2017 NSW-ACT RIRDC Rural Women’s Award Finalist: Rebecca Barnes

We were recently thrilled to announce this year’s NSW-ACT RIRDC Rural Women’s Award Finalists, who are each achieving remarkable things within their respective industries in NSW. We will share their profiles with you over the coming 2 weeks to provide some more insight into these amazing women and their projects. The first of our four Finalists is Rebecca Barnes from Ballina

After an international career in finance and insurance Rebecca Barnes moved to the northern NSW coastal town of Ballina 20 years ago seeking a career and lifestyle change that would allow her to balance work and family.

When research led her to realise the nutritional benefits and untapped potential of Australian native foods Rebecca and her business partner established Playing with Fire Native Foods.

Australia’s native foods are rich and vibrant in colour taste and nutrition. There are now 15 commercialised varieties available which are in very high demand due to the growing interest from chefs, foodies, nutritionists and the international markets. So much so that demand outstrips supply in more than half of these foods.

An industry leader Playing with Fire Native Foods grows, processes, manufacturers and supplies native foods both domestically, to local farmers markets, gourmet food shops and high-end restaurants, and internationally to Asia, USA and Europe.

With demand currently outstripping supply due to the growing interest from chefs, foodies, nutritionists and international markets Rebecca believes the industry is at a critical point and needs to expand to ensure its survival.

Rebecca would use the bursary to showcase the native food industry by hosting a 2-day conference to provide industry leaders with a platform to connect and share their stories and to educate potential growers about the enormous potential of bushfoods.

For more information on the four Finalists or to find out about how you can apply for the Award please visit The Rural Women’s Network.

Posted in agriculture, Awards, bursary, business, Communities, farming, Innovation, inspirational, leadership, Mentor, networking, NSW Rural Women's Network, primary industries, Research, RIRDC rural women's award, Rural Australia, rural women, RuralWomen, RWN, Sustainability, women | Leave a comment

Families in recovery: Are you struggling with a loved one’s use of alcohol or drugs?

Anne Leigh, New England. As featured in The Country Web 2016 Annual

Transition is usually understood to mean a process, or period of changing from one state or condition to another. Commonly used synonyms include conversion, transformation, adaptation, adjustment and my favourite, metamorphosis—think caterpillar to butterfly.

But this semantic definition implies that our daily reality consists of stasis and I’m only now, at the ripe old age of 58, beginning to understand that nothing, that is, no thing, exists in stasis. Physics explains this much better than I could, but in essence, our every breath in life is a transition, at a cellular level from what was, to what is right now.

Yet, even though our bodies are shedding and recreating our cells constantly, we humans generally conspire in a shared illusion of solidity—we like things to feel familiar and think that life is predictable, for the most part. Change rankles if we haven’t asked for it.

Anne Leigh

‘Sometimes what’s happening in our families is so close-up, so stressful, that we don’t see the range of possible strategies for dealing with the situation in a healthy and productive way. ANNE LEIGH

Six years ago I left inner-urban Melbourne for the green and pleasant land of the New England Plateau. I was aware that my life would change—that was obvious—but what wasn’t obvious in those early days of ‘resettlement’ was that my entire inner life would also change.

I was no longer a community development coordinator (not yet employed), I wasn’t in the role of a mother (both daughters lived in different States), I wasn’t in the role of wife/partner, (I’d moved to NSW months ahead of my husband, who had to remain in Melbourne to wind up his business), so not a spouse either. I remember sitting on the verandah of our new (very old) house and realising I didn’t know a soul in my new life. I felt like I’d been cut adrift from my moorings—and it felt strangely unsettling, to say the least.

As I pondered the adjustment discomfort I was experiencing I reflected that change causes particular and significant disturbance for those who haven’t set out to create change in their life, and especially not within their family relationships.

This led me to remember the many families I’d worked with over a 20-year period; people whose lives had been thrown into chaos by another’s problematic alcohol or other drug (AOD) use, whether legal drugs like prescription medication and alcohol, or illegal substances like heroin, cannabis and, in more recent years, methyl amphetamine (ice).

The stigma of ‘drugs’ renders families of drug users largely invisible in our community, and ordinary families, just like us, who find themselves in this situation, fear judgement and rejection by their friends and neighbours. It’s a terrible situation to be in as a family, especially for parents. You can imagine when people are out socialising in their friendship or work networks and other parents are talking about their grown-up children and how well they’re doing. Many parents have said how they dread anyone asking them about their young adult drug user; they don’t know what to say, so they ‘cover’ for them if they’re living a drug-dependent life.

Stigma places huge pressure on a family to keep up a coping facade. This also applies to legal drugs, like alcohol. If the drug user is living in the family home, the parents, partners and children spend a huge amount of energy trying to pretend that things are okay when they’re not and, over time, this takes a really big toll on their mental and physical health. This is all exacerbated when the drugs are illegal and that creates an additional layer of difficulty—that now my child, spouse, parent or sibling is seen and treated as a criminal because of what essentially is a health issue.

One of the most common causes of anxiety for parents of drug users is a pervasive sense of guilt. Parents see other families where there are no (apparent) problematic drug issues and torture themselves with the thought that somehow they have contributed to their young adult’s drug dependence. Constant self-scrutiny is corrosive to other family relationships, especially where each parent’s values differ so that there cannot be a cohesive family response to the unsafe drug use happening in their midst.

