If you want change then you need to participate

Today’s guest blog comes from Art4agriculture Young Farming Champion and founder of Ask an Aussie Farmer Kylie Stretton. Kylie shares with us this highly entertaining presentation she gave on International Women’s Day

3 c's of life

Rural women are gaining momentum; we are at the forefront of change in how the rest of the country views rural Australia. And our first step is building connections with our urban counterparts. They want to know more, they want to support us, but we need to make the first step. And please know that when I speak about rural Australia, I don’t just mean those working in Agriculture. We need our rural communities as much as they need farmers. Charters Towers is considered “rural”, you are in essence rural women in a rural community, supported by and supporting rural families. A title I wear with immense pride.
The rural population of Australia stands at 11% of total population; we need to find ways to make urban Australia including policy makers aware of us. We want them to understand that our numbers may not be huge, but our importance is. We are essential to Australia’s vibrant economic health, natural resource management and producing some of the highest quality food and fibre in the world.

I haven’t always been so vocal about my passion for rural Australia, but it’s obviously been lying dormant within in me, a culmination of having the land in my blood for hundreds of years.

I have a fairly interesting family history, men who were famous watchmakers, opera singers, written about by Charles Dickens and what not. The first of my family to come to Australia were considered pioneers of the Hunter Valley. But there is very little mention about the women. But from what I’ve found out they’re pretty amazing too. There was my Great-Great-Great-Great Grandmother, a farmer’s daughter who sailed with her husband and children from England to Van Diemen’s Land in 1826. They bought with them one of the first purebred Devon heifers to grace Australia’s shores, starting off a legacy in the Australian beef industry, of which I am now 7th generation in.
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We’ve just moved further north each generation and the preferred choice of breed is no longer the hairy Devons but the sleek Brahmans. And apart from my grandfather, that line of the family tree has been passed down through women.

Then there was my great-great Grandmother on another branch of the family tree who was apparently a four foot, fiery haired, Irish woman who raised her family among the sand dunes of Cameron’s Corner and was respected (or possibly feared) by many. Then my Grandmother from another branch left Sydney as a young woman and travelled to a station near Boulia in Outback Qld to become the first female bookkeeper that those parts had ever seen.

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Aberglassyn House, Hunter Valley. This was built by my great-great-great-great Grandparents in the 1840’s

Then there’s all the other amazing women like my mum, aunty, sister and cousins who probably don’t think they do anything special. But they do. Rural Australia can be a beautiful place but can be harsh and unforgiving for those that eke out a living producing enough food and fibre to feed and clothe 60 million people worldwide each year. These “everyday” women bring a softness into this environment, they bring love and grace to temper the mood swings of the awe inspiring Mother Nature.

Like all bush kids I learnt just how fickle Mother Nature could be. I grew up on a station south east of Charters Towers, down near the Burdekin Dam. (My maiden name is Barnicoat for those of you trying to work out exactly where I fit into Charters Towers) and my schooling was done through the School of Distance Education and Blackheath and Thornburgh College as a boarder. We went from having a massive wet season in 1991 to barely seeing a drop of rain until my first day of Boarding school in 1994. It had been that dry that on my first weekend home from school, I was kept awake by this awful noise. It got the better of me in the end I ran crying to Mum. It turns out that at 13, I’d forgotten what frogs and toads sounded like when they had water to play in.

When I finished school I decided to follow in my Grandmothers footsteps and head west. Not to be a bookkeeper though, my sister got more than her fair share of those sorts of brains, leaving absolutely none for me. Which is scary as we run our own business and I do the books…..

Nor was I going to be a Jillaroo as cattle and horses scare the bejeezus out of me if they get too close. I was going to be a governess and had been offered a job on Gallipoli, which is an Outstation of Alexandria. On the wide open spaces of the Barkly Tableland in the Northern Territory, Alexandria is one of the biggest cattle stations in the world, it is about a quarter of the size of Tasmania and can run up to 55 000hd of cattle.

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The Land of “Nothing”, Barkly Tableland

At first glance it seems to be a “land of nothing”. All blue sky and brown treeless plains. It’s like being in a western movie and you expect a heard of bison to trundle past. But then a massive flock of wild budgerigars wheel over head or some kind of poisonous snake tries to sneak into the school room and you remember exactly what country you’re in.

