Mobilising Rural Communities

Two Marton farmers have made it their mission to get local farmers off farm and connecting more regularly.

Sheep and beef farmers Dave Smith and Andrew Shand are the driving force behind Marton’s annual Pedal for Pleasure bike race. This year Dave, with the help of Paula Skou, has gone one step further and also organised two ‘District Hall Get-Togethers’ for 80 people. Locals are keen for a third before Xmas.

The duo say the popularity of both events demonstrates the keenness of farmers to get away from work for a few hours and have a ‘different conversation’.

The bike rides offer three experiences – a 15k ride for beginners, a more challenging 40k ride and an 80k ride for serious riders. “Rangitikei is such a gorgeous area to ride in and we don’t need to close the roads to run the event. For most people it’s about fitness, health and a fun day out,” says Andrew. “We also offer a huge range of spot prizes donated by businesses in town. We started off with a 100 riders and last year we had 170 riders. A lot of our riders are off farms or rural people. They bring along families too.” It takes place at the end of March and is held in conjunction with the Marton Harvest Festival.

Andrew says they set up Pedal for Pleasure as a fundraiser for Rotary, after getting into biking and finding it a great way to de-stress from the pressures of farming. “We have a bike group that meets a couple of days a week. It’s a great way to find out what’s going on in the district and keep in contact with neighbours.”

Dave adds: “We meet in the early morning in the dark and get the ride done before work. Half of us are farmers, half aren’t and that’s important. We can’t just go moaning about the weather or the meat companies, which farmers are good at, because it doesn’t mean anything to people apart from farmers. It broadens everyone’s horizons and changes the conversations you have.”

There are health benefits too. “I’m a flatland farmer,” says Andrew, “I can move all of my electric fences from a quad bike so I don’t get much exercise. I also do a lot of tractor driving. So there are times when you can feel really down and ‘stodgy’ and exercise like bike riding really lifts you up and makes you feel a whole lot better about life. It benefits your business as well. It gives you off-farm thinking time.”

Dave agrees getting ‘farm fit’ is worth the effort. “Farming’s a pretty physical occupation. I think if you’re healthier it’s much easier. You don’t want to be a slob and try and tackle a wild cow. You’ve got to be in shape. I also think getting out and talking to people apart from farmers helps you maintain perspective and keep a positive frame of mind.”

Which is why Dave has kicked on and organised the Hall Get-Togethers. “They’ve really taken off. We are getting 80 people along which is as many as we can manage.  We supply the meat and people bring their own drinks. It’s hard to get them home at night because people just love an excuse like this to get out and socialise.”

He says society has changed and rural people need to make more effort to connect. “People don’t run across each other like they used to. When we were kids we walked everywhere and all the kids used to go to Marton school. You met your neighbours and knew them well. Now everyone has cars and the kids go to schools further afield. It’s quite possible you may not know your neighbour well or meet them off-farm regularly.”

They say organising the events has been a great off-farm activity in itself. “Someone has to give their time to get these things going. The enthusiasm you get from people for these events keeps us going. You don’t get 80 people if you’re not doing something right. Someone just has to get off their bum and organise these things,” says Andrew.

These two lifelong farmers say there’s a serious side behind all the pedaling and socialising.

Andrew says: “As sheep and beef farmers, we often work as individuals and get trapped in our own little world. I used to be terrible at getting off the farm. We’d go down to a beach house for a few days and I’d come back half way through to open the gate and move the sheep, then drive back down again, because no one else could open a gate like I could! Anything that gets you out of that mindset is a positive.”

“Biking has been a huge change for me,” says Dave. “In farming, it’s possible to be your own worst boss because you live where you work. You might have a weekend off, but you look out the window and see something that needs fixing. There’s always another task in farming. It’s so hard to just drive down the road and put it behind you.”

“No-one ever used to talk about wellbeing in farming. We’ve always talked endlessly about stock, pastures and fertilisers, but staying well is an important part of farming too. The health stats in our industry aren’t flash. There are more financial pressures in farming now too. It’s a bigger game.  So we need to adopt a different mentality and do whatever it takes to make sure farmers get regular breaks. It just brightens you up and makes you feel better. Both of the events we organised were very simple to do. The hardest thing was getting started.”

Dave concludes: “The challenges in farming are never going away, so we’ve got to look after ourselves, because who else is going to do it? Getting people together. It all starts there. Even if you’re part of a good community, you’ve got to push yourself to do things.”

Farmstrong is a rural wellbeing programme that helps farmers and farming families live well to farm well. To find out what works for you and “lock it in”, check out our farmer-to-farmer videos, stories and tips on

Making things happen in Marton – Andrew Shand and Dave Smith.

Sign up for the Farmstrong newsletter