In fact, the current science attributes a range of factors to someone becoming drug dependent. Parental or spousal blame is way too simple. This is a complex problem for society and government, which is why I think we deal so ineffectively with it, as a society, or as policy makers. It involves among other intangibles, a person’s genetic inheritance, their personal resilience, or coping capacity, their exposure to and influence by others, usually peers. It would be impossible to qualify or quantify accurately the reasons in each individual case.

The many reasons why someone ends up drug dependent are a red herring for the rest of the family; it confuses the issue by allowing them to focus solely on the drug user’s trajectory, when they need to be able to focus on their own needs.

Families benefit by knowing what responses can make the problem worse and what responses can actually help all parties. For example, parents are biologically programed to protect their children. We just forget that there comes a time, when our child becomes an adult, when we can’t do that anymore; we can’t save them from themselves. For spouses, adult children and siblings too, the urge to rescue situations is strong, but only when the drug user is allowed to experience the consequences of their choices do they gain opportunities to make different (better) decisions with different (better) outcomes.

In other words, when families stop ‘cushioning’ their drug user from the natural consequences of their problematic drug use. i.e. no money, no job, nowhere to live, burnt relationships, debts, poor health etc…, the drug user is faced with a very different daily reality and may be in a position to consider their quality of life.

Stopping rescuing behaviours sounds really easy. It’s actually one of the hardest things a parent ever has to do, with the degree of difficulty exacerbated by the absence of any helpful literature in the myriad ‘parenting’ books available. There are, after all, no chapters entitled: ‘What to do if your child grows up to be drug dependent’. The very lack of public discourse creates a sense of shame and blame for parents who are usually the very people most concerned with the health and happiness of their young adult drug user.

Families unfamiliar with the phenomena surrounding addiction or drug dependence think that ‘saving’ the drug user from the consequences of their drug related behaviours will magically cause them to reduce or even stop their unhealthy drug use. However, we know that the desire to change behaviours, in this case to reduce or stop using drugs at dangerous levels, has to come from the individual concerned. No amount of threats, coercion, blackmail or manipulation on the part of the family (who are motivated by a genuine desire to somehow just make them stop!) will improve the situation and can sometimes actually make things worse.

Both the drug user and the family are under extreme stress in this situation and families need to learn how to look after their own needs as a primary focus.

Generally speaking, someone who is drug dependent is either actively ‘using’ or in recovery. People sometimes mistakenly interpret ‘recovery’ as ‘cured’. However, one’s vulnerability to drug dependence, or any other addiction can remain for a very long time, even if the person abstains from drug use. There are recognisable stages and personal development occurring through a drug dependent person’s life and so recovery is viewed as a process, rather than an outcome or a single event. There are many definitions of recovery; I like this one, which comes from the United States: “Recovery is a process of change whereby individuals work to improve their own health and wellness and to live a meaningful life in a community of their choice while striving to achieve their full potential.”

The families of drug dependent people also have their own recovery process too. This is the growth and development that they go through during their loved one’s concurrent process, except for families it’s about managing things like anxiety, instead of drug cravings, and learning to respond differently to the things that cause conflict for families. Families too learn to meet their own needs, eventually, by drawing on their own inner resources and becoming untangled from the quite toxic dynamic that can result when two people or groups—the drug user and the family or parent—try to control each other.

These days my work doesn’t include the drug user, as their needs and wants are often at odds with what the rest of the family needs and wants. The family needs support and information especially if their drug user remains determined to use drugs at problematic levels.

So a huge part of finding a way out of the maze of confusion and high stress levels is finding the inner strength to reach out and ask someone for help.

This is where we come back to the alarming issue of ‘change’ I spoke of at the outset. In my work with families, in order to put one’s hand up for help, families must be able to withstand and overcome the sense of dread that can accompany feeling out of control, or knowing that one cannot do this alone.

Needing to get professional help can feel synonymous with the collapse of the family’s structure—what was secret will now be uncovered. This can manifest as a sick-to-the-stomach anxiety which requires much courage to move through, as it can seem like disloyalty, or betrayal, especially if there has been a verbal or even tacit agreement that ‘we won’t tell anyone’. The risk of physical assault also sometimes has to be reckoned with. Asking for help is no small achievement.

Having worked with many families affected by problematic AOD use I have seen the outcomes and effects of seeking help and the consequent skills development and personal empowerment that ensues. It’s a very hard trek—I liken it to a mountain trek—it can be a marathon moving toward recovery, but the alternative is a marathon that can seriously undermine positive family functioning. Marathons are doable if you know where you’re aiming for and you’ve learnt how to use the right equipment. What starts out as a frightening family experience can result in a life-enhancing metamorphosis for each family member who takes up the challenge.

More information

Anne Leigh—Specialist trainer/facilitator
m: 0406 001 577
e: contactus@FamiliesInRecovery.com.au

Posted in Drug support, Families, Health, rural women, stories, The Country Web | Tagged | Leave a comment

Be bold for change – the importance of International women’s day

Guest blog by Marie Sullivan OAM

Editors note: Due to being out of the office yesterday and having some scheduling issues our special guest blog from Marie Sullivan in celebration of International Women’s Day was not distributed. So this is a belated ‘Happy International Women’s Day’ from the Rural Women’s Network. We hope you enjoy reading about the importance of this special day and why we should take the opportunity to celebrate this important day with other women. 