It’s also isolated by road in the wet season. Which meant I had to fly in on the mail plane. Which was this little sardine can of a Cessna. I had never been on a plane before and it scarred me that much that it took me another 12 years to get on even a 747 heading to Brisbane. I stumbled down the metal shonky steps of this little box of hell, pale as a ghost but still very green around the gills to stand blinking on the rocky dirt airstrip. I squinted through the glare and tears at my welcoming party which consisted of two little brown eyed, blonde haired kids and their dad. And as I shuffled to the left a bit my fuzzy eyes noticed this huge strapping lad. “Oh dear god, please do not let me vomit on his boots.” No, I didn’t disgrace myself, in fact I still must have cut an alright figure. Or maybe my frailness touched this young man’s heart. Or maybe he just moved quick before all the other young ringers came back from holidays as women are scarce out there. Because we’ve been married for nearly 12 years and have two blonde children of our own.

Kylie and Shane

After moving around a bit, we came back to Charters Towers for the kids to be closer to their Grandparents and cousins. And it was good to be home. I’ve heard it said before that you don’t have to be indigenous to feel an affinity for the land. And I get that. My heart lies in the sandy creeks with paper bark tea trees, milky water and black basalt rocks of the Burdekin region. I am so pleased that our little block has a couple of these creeks. They may be hard work with the noxious weeds in them, but I hope Ella-Beth and Clancy grow up appreciating the true beauty and vitality of this district.

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And a few years after that we decided to bite the bullet and start our own livestock agency. Now in case anyone’s confused about what a livestock agent does, it means we buy and sell cattle on behalf of our clients, trying to source the best market for them. Like real estate with cattle. Not trying to get them acting gigs like someone has suggested before. Our client base extends across the Southern Gulf, Burdekin and Fitzroy regions, all in the top five beef producing regions of Australia. Because of the diversity, our clients also supply all different types of markets, including live export.

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Assessing cattle for Auctions Plus, an online livestock marketing tool

But then came the Four Corners episode “A Bloody Business”, showing horrific cruel treatment of Australian cattle in Indonesia. The footage sent shock waves through Australia, urban and rural. And within a week Minister for Agricultural Joe Ludwig bowed under the pressure and suspended live export to Indonesia even to first class facilities, effectively shutting down Northern Australia. And what followed, and still happening today on our own shores is just as heartbreaking as the cruelty inflicted on our beautiful cattle.

Families just like yours, families such as mine are still floundering in the aftermath. The most viable market that many cattle producers had in the north has been halved. And it’s the smaller, family owned stations that are suffering the most. Many are saying that they can’t go another two years at this rate, they will be forced to leave the land they love so much. Property prices have plummeted and in some areas are unsaleable. Without an income, producers cannot run their properties, which will in turn lead to a decrease in natural resource management and animal welfare. As these things don’t come cheap. Many have had to put off staff and bring their children home from boarding school. They are spending less and less in their local communities which means these communities have a declining population. And with smaller populations it’s harder for these communities to hold on to essential services such as education, emergency services, health and aged care. The effect goes much further than a few rich pastoralists as many would have us believe.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, there has been plenty of positives to come out of it. At that time, I used Facebook to keep in touch with old school friends and other friends from towns I’d moved from. But then I noticed the prevalence of all these anti live export, anti livestock production and anti farmer groups. And I got mad. Be damned if I let an animal rights organisation in Melbourne tell the world how we raised our cattle and ran our business. Social Media played a big factor in taking the industry down, it would be an important tool in building it back up again. Gone were the days where we just went about our work, we had to build those connections; we couldn’t let anyone else tell our stories.

And I started to stumble upon people on Facebook and Twitter who had the same idea as I did, and not just live exporting sheep and cattle producers. Farmers from all sorts of industries, all over the country. Wool, dairy, pigs, chicken, cotton, rice farmers, just to name a few all had the misinformed condemning finger of small but very loud groups pointed at them. And we realised that we had to be proactive rather than reactive, we had to learn how to engage with consumers and the general public better. Agriculture and farmers are among the highest trusted industries and professions in Australia, we need to keep it like that.

