many women, especially those in rural and regional areas, have amazing reserves of courage. Women are often the rallying forces within their communities, and one of the privileges of my role is to meet these inspiring women and hear their stories.

Unfortunately, and it is in danger of becoming a cliché, women often put themselves last. We are all familiar with the ‘juggle’, where we come out at the bottom of the pile, stressed, tired and sometimes sick. As a mother, daughter, wife, friend and politician, I am guilty of it as much as the next woman.

Whilst we cannot always slow down or step away from our responsibilities, what we can do as women is to care for ourselves more. When it comes to our mental health, I want to remind women that help is out there, no matter what their concern may be.

There are more options than ever to access help via telehealth, so getting help is as easy as picking up the phone. In April this year, I announced that an additional 60 000 calls will be able to be answered by the NSW Mental Health Line. We have also invested in Lifeline, which is such a great resource. It is a familiar brand, and anyone can call them at any time, and open up to a listening ear at the other end of the line.

I was very proud to extend the six Rural Adversity Mental Health Program (RAMHP) coordinators until 2021. There are now 20 RAMHP coordinators across NSW. They are a great option if you want to be linked to care and they can direct you to the right service. There are also now 27 Farm Gate counsellors and Drought-Peer Support Workers delivering counselling across rural local health districts—meaning help is available locally where people need it.

In July this year, we also provided funding towards mental health training for more than 5000 community pharmacists. Pharmacies are often the first place that people go to for health issues and I am pleased that pharmacists will be given the knowledge and tools to recognise when someone is in distress and appropriately
refer them.

I’d like to finish by raising the point that good mental health is more than just the absence of mental illness. I’d like to share with you some tips for building good mental health from Healthdirect. I try to use these tools in my daily life and I encourage you to give them a go. Let’s look after each other.

Build relationships

Having good relationships with other people is the most important factor contributing to a sense of wellbeing. This can include family, friends, workmates and others in the community.

Stay healthy

Exercise has been shown to increase wellbeing as well as reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. A healthy diet, avoiding excess alcohol or drugs, getting a good night’s sleep, and regular check-ups with the doctor can all help too.

Develop gratitude

Count your blessings. Try keeping a gratitude journal and write down three positive things each day.

Identify and use your strengths

We all have different strengths and weaknesses, but finding out what you are really good at and using those talents can increase wellbeing.

Create flow

Flow is the state of being so highly involved in an enjoyable activity that you lose track of time. Flow can happen during work, hobbies, or sports.

Give to others

Making a contribution to the community, however small, increases social wellbeing.

Spirituality or religion

For some people, being involved in spiritual or religious practices can improve wellbeing, help in coping with stress, and reduce symptoms of mental illness.

Remember if you are struggling to cope with everyday life, reach out for help—you don’t have to do it alone.

Want more? Download the entire issue online from the RWN website or we will be sharing weekly stories on the blog.

What’s next?

Contributions and advertising bookings for our 2021 annual issue of The Country Web themed ‘Women, Business and Farming’ are due 30 April 2021 for publication in August 2021.

We want to hear from rural women who are involved in, or who have a connection to farming, and who are running their own business or passion project.

This issue is about highlighting and celebrating women farmers and fishers and the stories of passion, innovation, research and technology that make our farming communities great.

Please forward contributions to:

The Editor
The Country Web
Locked Bag 21
Orange NSW 2800


Posted in agriculture, Communities, Depression, Domestic Violence, Families, farming, free resources, Health, inspirational, mental health, NSW Rural Women's Network, primary industries, rural women, RuralWomen, RWN, Social welfare, stories, The Country Web, women | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Shining The Light on Rural Women’s Mental Health

Guest blog by Aimée Makeham, RAMHP Coordinator

Think of the words ‘rural’, ‘farmer’, or ‘agriculture’. Now close your eyes and imagine a person who lives or works in rural communities or agriculture or is a farmer. I can almost guarantee the person behind your closed eyes is a male. Statistically, you’re not wrong, it was only in 1994 that the law was changed to allow women to legally claim to be ‘farmers’ and census data from 2016 indicated that women only made up 32% of the Australian agricultural workforce. While one third of all ‘farmers’ in Australia are female, there seems to be such a focus on rural male mental health that we tend to forget about the women living rurally and the challenges they may incur, regardless of whether their registered employment is as a ‘farmer’ or not.