8 March 2017 marks International Women’s Day (IWD). It’s a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. Each year there is a new theme and this year’s is #BeBoldForChange. Worldwide, men and women are being called upon to help forge a better working world – a more gender inclusive world.

So if you believe that International Women’s Day is some new-fangled event organised by women hell bent on stirring the possum and whinging about their lot in life, think again.

The earliest observance was held on February 28, 1909, in New York. In August 1910, an International Women’s Conference was organized in Copenhagen. The outcome was a proposal to establish an annual International Woman’s Day (singular). 100 women from 17 countries agreed with the idea as a strategy to promote equal rights including the right to vote for women.

In many countries, it took a long time for women to get suffrage, notwithstanding these early efforts. New Zealand was first cab off the rank in 1893 followed closely by Australia. Australian women- with the exception of Aboriginal women- won the vote in 1902, but it took years before they stood as candidates in government elections.

In the following year on March 19, 1911 IWD was marked for the first time, by over a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. All over the western world, women pressed for the right to vote and to stand for parliament. The 1914 observance of the Day in Germany was dedicated to women’s right to vote, which German women did not win until 1918. On March 8, 1914 London witnessed a march from Bow Street to Trafalgar Square in support of women’s suffrage. Sylvia Pankhurst was arrested in front of Charing Cross station on her way to speak in Trafalgar Square. Meryl Streep played Mrs Pankhurst in the 2015 film Suffragette.

The United States finally began allowing women to vote in 1920, after the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.

In 1921 a leading suffragette, Edith Cowan, was the first woman to be elected to an Australian parliament when she won a seat in the Western Australian Legislative Assembly. In August 1943, 22 years after Cowan was elected, Australia finally elected women to Australia’s Federal Parliament when Dorothy Tangney became Senator for Western Australia and Enid Lyons (later appointed Dame Enid by the King in 1943 and Dame Enid of Australia in 1980) was elected to the House of Representatives. Wife of Prime Minister Joe Lyons (who predeceased her leaving her with twelve children), four years after his death, she won the Division of Darwin in north-western Tasmania becoming the first woman in the House of Representatives and remaining in office for 8 years.

Aborigines, male and female, did not have the right to vote until 1962 secured by changes to the Commonwealth Electoral Act, and not as a result of the 1967 Referendum which amended the Constitution to allow for Indigenous people to be included in the census, and to give Federal Parliament the power to make laws in relation to Indigenous people.

It took until 2016 for the first Aboriginal woman to be elected to the Australian House of Representatives, when Linda Burney won the federal seat of Barton in the 2016 federal election. She was also the first Aboriginal graduate from the Mitchell College of Advanced Education Bathurst (now Charles Sturt University) where she obtained a Diploma of Teaching.

Did you know that Switzerland did not give women a full right to vote until 1971: it took a referendum to achieve this! It took until 1991 following a decision by the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland, for Appenzell Innerrhoden to become the last Swiss canton to grant women the vote on local issues. Women in South Africa only got the right to vote in 1994; in Saudi Arabia King Abdullah issued a decree in 2011 ordering that women be allowed to stand as candidates and vote in municipal elections, but their first opportunity did not come until December 2015, almost a year after the king’s death in January.

Today the event is sponsored by the United Nations and has been since 1977 when the United Nations General Assembly invited member states to proclaim March 8 as the UN Day for women’s rights and world peace. Some people celebrate the day by wearing purple ribbons.

On March 8, 2011 the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, IWD events took place in more than 100 countries. Australia issued an IWD 100th anniversary commemorative 20-cent coin. In the United States, President Barack Obama proclaimed March 2011 to be “Women’s History Month”, calling Americans to mark IWD by reflecting on “the extraordinary accomplishments of women” in shaping the country’s history. Then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched the “100 Women Initiative: Empowering Women and Girls through International Exchanges”. In spite of her recent defeat in the US Electoral College vote, Hilary Clinton continues to encourage optimism for the future for women and girls.

U.S. Army officer Lt Col Pam Moody

U.S. Army officer Lt Col Pam Moody with a group of Afghan women on International Women’s Day 2011

I joined my first International Women’s Day march on International Women’s Day 1975 in Sydney when I was an optimistic young student at the University of Sydney. While some progress has been made, not nearly enough has occurred. The national gender pay gap is currently 16.2% and has hovered between 15% and 19% for the past two decades. The World Economic Forum predicts the gender gap won’t close entirely until 2186. It will take the hearts and minds of committed women and men worldwide to accelerate progress.

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Communities in focus: Create a positive future for your family farming business

By Pip Job, Department of Primary Industries. As featured in The Country Web 2016 Annual

When I speak to farming families, I am often asked for advice or insights relating to succession planning. More often than not, people wish to share their succession horror stories or the deep fear existing in family members to even whisper the word succession. Recently I had a lady share with me how wonderful their succession process went and that the whole process was driven by her husband. Unfortunately, post implementation of their new plan, her husband struggled with the change in leadership and struggled with the shearing team, looking to his son for guidance and direction. His mental wellbeing deteriorated as a result; despite the best of intentions to undertake succession. One might ask if the transition of the succession plan required deeper exploration.