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So a group of us started up Ask An Aussie Farmer, a Facebook and Twitter initiative where consumers can come and ask farmers directly why and how they do things rather than relying on Google and anti farming sites. The support we’ve received from people is overwhelming and every positive connection makes a difference. I have learnt so much about all different types of farming. Every system has its pros and cons. But the biggest thing I’ve learnt and would love to share with everyone is that we as consumers are extremely lucky in Australia to have a such a choice in farming methods that we can choose a product that best suits our values, needs and circumstances.

Ask and Aussie Farmer

I was also accepted to be an Art4Agriculture Young Farming Champion representing beef. Which meant I had to get on a plane and go to Sydney for the first time in my life. Being a YFC has been an awesome experience. I should explain that in the farming world under 35 is considered young. The average age of Australian Farmers is 59, compared to 40 of other professions. We get to meet other young people from other industries and learn important skills such as public speaking, engaging with the community, promoting our industry in a positive manner and handling the media.

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Then we go into schools, in Brisbane, Sydney and their greater regions and talk to the students about our industry and the enormous opportunities for careers in Agriculture available to anyone regardless of their past or future.

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I also talk about life on a cattle station in North Queensland as it’s a very different world. The schools in return have to complete blogs and videos about what they’ve learned. And the best bit is that they get to decorate life sized, fibreglass cows, the best winning prizes.

These children are amazing, they are so switched on, they love hearing about what we do and some keep in touch and try and soak up everything they can about agriculture. This program, known as the Archibull Prize has been opened right up, so if there’s any teachers here that are interested, or you want your child’s school to participate, please see me afterwards for more details.

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Then I was nominated for Queensland Rural, Regional and Remote Women’s Network (or QRRRWN for short) Strong Women leadership awards. My nomination was for my dedication in encouraging others to tell their stories, to stand up and be heard but most of all to believe in themselves. It was very humbling to be nominated, I love what I do and to be recognised for it gave me a huge confidence boost.

So I packed the kids in the car, and drove over 1000km to St George where the annual conference was being held. I finally got to meet all these wonderful women I only knew from the internet or media interviews. I attended a series of workshops, built a huge network and even got to meet foreign correspondent Sally Sara and listen to her speak .

QRRWN is a fantastic organisation dedicated to building stronger rural communities. The support network they have formed for the farmers devastated by floods in South East Queensland is tremendous. They have two new recent initiatives, one being the Strong Women Leadership Awards. Nominations for the 2013 awards opened today, I have brought along some fliers, so please nominate those you think deserve that recognition. The other new initiative is the Strong Women Webinars. Every month an inspiring woman talks about her journey and her vision. I have also brought along some fliers and registration forms for the Webinars. There is also a form to sign up for the QRRRWN E-newsletter. Everyone who puts their name down to receive that goes into the draw to win a yearly subscription to the Strong Women Webinars. I listened to the amazing Catherine Marriott, runner up for Rural Woman of the year in 2012 this morning. Some upcoming webinars will feature chef Maggie Beer, clothing designer Liz Davenport and amazing business woman Miriam Silva The QRRRWN 2014 conference will be held here in Charters Towers, so keep your eyes peeled for upcoming details.

One thing I’ve learnt through all of this is that if you want change, you need to participate. If you want better education, health, safety, understanding for your cause or whatever your community needs don’t be afraid to stand up and say your piece. We can’t sit back and expect industry bodies and government to change everything for us, it’s up to us to get the ball rolling. It is up to us to affect change. Believe in yourself, your community and your cause and others will support you. Three years ago I would have never of believed that I would be doing the things I am.

Everyone has a gift, just not everyone has opened theirs yet.

Next Gen says Support our Aussie farmers now!

I have been rolling out agriculture awareness and interest generating programs in our primary and secondary schools for over 8 years. I have learnt a lot of things in that time.

Firstly the community does value its farmers they just know very little about them or what it takes to grow the food on their table or the fibre that keeps their families warm and the products they build their houses with for that matter. Secondly there is no-one more powerful to tell agriculture’s story than Gen F aka the next generation of food and fibre producers  

My blog today will show you just how powerful two way conversations with the people who buy the food and fibre our farmers produce can be. In particular students in schools, our next generation of consumers, decision and policy makers and maybe even the next Gen F.

