Women forge farming futures together

Fairlight Foundation interns (from left) Yvonne van Baarle, Ella Eades and Emma Foss with their...
Fairlight Foundation interns (from left) Yvonne van Baarle, Ella Eades and Emma Foss with their heading pups at Fairlight Station. PHOTO: FALLON PHOTOGRAPHY
A farm training institute with a difference opened its gates in Northern Southland at the beginning of this year. Business and rural editor Sally Rae checks out how the first year of the Fairlight Foundation went.

For the past year, Emma Foss, Yvonne van Baarle and Ella Eades have lived, worked and learned together.

Now they are preparing to go their separate ways, pursuing careers in the rural sector, but they will always share a common bond as the first interns of the Fairlight Foundation.

The foundation is a female-only farm training institute based at Fairlight Station, a 2500ha property near Garston, in Northern Southland, owned by Simon and Lou Wright, and Doug and Mari Harpur.

Its first intake for the 12-month programme graduate at a function at the station this Saturday.

The aim of the foundation was to create mentors and role models in the rural industry who could then go out and influence and inspire other women.

Executive director Laura Koot (nee Douglas) said those behind the foundation started with aspirations for what they wanted to achieve with the interns and for the industry long-term, and came up with a mission and vision.

"Being very, very honest, this time last year we had no idea how we were going to deliver what we created.

"This whole year has been an amazing surprise of demonstrations of Kiwi ingenuity, support from the local community and industry," Mrs Koot said.

In particular, she gave credit to the Fairlight team and that was largely due to Mr Wright who had set the culture at the property during the 17 years he had been there.

That culture was very inclusive and patient, and that had been a massive contributor to why it had been such a successful inaugural year, she said.

The station’s staff had not signed up to be tutors yet they were constantly being asked questions as to why they were doing certain things.

They had all shared their knowledge with the women and been "incredibly patient".

"I could not be prouder of the team at Fairlight Station and the staff," she said.

The second factor in the year’s success had been the support from the community and industry.

"I had no idea what I was doing, I’d pick up the phone, talk to someone that pointed me in the right direction. People offering time, networks, sponsors came on board."

She was grateful to those who had given their time, whether it was doing workshops with the interns or helping her form connections in the industry.

As she prepared for this week’s graduation, Mrs Koot said it was a "very bittersweet" feeling.

"I’m going to miss these interns incredibly but we’ve done our job."

The trio of interns were confident and "champing at the bit" to move on to the next stage of their careers.

Their confidence had improved "out of sight", not just in their practical ability to do on-farm tasks which was, without a doubt, "head and shoulders" above where they were when they arrived.

They could cut up a mutton, shear a sheep and run their dogs on sheep, deer and cattle; they had all the practical foundations they needed for shepherding.

The most exciting thing had been their development, both personally and professionally.

Mrs Koot, who was excited about welcoming next year’s interns on January 10, said lessons had been learned in the past year. The inaugural interns were "guinea pigs" and they provided regular, honest feedback which was taken on board in real time.

"We’ve got the ability to be really flexible. If they feel they are lacking in something, we make it happen," she said.

Miss Foss (22) grew up at Aria, in the King Country and boarded at New Plymouth Girls’ High School before completing an agricultural science degree at Massey University.

Before the Fairlight Foundation, she had been worried about making mistakes in front of people — she found learning new skills in front of others "quite intimidating". Yet the interns were "bound to make mistakes" and everyone was "really good about it", she said.

Miss Foss, who has obtained a job with the Hayward family who have the Twin Oaks Angus cattle stud at Te Akau in Waikato, said it was "pretty special" to be able to say she was part of the first intake of interns.

Miss van Baarle (22) grew up at Heriot, where her parents have a dairy farm, and attended Blue Mountain College until the end of year 11, before doing her final two years at Southland Girls’ High School.

She did a gap year, working on a dairy goat farm in Waikato, and did some travelling before completing an agricultural science degree at Massey. She also did a student exchange in the Netherlands.

The Fairlight Foundation had suited her as she had wanted a practical background in sheep and beef, she said. The variety of work, with deer as well, had suited her too.

It had also been good to have experience of a property which ranged from intensive flats to extensive hill country.

Miss van Baarle is starting a job at Stag Valley, near Lumsden, in April and will be casual shepherding in West Otago in the interim.

Miss Eades (25), who is in the interview phase of shepherding jobs, grew up in Ohakune. Her father was a wool buyer who used to do up farms and sell them on.

After leaving Whanganui City College, she was not particularly keen on study and she lived in the United Kingdom and travelled for a while, travelling backwards and forwards to New Zealand.

Deciding eventually that she did want to study, she completed a bachelor of science, majoring in animal science, at Massey. She then worked at AsureQuality doing Mycoplasma bovis testing.

Deciding she wanted to work outside and be on farms, Miss Eades had happened to see about the Fairlight Foundation and applied for a position — "and here I am".

Not having known what to expect when she turned up, Miss Eades said the course had "gone above and beyond".

"It turned out better than I thought it was going to be, it’s been great," she said.

There had been many highlights, including being given a heading pup to train. She had also enjoyed helping out at the local dog trials.

Living and working in close confines had not proven problematic for the trio — "none of us had any scraps", she laughed — and she believed they had all handled it well.

The women all agreed they were ready for the next step and they shared a goal of eventually working towards farm management or ownership.

Mrs Koot said the women’s impending departures had not yet hit the Fairlight team as it had been an "incredibly action-packed, wall-to-wall busy year".

"I feel so blessed to be in this role being able to have such a huge impact on three women’s lives.

"What we’re doing here, it’s not going to change the world but it is going to change the lives of three women and hopefully women they interact with as they carry on through their career."

 - sally.rae@odt.co.nz

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