Pip Job

Pip’s Positive Farming Footprints workshop, delivered through DPI is a one-day workshop to walk farm families through the diverse range of people problems that can stop a business from reaching its full potential.

One thing I have learnt is that transitioning to something new requires so much more than a nice paper plan. There are foundational requirements that will make the transition process smoother and also sustain the wellbeing of everyone in the business. Farm families must be aware of their strengths and weaknesses across factors such as family communication, business acumen, mental wellbeing, passion alignment, work-life harmony, their attitude towards learning and leadership styles.

Communication is essential and effective communication can lift a business from good to great. Not everyone is a great communicator, but there are strategies that can be put in place by a family to improve their communication skills. Simple strategies such as weekly meetings to discuss operational matters (who will do what, what’s needed) can remove significant stress whilst also being great for business acumen. Quarterly strategic family meetings to review budgets and plan for the quarter ahead are also highly beneficial for both the business and the people in it.

Creating an environment in your family business where people are safe to introduce new ideas and provide feedback on aspects of the business is easier said than done. Sometimes great effort is required as an individual to break old habits and to foster a new culture of communication in the family. Most often, the way we communicate is inherited from our parents and a transition to a new communication style can be difficult and require great determination and resolve. Becoming more aware of ourselves and exploring personal development is a great way to help you improve your skills and there are all sorts of courses, books and online resources at our fingertips these days to explore.

Farm family businesses need to enhance their business acumen and this is an important part of transitioning ownership to the next generation. Understanding the passions of people in the business is important. As too is financial literacy and having business goals, and a strategic decision-making framework to work within is crucial. Family farms are a complex business model; meshing business, family and life together. Adding layers of stress (climatic, economic, etc…) make our investment in our own mental wellbeing crucially important. There are so many balls to juggle in agriculture, but after all, with practice, we can master it.

The new Positive Farming Footprints workshop delivered through DPI is a workshop developed by Pip Job, 2014 NSW/ACT & National Rural Women’s Award Winner and is now approved through the Rural Assistance Authority for the NSW Farm Business Skills—Professional Development Program.

The one-day workshop walks farm families through the diverse range of people problems that can stop a business from reaching its full potential. The interactive and engaging style ensures that families leave with a greater insight into their strengths and a list of areas in which they will work to strengthen and provides them with a range of tools and tips to take home and apply immediately.

More information

Pip will be giving a presentation on family communication and achieving harmony at a special IWD event – Women.Agri.Business – hosted by MBC this Friday 10 March at Eugowra. The event is aimed at empowering women in agribusiness through increasing their education, knowledge and understanding. Event organisers MBC said ‘we recognise that primary production is a complex business. It is important for women to develop strength in tax & finances, risk management & marketing, as well as building expert relationships and asking for help as and when needed.’ You can still purchase tickets however you will need to get in quick.

Contact details

Pip Job, Senior Project Officer
Business & Social Resilience Programs
Department of Primary Industries
m: 0437 241 688
e: pip.job@dpi.nsw.gov.au

Posted in farming, rural women, stories, The Country Web | Tagged | Leave a comment

+From small beginnings

By Marama Warren, Milton. As featured in The Country Web 2016 Annual

Rug maker, farmer and grandmother Miriam Miller and Jacqui Thompson are friends and neighbours from Milton who have not let distance be a barrier to following their passion.

Miriam Miller and Jacqui Thompson

Miriam Miller and Jacqui Thompson

Last October I followed (by email), the entertaining adventures of these two remarkable country women (in their 80s) as they travelled to Tel Aviv, Brussels, The Isle of Uist in Scotland, the USA and Canada.

Miriam’s family emigrated from England when she was 13. They lived in North West NSW for several years before moving to Nowra where she later met and married dairy farmer Alan Miller.

In the 1970s Miriam set out to make a rag rug to cover the hardwood floor in the big old family homestead. Her grandmother had made rugs in England and so she asked her father (who had helped his mother make these mats when he was a young man) to help get her started.

No one else seemed interested in this old craft but Miriam persisted and slowly, over years, made several large rugs for her home. Her four children were enthusiastic and helped cut up recycled clothing and worn blankets to make rugs.

In 1994 Australian Country Craft and Decorating magazine featured an article about Miriam. Her friend Jacqui Thompson thought it was timely to get others involved as people were beginning to be interested in recycling. Jacqui placed a notice in the local newspaper inviting others to a meeting at Miriam’s house on the first Friday of every month. Seven people came and the Narrawilly Proggy Ruggers was formed and has been meeting ever since. People travel from Sydney, Canberra, southern and western NSW to come to Milton and rug days are so popular the group now meets twice a month.

In 2001 the Australian Rug Makers Guild was formed and Miriam was elected President. She also published the first book on rug making in Australia, titled Proggy & Hooky Rugs.

Miriam Miller with local rugmaker in The Gambia

Miriam Miller with local rugmaker in The Gambia

Miriam and Jacqui have travelled the globe meeting fellow rug makers, sharing ideas and giving workshops—often overcoming language barriers by connecting through craft. Rug making has enriched these two women’s lives as well as the lives of others. They have hosted many international ruggers in Milton and even visited The Gambia in West Africa to work with a charity teaching blind and partially sighted people to make rugs so they can earn a living.

“From such a small beginning, living in a small rural town and reviving an old craft where people treasured every small scrap of fabric, we now have friends all over the world and use Skype to talk with people wherever they may be, show each other our rugs, send messages by email and share information through blogs and YouTube,” says Miriam.