This blog will share with you part of a speech given this week by Sophia Wakeling who has participated in the Archibull Prize for the last two years as part of her school team.

Sophia gave this speech as part of the Australia Day Speaking Contest where students are asked to pick a topic that is relevant to Australian society.  

Sophia’s mum Julia shared her speech with Young Farming Champion Kylie Stretton who popped into Sophia’s school recently. She said Sophia was inspired to write her speech as through her involvement with the Archibull project the students have met with some amazing young farmers and that she knew the issues she shared with the audience are very real for farmers and Australia.

I spoke with Sophia’s mum today who said she sent the speech to Kylie because she wanted to thank all the Young Farming Champions for teaching our youth to respect those that work so hard on the land to feed and clothe us! Julia said because Sophia is sharing her Archibull journey with their family they now all think about what they buy and how it affects Australian farmers. They always now buy brands and have even gone so far as to sign up with Farmers Direct so they can avoid the big supermarkets. I must admit I had a smile on my face when she told me they don’t support Woolworths anymore because they noticed the Woolworths logo was no longer on our list of supporting partners.     

Australian Agriculture- Valuing our Famers by Sophia Wakeling

Whilst you listen to my speech today, I hope and encourage you to think about this quote  from a young beef farmer from Queensland named Kylie Stretton who visited our school as part of the Archibull Prize. What Kylie had to say has really changed the way I thought about where my food comes from and my farmers. By sharing this with you I hope it has the same impact and if not I’m sure that by the end of my speech you will look at it in an entirely different way.

“Australia is very lucky that lots of us have never known extremely hard times or poverty, so we really take our food for granted. I think that supermarkets selling fresh food at cheap prices makes people value it less. And if they value our beautiful fresh food less and take it for granted, then they take for granted the people that produce it.”

Until last year, my 12 years of existence had never included stopping to consider where my food came from, or how it was produced. According to what the media had told me I believed that farmers rode around on tractors all day and lived on dry dusty land. Unfortunately, I also believed agriculture was an awful industry to work in or be involved with for a career.

But this all changed at a school assembly last year a new project called The Archibull Prize was introduced to my school. At first, I didn’t give it a second thought. At the time I thought I was too busy to help out with a farming project. But when my art teacher approached me and asked me to join the project, I reluctantly agreed. The Archibull Prize is a project developed by farmers and supported by industry. The project aims to debunk the stereotypes and change students (and teachers) opinions about the agriculture sector and encourages students to think about sustainability and where their food comes from.

Before we started the project we were required to fill out a survey that tested our knowledge of the agriculture industry. It was then that I realised how little I knew about where the food that I was eating (and buying) on a daily basis came from. Shockingly, I realised that what I thought I knew about the agricultural industry was very wrong. Embarrassingly, I also learnt that more than 40 % of students in year 10 thought cotton came from an animal and more than a quarter of younger students believed yoghurt and scrambled eggs came from plants.

As we progressed further and further into the project I began to realise just how valuable farmers and agriculture are not only to me, but to the entire world. I have learned that farmers are truly the backbone of Australia. Without farmers we would not be able to survive. Without farmers other industries would struggle to survive as many jobs depend on the agriculture industry.

An example of this is the fashion industry. Without cotton and wool farmers, clothes with natural fibres would no longer be able to be processed or made into new designs. This same scenario is reflected in almost every industry in every country in the world. Without farmers we would not have jobs, homes, food or clean water.

I think what farmers have done for us is incredible and they deserve an enormous amount of respect and gratitude for what they have done. So now that we have established the fact that YES farmers are important and that we need to value them and their products, I would like to share with you one way that you can start supporting our Aussie farmers.

There is a common saying that “farmers are price takers and not price makers”. This means that farmers don’t have a lot of control over what price is offered to them for the products they produce.

One of the major reasons that farmers are offered so little for their great products is because they are often pushed out of the market in favour of cheaper, lower quality products such as home brand. A great example of this is home-brand milk being sold for $1 a litre. While this may seem like a great, cheap deal to most consumers, milk being sold for so little is causing great harm to our farmers.

Because of the milk price wars many Australian farmers are only receiving 11 cents per litre for their milk. If this injustice continues to happen, Australia will not have any dairy farmers left. We will be forced to import milk from overseas.

