“When we get people walking up the drive, legitimately offering their time and labour to help clean up the massive damage and mess that the cyclone left behind, it brings with it such a huge boost to our morale – that someone cares. It lifts our spirits so much.”
They’re the words of Rob Wilson, who with his wife Hine owns an orchard and farm near Napier flooded out during Cyclone Gabrielle in February. They’re over the moon with help they’ve received from Farmy Army and other volunteers.
One group that pitched in was in the Hawke’s Bay for a reunion. Karen Smith lives in a city now but grew up on a dairy farm. She says when she saw the images of farms coated in silt and fences wiped out “my heart just went out to them”.
Karen and seven other former flatmates and friends from Wellington now scattered around Whangarei, Hamilton, Auckland and the Capital had a weekend of socialising in the Hawke’s Bay all mapped out. Karen’s suggestion they build in a couple of hours’ work on a damaged farm was taken up, and Federated Farmers co-ordinator Catherine Van der Meulan in conjunction with Kerry Goldsmith, a local community member who has submitted a request for support for her farm (and co ordinating work for 40 plus other farms), put them in touch with the Wilsons.
They pulled broken fences and ruined plastic lining out of paddocks and onto the roadside for collection, and swept and sluiced gooey muck out of an orchard shop and chiller building.
Karen downplayed their efforts: “It wasn’t a lot,” she said, “but we wanted to contribute something.”
However the Wilsons’ daughter, Jenni Wilson-Kaio, says the former flatmates’ efforts were really appreciated. Her parents are getting on in years and while they’d had help from Taskforce Kiwi and neighbours “by the time they came, we were mentally and physically tired. Their help allowed us to have a rest the following day, which was a Sunday – which was huge for me as I had to travel away for work for the week on the Monday.”
Simon and Josie Beamish, who have a sheep and beef farm 50km west of Hastings, are also full of praise for Farmy Army volunteers.
The cyclone slammed their operation. They were without power for three weeks, and couldn’t even get access to restore the water supply for 10 days. Slips blew holes in fencelines everywhere and only now, six weeks later, has the council started very welcome work on a Bailey bridge across a river they’ve had to ford.
The volunteers that helped out included Brad Tucker, a builder from Lincoln, Geoff White from New Plymouth, and Auckland mortgage broker Oliver Broomfield. “They were brilliant,” Simon said, “a real morale booster for us and a good example to the younger guys on the farm that people are willing to come in from outside and help out.
“Our fencer and general maintenance manager has been with us 23 years and he was just devastated after the cyclone dealt to his ‘patch’ – he had so much on this plate. Having that extra help was pretty important.”
On the day FedsNews spoke to Simon, Farmy Army volunteer Tony Simmonds had arrived from the Cromwell dealership of Fruehauf trailers, bringing with him a full tanker of fuel from Allied. He’ll drive a digger making repairs on the Beamish farm for the next fortnight.
Oliver is now an Aucklander but grew up on a Southland river flats farm. He knows all about flooding damage and was happy to do what he could. “It’s three days’ work someone else doesn’t have to do. The more people put their hand up, the quicker these farms get back on their feet.”
Oliver reckons there are lots of urban folk who grew up in rural areas who would make excellent Farmy Army volunteers – giving back or “paying it forward”.
- If you’re willing to volunteer for the Farmy Army, or you’re a cyclone hit farmer/grower needing help, register at www.fedfarm.org.nz