Tim Fulton has just released his first book Kiwi Farmers’ Guide to Life that tells the stories of 25 farmers and their families celebrating rural life.
Fulton comes from a farming background in north Canterbury and has been a journalist for the past 20 years writing about farming and agribusiness.
He has also been an editor of various farming publications.
“I really enjoyed some of the stories I got to do close to home, and actually I didn’t state in the book but actually three of the couples and even in south Canterbury, the shearers where actually my extended family, and that was really special for me to interview.”
He loved the freedom of selecting a variety of people and places for the book.
“…there are some shearers in there, there is some agriculture scientists and a whole lot of people really,” Fulton said.
One of the stories featured in the book is with Winton farmer Loshni Manikam who speaks candidly about the importance of wellbeing on the farm for women and families.
“Loshni was one of the really enjoyable ones because she came at everything from a very refreshing perspective about personal growth of people and their wellbeing and I think that’s really important as we know in farming,” Fulton said.
Fulton said he really wanted to capture New Zealand farming and all its diversity.
Title: Kiwi Farmers’ Guide to Life
Author: Tim Fulton
Publisher: Bateman Books
Below is an extract from Fulton’s book feature Winton dairy farmer Loshni Manikam who wants New Zealand farming women to thrive.
At first, as she and husband Donald developed their farm and raised a family, Loshni’s life seemed to be dominated by mum duties and the responsibility of being a parent, wife and business owner.
She realised that while she was great at making room for others, she was losing her sense of self.
Drawing knowledge and strength from those days of “not thriving”, Loshni set up a Facebook group, Thriving Farming Women.
* Influencer helps other Māori realise their potential in farming on the whenua
* Anger, guilt and optimism: young farmers’ complicated relationship with climate change
* ‘Take that break’, advocates tell rural women
She now connects and supports about 900 women “who want to create positive changes in their lives so that they can thrive, while still being loving, supportive mums, partners, farming women and all their other roles”.
It’s about sharing experiences with a “tribe of like-minded people” – coaching, rather than counselling, she says.
“Amongst other things, therapists and counsellors can help you unpack things that happened in the past. As a coach, I don’t have those skills and that training, so I’m very mindful that if I do come across someone that needs those services, I refer them on.”
Born and raised in South Africa, Loshni met Donald Kidd in England in the ’90s, when she was backpacking the world after graduating with a law degree.
Kidd was a fourth-generation dairy farmer from Northland, while she had no farming experience.
More than 20 years later they’re equity partners and lower-order sharemilkers on a 600-cow farm near Winton, in Southland.
Their dairy expertise earned them the Southland Sharemilker of the Year title in 2007, before they progressed to the equity investment.
In 2018, Loshni was named Fonterra Dairy Woman of the Year in recognition of her work, helping other women as a coach, facilitator and consultant in agri-industry.
She has since been asked to host workshops like the Taking Time to Thrive – Without Feeling Guilty, a 19-meeting tour around the country, backed by Ministry of Health, Rural Women NZ and Rural Support Trust.
“I try to bring all of that personal and professional experience to the workshop in a way that helps women understand that it’s critically important that we start doing more for our own self-care – not just for ourselves but also for the people we love and the communities we serve. One of my core philosophies is that when a woman thrives, everyone around her benefits.”
She felt inspired at the workshops, hearing incredible life stories and receiving feedback from women who realised “they are not alone and that there’s nothing wrong with them for thinking or feeling the things they do”.
Giving women “space” is probably the critical part of the programme, she says.
“It’s a chance for women to step back from busy day-to-day lives to consider if they are doing what they need to do to thrive – and if they’re not, what are the implications for themselves, their families, their farming business and all their other roles. I have done a lot of work in the past eight years or so to figure out how I can take steps forward. Now I share my story because it resonates with so many women who have told me after the workshop that it feels like I have told the story of their lives.”
She feels expectations of farmers have grown hugely since she jumpedheadlong into New Zealand farming life with Kidd back in ’98.
“I don’t find it surprising that we have farmer wellbeing issues, that we have high suicide rates. I know that the stresses of modern life are increasing outside of farming too and that’s a completely different context. It’s like blowing air into a balloon; I worry that we keep adding more pressure and if we’re not good at finding ways to relieve that, then we are going to have balloons that pop.”
One of those insidious pressures is a kind of midlife breaking point for farming men and women – an “age-and-stage” when the family and farm seem secure and children don’t obviously need their parents as much.
It’s a vulnerable time for women, because while many farming men continue to identify as the hard-working breadwinner, the core identity for many farming women revolves around being a mum, wife and farming partner, alongside her other roles and responsibilities.
“I think that as an industry we need to support our people with trying to answer what comes after family and farming, because it’s not an easy question to answer. That’s one of the things that I love helping farming women to figure out.”
She urges women to prioritise their own wellbeing, for their own good and the sake of those around them.
That may mean taking stock of the things that really matter in life, like marriage, family relationships and giving back to people and community.
“If she does that, then she is the loving and supportive mum, partner and businessperson that she really wants to be. The key thing for me is understanding my values and how I want to live my life. And then, when opportunities come along it’s easy for me to measure them against what’s important to me. And it’s also about understanding what makes me happy.”
While Loshni’s own family has found dairying profitable, maintaining a healthy lifestyle has been paramount.
She came to thoroughly enjoy the dairy industry once she found balance in her life.
“For one thing, even though it’s quite rigid being a dairy farmer – you’ve got to milk twice a day and don’t get Christmas Day off and things like that – you’re not travelling two hours on the motorway in Auckland to get to work and then two hours back.”
She is grateful for having met some amazingly hard-working, caring people in the industry.
“I don’t think people go into farming unless they are nurturing. I think at the heart of it you have to care, like if some misfortune befalls you like a tractor or shed catching fire. Everyone around you turns up to help with a spare tractor, a couple of hours work, baking . . . they bring everything but the kitchen sink. The sense of community in the dairy industry is something that I still really enjoy.”
She senses the dairy industry’s community-minded spirit may have faded to some extent since she came to New Zealand but it’s still stronger in farming than virtually anywhere else.
“It’s maybe because farming people are the only people I’ve really known since living in New Zealand, but I feel that farming people are such a unique, special breed of people.”