I don’t want the future of Australia to be like this so please! I strongly urge you to support our farmers. If we do not stand up for our farmers and our country I am afraid that in the years to come we will lose what our ancestors fought so hard for: a clean, safe environment and good, healthy food. I believe that as the next generation, we the youth of Australia need to get up and start the change.

Change how you think about Aussie farmers.

Tell your friends and spread the word, and most importantly buy our Australian farmers products and support them.

Always remember every single one of us can make a difference so please do your little bit for our Australian farmers.

I hope that you have been inspired by my speech today.

I want to make a difference and I want you to help start the change with me, support our farmers not our our supermarket’s profits.

Be a-part of this change and see Australia transform.

Support our Aussie farmers now! 

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Sophia (centre) interviews Wool Young Farming Champion Sammi Townsend

Wow your speech certainly makes my heart sing Sophia thank you so much.

BTW a great example wouldn’t you say that you don’t have to make agriculture compulsory in schools to share its story. See previous blog post here. All we need is for more industries and supporting partners to invest in Art4Agriculture which uses art and multimedia to ensure learning about agriculture is exciting and fun   

Strong Women

The Queensland Rural Regional and Remote Women’s Network (QRRRWN) this week announced the finalists in their inaugural ‘Strong Women Leadership Awards 2012’and and how excited are we that the list included Young Farming Champion Kylie Stretton.

YFC-Girls

Kylie ( Blue shirt) with fellow YFC’s at the Ekka last week

This is Kylie’s story………

All my life I have been passionate about the rural industry but being quite shy, I wasn’t very sure how to go about promoting it. In the last twelve months I have become very involved in Advocating for Agriculture via social media. I was asked to be co-administrator of Save Live Export (a Facebook group created to bring awareness of “the other side of the story” and connect like-minded people), and also invited to be an administrator of Rural and Remote Australian Women (another Facebook group which acts as a virtual kitchen table to connect women who are otherwise isolated, either by location, family commitments etc.). I am the creator of another Facebook group called “Funny Farm” which acts as a meeting place for men and women across rural Australia, who are passionate about their industry, it’s a place to vent and brainstorm on how to protect and promote our lifestyle. I also run trivia nights in these Facebook groups for fun and laughter. My latest project has been a Facebook page and Twitter profile, Ask An Aussie Farmer – An idea grown by real Aussie farmers so that you have your food and fibre questions answered by those who produce it for you.

I have also been looking at ways to help bring awareness to children about agricultural industries. Teaching the next generation about food and fibre production is extremely important to me as today’s children are tomorrow’s decision makers. Last year I was offered as a “prize” to the winner and runner up of the Archibull Prize at the Ekka, and travelled to Brisbane to talk to primary school children about growing up and working on cattle stations.  I also do relief work at our local Kindergarten and with the blessing of the teacher, I often bring “show and tell” such as photos, raw cotton and YouTube clips to share with the children. I also encourage my own children to be “agvocators” which they are more than happy to do, sharing photos and stories with their teachers and classmates.

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My beautiful children

To me “Strong Women” are women who lead the way for others, who have strength, courage and compassion. Not only are they leaders, but supporters of others as well.

For the past 12mths I have spent many hours on a computer encouraging people to fight for their livelihoods, to share their stories, to provide a place to laugh, cry and vent without judgment. I try at all times to lead by example, to try things out such as Twitter and Blogging, sharing my success, problems and solutions, to encourage others to follow in my footsteps (and some I have encouraged have embraced this and surpassed my efforts). I try and treat everyone with equal respect regardless if they share my views on a topic and encourage others to do so.

I used to lack “self-worth” when it came to the broader community. I felt like I didn’t have a driving passion, or a direction I wanted to head in. I felt that I didn’t contribute to anything outside of my immediate box. I was quite shy, found it very hard to approach strangers and found it very hard to be a leader. I was quite happy being a follower. In the past 12mths I have found something I’m good at and in turn encourage others to be passionate about the work they do in Rural Australia. I can now (still internally cringing) ring strangers such as media or industry bodies to promote Ask An Aussie Farmer. I have now been in many newspaper articles and radio interviews (each one with less stammering than the last). I also had a great fear of flying which I overcame to fly to Brisbane to talk to the school children (my first proper flight at the age of 30).