These two passionate rural women have created a craft revival trend and become part of a vibrant international community that has brought the world to them as well as opened doors to take their skills and knowledge out into the world.

Narrawilly Proggy Ruggers Banner

Narrawilly Proggy Ruggers Banner

More information

Narrawilly Proggy Ruggers 

Call for stories – The Country Web 2017 Annual issue

The 2017 annual issue of The Country Web will explore the theme ‘Connect and Collaborate‘. We want to hear from you about creating meaningful connections, mentoring and sharing wisdom, books and people that have inspired you. Contributions are required by 21 April 2017 for publication in August 2017. Email your contributions to rural.women@dpi.nsw.gov.au

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Letting go to make room for something new

By Kath Henry. As featured in The Country Web 2016 Annual

As a midwife I became skilled at intuitively recognising when a women was entering the transition phase of labour. In some cases the well-established rhythm of contractions and rest pause, the stillness allowing deeper rest with time to regroup and reposition in preparation for the birth. In other cases a crescendo occurs, if not harnessed it can lead to an unwanted obstructed labour. It is meant to be transitory this place between the pain of labour and birth.

As in birthing, so in life, we are not created to remain stuck in transition but rather to harness the strength of change to allow a new transformation. Of course this is made easier if the change is chosen, the transition well supported and room has been made for the newness to be embraced.

What happens when the change catalyst is unexpected? When there is no space or time to process?

Kath Henry

Kath with her husband and son


As I write I am on a plane, in ‘transit’, up the coast. I have just looked out the window to discover the land and ocean are reversed to the alignment they should be in, given the direction we are flying. My mind is trying to rationalise the scene below as the pilot announces we have turned back and will be circling in transit as there is an unexpected landing queue. I watch as passengers become restless, looking at their watches, sighing—life doesn’t leave room for unexpected transits.

I am in my own internal transition, however, this birthing is a type of letting go rather than preparing to hold something new.

This year I have let go of many of the roles that have given me a sense of identity. Both our children have moved from home, our daughter to be married and start a new life with her husband and our son has moved overseas to complete his studies. I am officially an empty-nester.

I had, until several months ago, the role of daughter and carer to my ageing mum as Alzheimer’s had started to creep in and steal my mother’s memories. However without warning my mother left this earth. Hair done, having had lunch with friends, she quite literally dropped dead from a heart attack.

All this letting go has left me feeling vulnerable, searching for meaning rather than identity as I allow my heart to catch up with reality, in this landscape that has held both celebrations on the one hand and on the other layers of grief.

As I circle this space I want to move on, yet I know there is a work in the waiting, in the emptiness, in being emptied.

I had a remedial massage the other day and learned that this type of massage is synonymous with pain, pressure and release. I discovered my muscles had circled into tight knots that required informed pressure to release.

I am in a place of pressure to release the roles of life, to realise meaning can be expressed through our roles but not in them. I want to be and become. So I am waiting here and unravelling as I excuse myself from the busyness of life. I will wait with myself, to become the midwife to my own transition in this sacred undefined space.

Next issue

The 2017 annual issue of The Country Web will explore the theme ‘Connect and Collaborate‘. We want to hear from you about creating meaningful connections, mentoring and sharing wisdom, books and people that have inspired you.

Contributions are required by 21 April 2017 for publication in August 2017. Email your contributions to rural.women@dpi.nsw.gov.au

Posted in rural women, stories, The Country Web | Tagged | Leave a comment

Local is Lovely: St Joseph’s Kitchen Garden

By Sophie Hansen, Orange
As featured in The Country Web 2016 Annual

St Joseph’s is a small school in the Central Western town of Molong. And its new kitchen garden is nourishing its 50-plus students on every level.

St Joseph’s has a terrifically hardworking Parents and Friends committee, and they’re are also a very handy lot. So when it was decided that their regular canteen should start up again after a long break, the committee knew they wanted fresh produce on the menu. And yes, they decided to grow it themselves, at the school.

Plans were made to start a garden on the school grounds—from scratch. It didn’t take long to prepare the beds and get the ball rolling.

St Joseph's Kitchen Garden

“The best part about setting up the garden has been seeing the children enjoy getting their hands dirty, the excitement of finding wriggly worms and of course, the digging and planting, nurturing and then harvesting their very own produce.” JANE SHANNON

The kitchen garden was officially opened by ABC’s Gardening Australia host Costa Georgiadis on 25 September last year and each St Joseph’s student now plays a part in caring for and enjoying their new project. Plus everyone gets to enjoy its spoils via their canteen orders. How good is that?!

Here’s the story of the St Joseph’s kitchen garden, plus some really fantastic advice on how you can do something similar at your school, direct from Jane Shannon, the woman who drove the whole thing. Jane also shares their canteen’s recipe for spinach cob loaf—an old school classic that deserves to get taken on every picnic, and will be the first thing eaten at every one. Plus the lemonade made in huge batches to sell at a school fundraiser. (visit Sophie’s Local is Lovely Blog for the recipes).

How did the kitchen garden get started?

