WOMEN have a vital role to play in bridging the disconnect between Australian farmers and their city counterparts, according to ABC journalist and Landline presenter Pip Courtney.
Ms Courtney addressed a crowd of 120 as the keynote speaker at the Facey Group’s Women in Agriculture 2017 event at Wickepin last Wednesday, drawing attention to a detrimental culture of independence in Australian farmers.
Ms Courtney said she was frequently surprised at the lack of support farmers gave to the lobby groups that represented them - including WAFarmers and the Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA (PGA).
She said the lack of support behind lobby groups across the country meant the agricultural industry had little political influence on a State and national level.
“I am just stunned when farmers brag to me about not being members of the one organisation that can represent them,” she said.
“The image of the stoic, fiercely independent farmer is seen as a positive part of our culture, it’s celebrated in poetry, in literature, in art, but there’s actually a downside to it.
“This not-joining nonsense disempowers you all, your industry and your communities.
“Unity is everything when you’re in the bush, you don’t have the numbers so unity is all and I truly believe that women who in general are more collaborative than men and are joiners, can get this unity thing happening.”
Ms Courtney said a lack of self-promotion within the agriculture sector was also evident on a more local scale with pubs, cafes and restaurants in rural Australia rarely offering local produce.
She said farmers had to take responsibility for the lack of information shared among those in metropolitan Australia.
“Often when we get to local restaurants and there’s not much which is local on the menu and if it is, it’s not even mentioned,” she said.
“Farmers often say to me, why don’t city people understand what we do and how hard farming is - the cost and stress involved?
“Why should someone in the city know about it if you can’t get the message out there.
“Surely that understanding, that championing, that local pride starts right here.”
Ms Courtney suggested one way to boost the profile of local producers was through the proactive promotion of food tourism events.
She said the Scenic Rim region of south west Queensland was one community leading the way, after launching its annual Eat Local Week six years ago.
More than 80 events are held throughout the week each year, in celebration of the local agricultural industry.
Events showcase local farmers and their produce, giving those in attendance a greater understanding of where their food comes from.
Ms Courtney said such events had attracted hundreds of tourists in recent years, as the demand for local, fresh produce grew.
“These groups, they’re not whinging to government or blaming consumers for not knowing about farming, they’re out there promoting, educating, feeding, working together, and giving people great food and tourism experiences,” Ms Courtney said.
“Many of the drivers of these projects are women at the council, on farms, in the kitchens and in the dark room.”
Ms Courtney said social media was another empowering tool that farmers needed to take advantage of in order to boost their brands.
She said progressive producers were turning to online platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to tell their stories.
“Are you on Twitter, because that’s where the journalists and the politicians and many influencers are?” she asked.
“Are you on the image-driven, much kinder platform, Instagram - it’s where the chefs hang out, it’s where city people soak up beautiful images of food, landscapes, animals and people?
“Are you on Facebook, talking, sharing, influencing and building a brand and telling your story?
“City people will listen, people are hungry for positive, inspiring stories from the bush.”