I have a lot to learn and a long way to go. I have been given some fantastic opportunities such as going to Brisbane, being invited to MLA’s pilot Social Media workshop, to be spokesperson for Ask An Aussie Farmer, being nominated for QRRRWN’s Strong Women Leadership Award, and being a Young Farming Champion. Each opportunity presents me with a bigger network, more confidence, more information and more will power. If I can pass these things on to more people, that is building a stronger rural Australia.

I asked the following question on the Facebook Group “Funny Farm”
Help….. am writing my Strong Women application. Would you say that in my work in promoting pages such as Save Live Export, RRAW and this page, I have helped people who are otherwise in isolated situations build strong networks and support groups?

The following are some of the responses I received (very overwhelming and humbling to say the least):

Scott Warrington (truck driver, sheep/cattle producer, father NSW): Yes. Also you have enlightened many people, that otherwise wouldn’t have known of said pages. Definitely aided people’s ability to network, with others across Australia.

Raelene Hall (grazier, mother, author, Chief Editor of ICPA Pedals Magazine WA)

A definite yes from me Kylie. I felt the isolation of where I live keenly as no others our age around, too far from town to get involved in things there so these groups have made me feel a) more a part of the pastoral industry b)that there are people all over Australia who will support each other in tough times and c) that we can make a difference.

Jo Bloomfield (grazier, mother, rural advocate NT): When the program 4c (Four Corners: A Bloody Business) first aired I spent the following week writing letters and basically going into panic as I honestly thought I was watching our very livelihood go down the drain. NTCA sent an email around to everyone to become more proactive and take part in the discussions that were happening on pages like Save Live export. From the first time I logged onto that page I felt for the first time after the public backlash of hate that there was support, there was a way forward without destroying my family and our community . Most importantly there were others out there who I could help and have so greatly helped me. Kylie Stretton was a major part of that, a person who’s views I respect, appreciate. Who is not only passionate but compassionate, fair and considers many facets of the arguments. most importantly her humour. Thanks Kylie, you are a special person.

Michael Trant (sheep farmer, live export depot operator, rural advocator and co-founder of Ask An Aussie Farmer WA)

The live export ban to Indonesia last year was the single handed most destructive piece of Government action I can remember seeing. The effect the snap decision had on the men and women who work in and depend on that trade cannot be under estimated. Overnight, fresh from the shock of seeing their cattle subjected to horrendous treatment in a handful of abattoirs, the industry was halted completely in its tracks, leaving the thousands of farmers, farm workers, truck drivers, vets, feed suppliers, yard owners, yard labours and their families not knowing what the future may bring.

Living in remote Australia has many benefits, which could fill this and many more pages. It also has it’s disadvantages. Isolation is the big one. We can’t just up and wander down to the main street of the nearest capital city to march in protest. We can’t strike. And trying to organise people spread out over thousands of miles into a single voice has been described to me as trying to herd cats.

I am not in the cattle game, but I am very reliant on the sheep live export. I could only imagine what the people who had cattle in the yards ready to go, or mustering choppers in the air with trucks rolling in, were going through. But it was so far away from me. Save for a few talkback callers on the radio, I didn’t know what was happening and how they were coping.

Back then, I wasn’t a big Facebook user, it was mainly to stay in touch with old school mates. On a whim, a searched for Live Export, and in amongst all the Ban this, Stop that, Shame this, stood out a Save Live Export page. I asked to join, and shortly my request was accepted.

That was my first contact with Kylie Stretton, one of the groups founding members.

In the weeks and months that followed, I witnessed something truly remarkable. Farmers, farm workers, truck drivers, vets, feed suppliers, yard owners, yard labours and their families were connecting with each other in a way I had not seen before nor imagined. Stories were told, advice given, rage vented and grief consoled. Ideas discussed, plans formulated, politicians lobbied and media contacted. Debates were had, fierce fiery debates on the opposing Facebook pages. Some might ask why, what’s the point of arguing with someone over the internet? Because for the first time, we can, we can put our view across. And maybe, just maybe, someone might listen.