The P and F committee started talking about a kitchen garden in spring 2014. This followed the re-establishment of the school canteen, which was started up again after a break of some years. We were keen to set the canteen up under the healthy canteen guidelines, and for us that meant incorporating garden-fresh food. We started the process by looking at a suitable location, design and what materials we needed. From there we got quotes, hunted around for grants to fund the project and put a plan and a budget together.

We decided not to tap into the school’s town-water supply to maintain the garden. Instead, we installed a small water pump, purchased with some money we’d raised, to make use of the (at that time) unaccessible tank water from our school hall. One grant application was successful and money from this went towards the purchase of our raised beds.

How long did it take to get up and running?

Discussing the ‘how, what, when and where’ took a little while, as we wanted to make sure we got it right! During term four, 2014 we worked out the logistics of the project, with the aim of taking delivery of the materials for construction in January of 2015. A group of parents and children got together at the end of the summer holidays and constructed the garden—many hands make light work, so building the garden itself took a day from start to finish. Planting happened within the first few weeks of term one, and we had our first harvest by early winter.

What advice would you give other schools setting out to start a garden like yours?

Being a small school, our P and F and teachers work very well together, and we have a great band of merry workers… so I think that played a big part in making this project come together so quickly! My advice would be to plan ahead and seek out and apply for any grants that your school may be eligible for. Also, there are suppliers who will happily advise on the most appropriate heights and sizes of garden beds, etc… and may have specials for schools. Local suppliers and tradies were also very helpful and generous to us with their time.

What has been the best part about setting up this garden?

Seeing the children enjoy getting their hands dirty—the excitement of finding wriggly worms and of course, the digging and planting, nurturing and then harvesting their very own produce. It’s wonderful to see them all hoeing into raw vegetables like broccoli, heirloom carrots, snow peas and celery straight out of the garden.

Any tips on delegating jobs in a school garden?

In our case a jobs and responsibilities roster is part of school life, and watering the garden became part of this system. This means that there are children given the responsibility of watering each week, so watering doesn’t get forgotten about. Most important!

How do you incorporate produce from the garden into the school canteen?

In summer this is easy! We have lovely fresh salads on the canteen menu and we’ve had an abundance of rainbow chard, which has meant some delicious spinach cob loaves (even the kids who ‘don’t like spinach’ think it’s delicious). Through the winter there was bolognaise, nachos and homemade chicken soup on the menu, in which beautiful fresh celery, carrots and herbs were used. We also make a point of using the celery, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers and radishes from the garden, chopping them up to put on the windowsill for the children to help themselves.

Why do you think it’s great for schools like yours to have a garden and involve the kids in it?

It teaches children so much about all sorts of things. As well as being a useful tool for the teachers, giving them scope for teaching things like science and numeracy, it’s a wonderful learning experience in terms of sustainability, being waterwise and in teaching self-sufficiency. It teaches the seasonality of foods and that everything has a beginning and an end. It gives children such a boost, knowing they can grow something they can actually use. It’s also brought people together (children, parents, teachers, friends, helpers) in a completely different scene, which has been terrific.

Can you tell us about the garden’s opening and having Costa there?

The garden opening was a fabulous day for the school and the local community. Having a celebrity in town was so exciting–especially one who was so enthusiastic as Costa! He arrived at around 10 am and barely had time to don his well-known bib and brace overalls before being surrounded by keen gardeners, from toddlers to people in their 80s, all keen for a chat about their favourite topic. Meanwhile, the dads built a scarecrow (our Costacrow!) and a good sized crowd mingled and browsed the garden-themed stalls, whilst enjoying a glass of St Joseph’s lemonade, morning tea and a delicious fresh lunch served by our P and F.

Eventually, the crowd focused on the task at hand, which was to plant the ‘mini orchard’. A selection of dwarf fruit tree favourites, selected for their suitability for children, was planted, mostly all by Costa, with a band of merry little helpers. The children got in and did a lot of the hands-on.

We finished the day with the official opening of the kitchen garden, which involved a very funny, animated and also moving talk by Costa, and a pair of golden secateurs from the cretaceous period! He focused on the wonderful legacy the older students are leaving behind as they move on to the wider world. A food garden is such a precious gift—generations of children coming through the school will benefit for years to come.

You mentioned that Costa showed you all a great way to plant the dwarf fruit trees, can you share his advice?

Costa had asked us to prepare the site and have lots of organic matter, including manure and hay for mulching. We were able to supply him with mountains of sheep, cow, chicken and even mouse (from Doolittle Farm) manure! He was most impressed!

  • Holes were prepared with gypsum, ag-lime and dynamic lifter.
  • Costa backfilled the holes a little and added his special ingredient, Rock Dust.
  • Trees were placed into the now shallow holes so that their bases were just above ground level, and planted under layers of mulch and manure. This formed a ‘cocoon’ around the tree, to help conserve moisture and nutrients. We will keep adding to these layers in time.
  • After planting, trees were well watered and given a dose of organic liquid fertiliser, courtesy of Baa Baa Brew.
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They didn’t think Facebook would work for their business

Written by Sonya Martin, Office of the NSW Small Business Commission.
As featured in The Country Web 2016 Annual

On Wednesday Tracie Johnson’s business didn’t have a Facebook page—by Thursday, 150 000 people had seen her first post.

Tracie and Coel Johnson

Tracie and her husband Coel are partners in CT Johnson Shearing, a business they started 12 months ago. Coel has been shearing since he was 17 and the couple decided it was time to capitalise on his experience and reputation by starting their own operation.