We all know that males in Australia are more likely to die by suicide than females, yet we tend to forget that women have significantly higher rates of suicidal ideation, suicide plans and attempts than males. A review of literature by Daghagh Yazd, Wheeler and Zuo (2019) found that whilst farm women usually engaged in similar farm roles to males, mental health literature focuses primarily on male farmers.

They also found that female farmers tended to experience more psychological distress than males farmers, in part due to their combination of roles within the business (farm management/labour), household duties and the responsibility of child rearing. Other factors that play a role in increased emotional distress includes increased work hours for females, pesticide exposure, economic hardship and worrying about finances. And, while a lot of these aren’t necessarily only ‘female problems’, or even ‘farmer’s problems’, they are issues a lot of country women can relate to.

Anecdotally, we know that women are more likely to talk about their partner’s health than their own, and the research shows this as well. Yet, we often hear the phrases like ‘women talk’ and therefore, they have outlets for their emotional distress. ‘Men don’t talk’ which means we need to focus our attention on creating healthy, safe spaces for letting our feelings out – don’t get me wrong, we do need to create these spaces, but when the research indicates that women will talk about their partners before they talk about themselves and shows higher rates of emotional and psychological distress in females, it begs the questions ‘are we focusing enough on women’s mental health?’.

I have a controversial opinion. I don’t think female farmers or rural females are inspiring. Instead, they are the hard working and underappreciated glue that holds our small communities together. Country women work the land or the sea like any male farmer does. They might hold other forms of employment and they might be raising the kids of our future. They bake the cakes to be sold at fundraisers, they volunteer to ensure that our communities keep on keeping on. So, maybe it’s time we shone the light on the mental health status of rural females as well as rural males. Because without the ladies, our agricultural and rural communities would have some very large shoes to fill.

Centre for Rural & Remote Mental Health
This blog was first published on the Centre for Rural & Remote Mental Health website that you can view here.

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Engage Ag – creating opportunities for a career in agriculture

COUNTRY JOBBy Sandra Ireson
As featured in the 2019 Country Web Annual

Can communities stop younger generations from leaving town and moving to the city? Sandra Ireson says you can; by providing young people with opportunities for hands-on skills development and learning on farm.

Sandra says; in her community of Hay they ‘built’ a school using the knowledge and experience of local landholders and business folk who volunteered their time to teach young people how to be jackaroos and jillaroos.

The Hay Inc Rural Education Program was developed by community members and landholders to counter the demise of the jackaroo/jillaroo training system in the district. At the time, young people had limited access to hands-on training and bush skills.

‘Since our first intake in 2014 the Program has delivered immense benefits to the community and local industry. Not only have regionally-based students been attracted to the Program but it has helped bridge the gap between country and city by introducing city students to the rural community of Hay’, says Sandra.

‘Additional benefits include better promotion of the industry, enhanced tourism, and the ability to capture valuable local knowledge and transfer it to future generations. It has also seen exciting new partnership forged between industry, government, landholders and employers.’

The program provides mentoring and support, hands-on skills and learning, and work opportunities. It is delivered as a three-week course (run over five months), generally aligning with farming seasons. The hands-on training modules cover the necessary skills of stockmanship in sheep, cattle and farming.

‘Basically, it takes lessons out of the classroom and onto the farm where practical skills are taught by working or retiring experienced farm and business operators’, says Sandra.

Following the success of the program, Sandra took it a step further when she presented a project proposal as part of the 2017 AgriFutures™ Rural Women’s Award to develop an adaptable model that could be implemented by rural communities across Australia.

Sandra won and used her $10,000 Westpac award bursary to develop a community tool-kit which is now available to people wanting to deliver the program in their own community. If you’re interested in finding out more, contact Sandra.

More information
Sandra Ireson
M: 0439 938 119

Tips to get started

» Establish a committee – every town has people who are passionate about where they live – they won’t be hard to find and a committee allows you to establish a governance mechanism for clear communication and to get things done.

» Set up a not-for-profit incorporated group and bank account, establish and agreed set of goals, and explored funding options (see our tips).

» Establish a curriculum that suits your region/rural industry. The model can focus on specific industries such as livestock or cropping.

» Find experienced and passionate landholders and/or local business people to be involved – they are key to your success as they donate valuable time and facilities.

» Create a marketing campaign to get your message out. It can be as simple as setting up a facebook page or getting local media coverage.

» Start recruiting students!