In the middle of all this, was Kylie. Her enthusiasm was contagious. A relevant news article would be published and within minutes she’d have it posted in the group for all to see. An outlandish, incorrect and just plain wrong comment would be made online and she would point us to it, where we would set upon correcting a few things. How useful this was is unknown, but it made people feel they were doing something. Anything. Miles from nowhere, this was our best way to become involved.

Eventually, our governing bodies woke up to the fact that this online Social Media thing might just be useful, and began encouraging farmers to tell their story online to the masses. We were way ahead of them. From the Save Live Export group we have people on Twitter, blogging, and in March the Facebook Page Ask An Aussie Farmer was launched, a page where anyone can ask any question about food and fibre production, to be answered by farmers. Again, Kylies dedication, enthusiasm and willingness to put herself out into the mainstream media as our spokesperson is inspiring.

Kylies work gave people the outlet they were looking for, a place to meet likeminded individuals. Her research has given us facts to counter often hyper exaggerated claims. Her dedication has given us inspiration to venture from our comfort zones and stand up for what we believe in. And her humour has brought a smile to many, including myself. I have never met, nor even talked with Kylie, our contact is purely through messages over the internet, however I consider her a close friend who I am lucky to have met.

She is committed to rural Australia and I could not think of a more deserving person for this recognition.

My aim over the next few years is to bring more awareness about the importance of agriculture to the general public. I’m hoping to get more publicity for Ask An Aussie Farmer and for teachers and parents to be aware of it and to use it as a tool for educating the children in their care. We’d also like to get a fun website up and running to help promote our cause. I’d also like to be able to visit more schools and talk to students face to face.

My other aim is to continue helping others with social media, to help them tell their stories and continue administrating the FB groups I have, building larger and stronger connections. I have a lot to learn, and I feel that being awarded the QRRRRWN “Strong Women Leadership” Award will present me with so many opportunities. I feel it will provide me with stronger networks and education, which in turn I can pass on to others building stronger communities and a stronger Rural Australia.

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We think Kylie embodies everything this award stands for Don’t you?

For more information on QRRRWN go to www.qrrrwn.org.au or phone 1300 795 571.

Ask a Farmer

Today’s guest post is by Kylie Stretton one of the founders of Ask an Aussie Farmer– “An idea grown by real Aussie farmers so you can have your food and fibre questions answered by those who produce it for you”.

Kylie Stretton Photo Vicki Miller Photography

This group are

 “passionate about Australian farming, with expertise and first-hand knowledge across a broad expanse of agriculture in Australia, including access to experts and professionals. We reside all over this country and some even live far away from our shores but are still involved in the diverse industries of Australian agriculture. The reason for hosting this page is so those that live, breath, know, and are enthusiastic about Aussie Ag can answer your questions and tell their stories…”

Well done Kylie and Team

We first met Kylie when we partnered with MLA to roll out the Archibull Prize at the Ekka in 2011. The winning school as part of their prize got a visit from a Beef farmer and Kylie was that farmer

Farmer Kylie with winners of Archibull Prize at Ekka 2011

The Kylie Stretton story …….

Planting Those Seeds of Excitement

In 1820, Hertfordshire, England, my Great-Great-Great- Great Grandfather, George Hobler decided to add farming to the list of his family’s noble professions. His Grandfather was an eminent watchmaker; his Uncle a tenor who performed at Westminster Abbey; his father was the Chief Clerk to the Lord Mayor of London for 50 years and written about by Charles Dickens on more than one occasion; and his brother a Barrister and Author.

After spending five years working on various farms in England, George was lured by the prospect of growing super fine wool in Australia. So in 1825 he, his wife Ann, their two children (nine more were born in Australia), ten stud Merino sheep and one of Australia’s first purebred Devon heifers boarded a ship and set sail to Van Diemen’s Land.

Add in different lines of the family tree which contain pastoralists from Cameron’s Corner, young stockmen, soldiers, my Grandmother who ventured from Sydney to Boulia, in outback Qld to be the first female bookkeeper on that particular station (pretty rare in those days), even a Spanish Princess and the result is seven generations down the track, we’re still raising beef. Although each generation has moved a bit further north, and we now Brahmans in North Queensland.

Our latest purchases

I grew up on a cattle station near Charters Towers, battling drought (I wrote a blog about it here) for most of the time we were there.

