Monday, 3 January 2011

Well Beyond Farming

Before I came to do my volunteer work on Goat's Pride, I knew not a single thing about farming. I'd probaby set foot on a farm a handful of times in my life, and only to stroke a horse or pet a pig when I was young enough to fit into adorable little wellies.

So coming to Abbotsford to work on this farm has been such an enlightening experience. Much more than just their place of residence and a bunch of other heartbeats they have to care for, you really get a sense of being surrounded by this families well-being; their complete livelihood.  Just talking to Jo-Ann now she describes her life on the farm as 'an expression of who I am, and connecting with people to meet their needs. I think a lot of organic farmers think the same; that we need to stop taking from the land and start contributing. I want to see my work here as a thing of beauty.' And I have to say, it truly is.

When I first arrived here, I was immediately collared by an Australian volunteer named Graham Strong, to help him out with attempting to waterproof a hay shed. It was later explained to me that Graham actually owns a farm in Australia, New South Wales to be exact, and takes on volunteers himself. I then went on to find out he had actually won the Young Australian of the Year Award for his farming techniques back home. Needless to say, I was intrigued.

Graham has actually had a small documentary made abouts his farm by and English composer named Andy Ross. I've put the first part of said documentary, named 'Way Beyond Water', on the bottom of this post, and I encourage you to watch the next two parts also. Even coming from a farm-less background, this is inspiring stuff.

Due to the roasting climate, Australian farmers have struggled with drought for quite some time now. Things got so bad that this led to bankrupcy, depression and even suicide in some cases. Farmers are so reliant on weather, an unpredictable and lethal force, for their income. However, Graham believes that just looking to the skies and praying for rain is not the solution.

He goes on to explain there there seems to be some kind of assumption that you can't do anything if there is no rain. Graham's whole philosophy stems from the idea that we need to adapt to our surroundings and create new solutions for typical problems. So, Graham planted a tonne of salt bush, an alternative method of feeding his 2500 sheep. This plan was looked on by sceptical farming peers as an uncertain solution. Graham, however, has reaped the rewards.

Andy had a beautiful way to describe the impression he got from seeing Graham and his farming co-workers, which really stuck in my head and appreciate the incredible work these people do. He says; '(These people) are artists of the land...when I look at this all I see is trees and grass. These guys see it as an interconnected web of organisms and life.' Graham goes on to explain a farmers deep 'relationship with the land; you have to listen to it, speak back, and see it's response.' A farmer's land as a child he's got the care and nurture for, as well as negociate and develop with.

Having experienced what I have at Goats Pride, and seen the creative and inprising work Graham does back home in Australia, I have a new appreciation for the amount farmers put into their properties. It's far beyond just manual labour and keeping everything ticking over. It's a matter of trying to transform and evolve the things you've got to create a better environment, to adapt to what you feel the land and climate is telling you. Hopin' and a' wishin' ain't gunna get you so far.

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