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Rad Growers – Erin O’Callaghan

erinBy Joel Orchard, Future Feeders
As featured in the 2019 Country Web Annual

Erin O’Callaghan runs a small (approx 50 acres) scale farming business at Bungowannah 20 km from Albury in Southern NSW.  It includes a 1 acre market garden, mixed crop polyculture, 300 flock pastured free range egg layers and 22 head of Angus.

Her dynamic, mixed crop market garden system integrates permaculture and organic farming principles for supply into local and regional direct distribution markets. She has been able to form a reliable and consistent customer base through her ‘veggie box’ program; taking pre-orders through a 13 week subscription Community Supported Agriculture program. In Erin’s words “veggie box” creates “a relationship of mutual support and commitment between us as growers and you as members of our “farm-ily”. They also share the risk and rewards involved”

The farm model includes a small flock of pasture managed chickens for egg production which follow a small herd of cattle managed through cell grazing to improve pasture under a holistic management technique. The cattle are sent through local abattoir for sale through central markets.

In addition, Erin offers a ‘Friday farm experience’ which provides an opportunity for community engagement, volunteering, training and education in small scale farming. The session runs from 8 am to 3 pm and includes voluntary labour support and farm exposure as well as an on-farm harvest lunch for participants.

Erin has been market gardening as RAD Growers for the past three years and has made significant investments in infrastructure, equipment and other assets to ensure the success of her small farm business.  These include the purchase of a van, tractor, packing shed, irrigation system, cool room, poly-tunnel tools and equipment.

Pathway into farming
From a professional physiotherapy background, Erin completed a Permaculture Certificate with Milkwood Permaculture as an introduction to small-scale sustainable food systems before then exploring a soil management course through the local National Environment Centre at Riverina TAFE.

She also completed on farm internship programs with Fraser Bayley at Old Mill Farm (Moruya) and then later at Buena Vista Farm in Gerringong before establishing her business. Working in hospitals and the health system as a physiotherapist, Erin says she observed the poor quality of food being served in the industry and noted how food quality impacted on human health.

She set out with a five year business development plan with a view to buying her own land. She gained professional business skills and help from her father and now has a long term use agreement for access to family land with her parents with a 5% profit share.

Finding a market
Albury has typically had limited options for local organic food so Erin saw a clear market opportunity to explore her interests in chemical free and nutrient dense food to supply the local community and surrounds.

Farm business challenges
While Erin calls herself ‘the eternal optimist’, she has faced her fair share of challenges entering the marketplace. Along with many other young farmers, Erin has faced protectionism and anti-competitive behaviour from existing stallholders and committee at her local farmers markets. There is also the issue of social isolation due to a lack of an established small-scale farming industry and small numbers of other young farmers in her region.

Erin believes there is not enough support or industry networks in the small scale market gardening industry and as a result she has struggled to find connection points in the local farming community but has found some support through online forums and mentorship from other farmers, notably Fraser Bayley and Justin Russell.

Biggest learning in business
Erin says one of her biggest learnings has been to trust herself. Another has been trying to successfully balance farm life with off-farm income.

‘There is so much pressure to balance the farm business with off-farm income. It places extra pressure on you as a small farm business start-up so burnout and fatigue is a constant challenge.’

Even a small business needs a high investment in marketing and branding.  ‘While I recognise the importance of developing other business skills such as media and marketing, I don’t have the time and I don’t have the cash flow to outsource.’

‘It’s hard to sell. You can do all the market research you like, but at the end of the day, people will say they want fresh local food and still not buy it.

Advice for new starters
‘Get experience, it is a steep learning curve.’

Connection with Community
Erin keeps in contact with her consumer base and local community through a weekly farm newsletter to her members. She is committed to forming strong connections with customers and encourages them to engage directly with the farm as a holistic food system.

Erin believes that ‘Food and fibre production should be compulsory in high school. Growing food is essential’ and is currently assessing options to integrate school field trips, work experience and traineeships for local schools in the hope that education platforms and exposing young people will feed back into the food system and agricultural economy.

More information

Erin’s stoy has been featured courtesy of the Young Farmer Business Program. The program helps young farmers and fishers aged 18-35 years to enter into or expand
their existing businesses. It aims to improve connections, knowledge, skills and experiences to better manage risk, execute effective plans and make decisions that enhance long-term business and personal resilience.
Facebook: YoungFarmerBusinessProgram
Instagram: youngfarmerbusinessprogram

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