Buzz and I at one year old.  Buzz lived until 17 and will always hold a special place in our hearts.

When I got to Grade 12 I wasn’t sure what to do; but I knew I loved station life and I loved kids so I scoured the ads in the Queensland Country Life, answering many hoping to become a governess. I was very excited when I got offered a job in the Northern Territory (until I realised I had to go on a plane for the first time).

Dad, I and Mac, smiles in times of drought 1993

Farmer Gets a Wife

I staggered off that mail plane a little worse for wear, to clap eyes on my future husband (another blog about it here). I hope future generations tell that story in years to come!

The Farmer Gets A wife Photo by Vicki Miller Photography

So fast forward twelve years and my husband and I with two young children have just started a new business; he’s a livestock agent in North Queensland, our market’s underpinned by live export.

At the Stockyards Photo by Vicki Miller Photography

 

We also have a small but growing herd of Brahman steers.

Ella-Beth and Clancy with steers

I’m floating around, not sure what I want to do with my life, happy to be a part of the business but still feeling something lacking within myself.

Shane, I, Clancy and Ella-Beth

Then along comes the Live Export uproar. Tips our world upside down, along with many others. I’ve always been passionate about rural Australia, but was never sure what to do about it. All of a sudden I knew what I could do. The world was opening up with social media, but that was not working in our favour. So I dived in head first and starting advocating for the live export industry via Facebook, Twitter and Blogging. Along the way I “met” many other farmers, and realised it wasn’t just us that there was misunderstanding about. It was food and fibre production as a whole.

How social media changed my life

Once I started looking into it, there were already amazing people doing amazing things when it comes to teaching our future generations about feeding and clothing the world. In September 2011, I was given a great opportunity by MLA, to fly to Brisbane and speak to school children about growing up on a cattle station (yet another blog here) which helped bring me out of my shell and made me realise that what I had to say was interesting.

Farmer Kylie addressing whole school

I now even have the confidence to approach tourists who come out to have a look at our weekly cattle sale; they appreciate getting a little tour of the saleyards, with explanations and interesting statistics thrown in.

I have learnt so much in the last twelve months, so many interesting, quirky and exciting facts about agriculture. I am more excited and proud than ever to be a part of such an innovative industry. Technology has changed the face of Australian Agriculture. The industry has advanced from the images of “Farmer Joe” in the dusty paddock to images of young men and women from diverse backgrounds working in a variety of professions. Images now range from a hands-on job in the dusty red centre to an office job in inner city Sydney. So many opportunities, so many choices.

Trying to beat the storms

Australia really is the lucky country with 2.15ha of arable land to each person of our population. That’s one of the highest ratios of any country in the whole world. But only 3% of our employed population work in Agriculture. That’s not many people looking after a huge landmass. Incredibly 54% of our land is used for some sort of agricultural enterprise. We produce 93% of the food used domestically while still exporting a whopping 60% of what we grow to other countries which is so important with the world population growing bigger and bigger. However mass production isn’t everything. We are doing these amazing feats on the driest inhabited continent on Earth.

Photo of me taken by Ella-Beth (8)

So Australian Farmers are world leaders when it comes to farming efficiently and sustainably. It’s vital that we continue on this track and getting better and better with advancing technology. It’s a difficult juggling act producing enough food and fibre for a rapidly expanding population while still caring for the environment in the best way possible. Without a healthy environment we can’t grow such high quality produce.

Young people are the future lets work with them

Today’s children are tomorrow’s decision makers. Kids are like sponges, if you’re excited about what you’re teaching them, it’s contagious. It’s so important to get them involved or at the very least give them an understanding about all sorts of agriculture so they are equipped to lead further generations into a future which has a secure supply of food. And that starts with us.

Warm Welcome from Grade Ones Nashville State School

We need to start planting those seeds of excitement in children from all walks of life right now. Australian agriculture has such a fascinating history and promising future. I’m proud that my family has played a part in it for nearly two hundred years, I love that I’m a part of the present and I’m excited about my children being a part of it in the future. I hope that seven generations down the track my Great-Great-Great-Great Grandchildren are still a part of agriculture, and look back on my generation and are as inspired as I am when I look back on previous generations.