Today their team of shearers, shed hands and wool classers could be anywhere in Australia where there is a flock to be shorn. Travelling with their own food supply (and a cook who knows what to do with it), they spend weeks away on a property, shearing large flocks of sheep.

“It’s hard work,” said Tracie, “and every business is challenged with the issues of finding ways to generate new business.” The drought has taken a toll on flock sizes and competition can be tough. “You have to look at different ways to increase revenue and build brand recognition.”

It was the quest to grow the recognition of CT Johnson Shearing that led Tracie to sign up for our Regional Activation Program’s new interactive workshops. Her hometown, Deniliquin, was one of the first NSW communities to be offered workshops, together with Mullumbimby and Gilgandra.

Tracie signed up for a Social Media Workshop, even though she was skeptical that her business would benefit from being online at all, let alone in social media.

“This is basically a word of mouth business,” she said. “Being a service business and in the agriculture sector, I didn’t think social media and online marketing would have any benefit to us.

“Social media is only going to get bigger and the agriculture sector is moving forward so I thought it was worth trying,” Tracie added.

The night after the one-day course, Tracie went home and set up the CT Johnson Shearing Facebook page. Her inaugural post was two pictures. In the first her husband Coel holds an impressively woolly sheep found by the team on a property in Deniliquin. The second picture shows their son dwarfed by the giant fleece that came off the sheep. Using her newfound social media skills, Tracie also shared the picture with other Facebook pages she thought would be interested, like the R.M.Williams Outback magazine page. The post has been shared over 400 times and as a result it’s been seen by over 150 000 people.

Tracie’s business philosophy is that success relies on continuous learning and in this case that motivation to step outside the norm has paid off in spades.

Attending the Social Media Workshop has turned Tracie from a curious skeptic into a believer and has connected CT Johnson Shearing to a new audience.

Her next project, inspired by the success of the CT Johnson Facebook page, is a website with videos and photographs showing the company’s professional shearers in action all over Australia.

More information
t: 1300 795 534
NSW Small Business Commissioner website

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Our journey into farming

By Liane Corocher, Hunter Valley. As featured in The Country Web 2016 Annual


Moving from a beautiful new home in close proximity to friends and shopping centres to a ‘renovators delight’ on a 20 km stretch of windy dirt road may seem crazy to some. However, this represents the start of the journey into farming that I am currently making with my husband and four young sons.

Over the last 15 years we built our dream home on a small property near Paterson, increased our family to six and started raising our own livestock for meat and milk in an attempt to satisfy the ferocious appetites of our growing boys.

We quickly realised that the experience of raising our own livestock, helping our boys to connect with their food and allowing them to grow up with plenty of space and fresh air was getting restricted by the small size of our property, the abundance of rocks in the soil (not a great medium for growing good pasture or vegetables) and the increasing pressure from surrounding development. We also found that other families wanted to experience the same thing and the demand for our produce and ‘lifestyle’ was exceeding what we could produce on our small property.

So we started thinking. Could we do this on a larger scale on a more productive farm? Could we take the risk of moving our boys to a new town, new schools and a new community? Could we leave the dream we had created over the last 15 years on our existing property and create a new dream and future for our boys in farming? Of course we could. But it would take a lot of hard work to get there.

I am not a huge risk-taker, so everything had to be researched and planned with all the risks listed and measures put in place to manage the risks. We also had some challenges to consider along the way—major back surgery for my husband, a child with special needs and the high cost of productive agricultural land!

Selling our property was the easy part—once I realised that confiscating the Lego and keeping the kids outside were the keys to a tidy house! The hard part was finding a farm within our price range that was productive, had future growth potential (or the ability to lease land nearby) and met our ever increasing list of criteria. We also wanted to make sure our adventure was shared by all of us, so we had to find a farm that our boys actually wanted to move to. And we finally found it.

I should have realised that we had found the right farm when we saw our boys stripping off to have a skinny dip in the river. Our eldest son Jesse was quick to point out that he didn’t join in (nudie swims with your family is not something a teenage boy wants to think about). However, we had a few other criteria to check off to make sure this new farm was the one:

  • Located on a school bus route—important for our kids to meet other kids and give us extra time to work the farm.
  • Located within a 60 minute drive from work—I love my job and the extra income would help in establishing the farm.
  • Located within 90 minutes of a major city with access to TAFE and universities so our boys have options for further training and education.
  • Good local schools with transition programs and special needs classrooms—to help kids who suffer anxiety to transition slowly and kids with special needs to get the support they need to learn and be happy.
  • Water security—access to a water license, bore or substantial dams.
  • Good soils—from experience, it can take years and lots of money to build good soils.
  • A house (in whatever condition) overlooking the farm—to keep an eye on our boys driving tractors, riding motorbikes, etc…
  • Fences and yards in fair condition—we wanted to be able to raise livestock immediately, even if only a small number.
  • Immediate access to a large shed—this meant we could make the move gradually (this is due to having a husband who is a hoarder and can’t get rid of anything as ‘it may come in handy one day’).
  • A stable river system higher in the catchment—so we can minimise any erosion or weed issues.
  • Good community and farming networks—we place a high value on community and
    to be honest, as new farmers, we need all the help we can get!

