Catch up over a cuppa
Amber Carpenter is one of a number of farmers helping to promote Farmstrong’s You Matter, Let’s Natter campaign. This encourages farmers to catch up regularly with colleagues and neighbours over a cuppa to see how they’re going.
Calving season’s hard enough at the best of times, but calving combined with six weeks of level 4 lockdown is another challenge altogether. This year that’s been the reality for Paparimu farmers Amber and Fraser Carpenter.
“We were just coming out calving which is a bit like being in a bubble anyway,” laughs Amber, “so going into level 4 lockdown was a shock to the system.”
The couple manage three farms – one share milking 550 cows and two beef blocks stocking 450 units at peak. They also have two young kids so life is busy on all fronts. Amber says regular catch-ups with her team and neighbours are an essential part of managing the ups and downs of farming.
“At challenging times like this, communication and connection are everything – people need people. Otherwise, it’s very easy to get stuck in the rut. This week I’ve felt a real need for more connection with people myself.”
“Fortunately before lockdown hit, we were lucky enough to still do the things that keep us well. For example, Fraser normally catches up with mates a couple of times during calving and I do the same just to get off farm for a break. I also take the kids down to my parents in Whitianga for a few days so Fraser can catch up on sleep and I can get some office work done.”
“And we both still make it to the gym as well even when we’re busy. Fraser will work in a session when he heads to town to pick up supplies and I’ll fit in a F45 class when I can. I find regular exercise great for my mental health. It clears the mind and gets that fuzziness out of your head that makes it hard to concentrate. Lockdown has made this more challenging, but I am still doing F45 through Zoom 3-4 times a week.”
Making time to connect with others
Lockdown has made connecting with others all the more important, says Amber. “Farming can be isolating anyway. There are times during calving when you just don’t leave the property and sometimes it can feel like the world is closing in on you. That’s why you need to get off farm or get on the phone or Zoom and have those conversations. It’s mentally refreshing to talk to others and get things off your chest. We’ve had Zoom drinks with friends a couple of times to catch up over lockdown and connect.”
“If you’re only having that conversation with yourself or your partner, life can get tunnel-visioned very quickly. When you catch up with others, you soon realise everyone’s experiencing the same thing, you’re not sailing the ship alone.”
“That’s why I think You Matter Let’s Natter is great because sometimes farmers are reluctant to talk. The Farmstrong mugs are a great way to break the ice because once you do get people talking over a cuppa, they soon come out of their shell.”
Amber says you don’t need to raise a particular issue to help someone. “The thing I’ve learnt is that any interaction can help if you’re going through tough times. Just chatting with someone means you don’t have to think about your problems for a while. You get that mental break from the farm.”
“I think as farmers we often don’t want to bog people down with our problems, but my experience of the dairy industry is that people really do care and won’t hesitate to help you if they can.”
Putting people first
Amber says a big factor of their business’ success to date has been communication as a team. It is something they have worked on as a group. “Our team’s definitely the farm’s most important asset. We simply couldn’t do all this work ourselves. That’s why we put people first and make sure we are supporting each other. Being able to sit round a table and share how we’re going is a big part of that.”
Amber says having a listening conversation is a business skill worth learning. “You need to warm people up first and provide a space where people feel comfortable enough to share. All it takes is ‘hey, how’s it going?’ to get that conversation started. If I think something is a bit ‘off’ in the team, I’ll just start a general chitchat and let things unfold naturally. Eventually, what’s actually going on comes out. Then we can talk about it and people feel much better.”
Amber says one thing to avoid is jumping in to solve other people’s problems. “I really hate it when people try to solve my problems, but I appreciate it when they listen. That’s because when you talk things out with other people you can usually find the solution yourself.”
Reflecting on the importance of You Matter, Let’s Natter Amber concludes, “If you keep every farming challenge inside your own head, life soon becomes overwhelming. That’s the stuff that wakes you up at three in the morning and no one working on a farm needs lack of sleep. That’s why it’s great to have a natter and get things off your chest.”
To find out more about You Matter, Let’s Natter and brush up on your listening skills visit farmstrong.co.nz