One aspect that made our move less stressful was the good relationship we had built with our agribusiness finance manager and accountant. A business loan is required to purchase any farm over 120 acres, which means a higher interest rate and shorter loan term. Having a good relationship meant we could discuss different finance scenarios, develop financial plans and structure the loan to meet both our immediate needs and future plans for the farm.

I won’t say it’s been easy. It sounds romantic, but spending hours in front of a computer doing budget forecasts, searching for documents you urgently need yet they were filed in a mystery location and dragging four children around farms hasn’t been fun. There have been times when it has been very stressful and we have doubted our decision.

We understand that this is just the start of our journey and that there will be many more challenges in the future associated with making a small farm profitable. However, keeping a positive outlook and our end goal in sight has helped drive us through the more difficult times. And, I will say, the picture of our boys swimming nudie in the river always puts a smile back on my face.

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5 ways to turn risk into a win

Written by Kathleen Fisher, Knowsley VIC. As featured in The Country Web 2016 Annual

I would never skydive, bungee jump or swim with sharks… and yet I consider myself to be a risk-taker.

How can that be?

Because I believe there’s a big difference between being a daredevil and taking risks. For me, the key to successfully undertaking any risk is to be calculated. Name a person who has achieved significant things by flying by the seat of their pants. I’m sure there have been a select few, but their names certainly don’t drip from the tongue.

I did a quick Google search for evidence to back up my claim and came across a Forbes magazine article that quotes Leonard C Green, an academic and entrepreneur who has changed the world in ways anyone reading my words today can only dream of.

“Entrepreneurs are not risk takers. They are calculated risk takers.” LEONARD C GREEN

That is, they don’t act on a whim, follow a trend or wake up one morning with a crazy idea—instead, they have a goal, create a written plan and step outside their comfort zones to turn their dreams into realities.

How does this relate to me?

Just over 12 months ago, I sold my house and bought a farm… not only in a different town, but in a State I’d never been to. And I did it all on my own while my husband was overseas on a two-year posting for work!

People thought I was mad. The most common thing they said was, “You won’t know anyone. Won’t you be lonely?”

Actually, no… because I had a plan.

I should say ‘we’ had a plan. My husband and I had dreamed of owning acreage for 10 years. He’s a city boy from another country (Zimbabwe) and I’m the fifth generation of an Australian farming family (which greatly helped).

Image of horse and colt

“In my late thirties I reconnected with my childhood love of horses and very quickly started breeding high-end Appaloosas and quarter horses on a boutique level, with the help of wonderful mentors.” Pictured is Treena Razzle Dazzle (AQHA) with her 2015 colt.

As you can imagine, living on a quarter-acre block in town and relying on friends with a few acres on the edge of town to agist broodmares only goes so far in horse breeding. Something had to give.

It’s not easy to synthesise the last year into a series of how-to steps of advice for anyone ready to transition toward a risk-worthy dream, but here are my top five tips:

1. Know your limits

Depending on perspective, I’m either blessed or damned to have an interest in personal financial management. Either way, as the one with this ‘gift’ in my relationship, I had a decade to plan for buying acreage, which is no mean feat in today’s agricultural climate, where you either inherit or save and invest like crazy to afford a (small) property. I knew exactly what we could afford versus what we were prepared to commit.

2. Have a realistic wish list

I’m my parents’ daughter when it comes to land. The fact is that any entry level farm for sale is going to be run-down—there will be rubbish everywhere and the fences will be a mess! However, I had two musts… the first was that the soil and its potential productivity had to be topnotch. This, of course, meant sacrifices elsewhere—and the primary one was a house in desperate need of work.

My second must was that a new location needed to have good job opportunities. While my skill set is easily transferable, my husband’s is limited to certain geographical areas, which narrowed the field considerably.

3. Draw on your networks

In this age of Facebook and other online networks, we have a wealth of resources and support as close as a mouse click. As soon as the purchase of our property was confirmed, I hit my social networks and asked for contacts in my soon-to-be home. As a result, I already had half a dozen friends lined up before I moved, who have since supported me through everything from running out of water to pets dying!

4. Make your own way

Many of us feel there’s a general lack of responsibility in our society. One way I see this played out is the assumption things must come to us, especially socially. However, I believe life is what we make it, which means we can live pretty much anywhere when we make the effort. As such, I joined the clubs and associations that matter to me as soon as I moved. Getting involved is not always easy (and I often vow never to join another committee again!), but it’s the best way to meet like-minded people, create a social life and feel you have a purpose.

5. Choose your attitude

To be honest, there are many times I would have gladly given up over the last 12 months. Most notably when sewerage gushed up through both showers, I didn’t have a single gate on the entire property that actually closed and I unwittingly bought a horse infested with a frightening and contagious equine disease.

However, I had a choice—crumple under the weight of the drama or get on and solve the problem. The fact is, to use an old term from school, life often ‘sucks’.

However, I believe what happens to us is often not as important as how we react, which is why I choose to see problems as opportunities or learning experiences. Giving up is often not a luxury we have, which makes seeing the silver lining on every cloud an absolute necessity.

In the last issue of The Country Web, Jessica Green’s wonderful article ‘Everyday gratitude‘ resonated with me. Whenever you’re in doubt, focus on what you have and the joys of being alive.

How blessed we are to live in a country where the government values the contribution of rural women enough to give us resources, a magazine and an opportunity for our stories to be told!

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