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Heart of Ashburton: Under the radar rural heroes

Heart of Ashburton: Under the radar rural heroes
Members of the Hinds Young Farmers group show off their Heart of Ashburton award, sponsored by Jeff Donaldson. PHOTO SONIA GILL

A local group of young farmers have been flying below the radar, putting in the hard yards in the community. The Guardian catches up with the chairperson of Hinds Young Farmers to find out more about the good work they do.

From social catch ups to environmental plantings, the Hinds Young Farmers are incredibly active in the Mid Canterbury community.

But in typical farmer fashion, you wouldn’t always know it.

The several dozen-strong group fly below the radar, getting on with the hard work and coming up with an ever increasing number of ways they can give back to the region.

It’s one of the reasons they were picked as the Jeff Donaldson PGG Wrightson Rural Champions at this year’s Heart of Ashburton awards.

The local group was nominated for their fundraising and volunteer work in the community they live and farm in.

They were stoked to win the award, with chairperson Abby Cook describing it as “really cool”.

"It means people are seeing what we are up to,” she said.

Hinds Young Farmers was technically a social club designed to get people off the farm to connect with like-minded rural people - and to help members develop leadership skills. However, it was also a non-profit organisation that worked with other groups and the community.

A recent Movember quiz night raised $1300 for men's health, and the group also helped Environment Canterbury replant flood-damaged banks of the Ashburton River.

The club had also made donations to Longbeach Primary School, the Lowcliffe Hall and the Southern Netball Club.

The Hinds club is part of a long history of Young Farmers networks throughout New Zealand, which goes back nearly 100 years.

As well as local-level activities, as a whole the organisation crowns the Young Farmer of the Year, a competition it has run since 1969.

Cook said the club had recently met up with local agriculture teachers to create a link with local schools.

In a rural district, having those links with education providers is vital.

She said the recognition from the awards could also help to attract new members.

"It can be hard to get volunteers to fill roles," Cook said.

The Hinds club has about 24 paid-up members and another 15 or so others who attend meetings. They meet once a month on the first Tuesday, with an average of 20 people at meetings.

Cook said she joined the club soon after she moved to Hinds from Waikato.

Cook, a dairy farm manager who has been in the district for about two years, said the club was a huge part of her making a friend group when she moved south.

"It's an outlet to get off the farm and catch up with like-minded people."

For the rural sector, it’s well known that finding ways to connect and be social with other farmers can be challenging, but also incredibly important for mental health.

Making the social aspect of the club just as important as the fundraising side.

The group is also a springboard to success for individual members.

Members often compete in the Young Farmer of the Year regional and national finals, and Cook was this year named runner up in the Canterbury/North Otago dairy trainee category at the New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards.

Young Farmers is open to members aged from 16 to 31, but people who "age out" can still come along.

Activities for the new year will start off with the Gumboot Games on January 13. The Hinds Young farmers are organising the event, which is open to other young farmers clubs in the region.

Jeff Donaldson PGG Wrightson Rural Champion award

Winner: Hinds Young Farmers

What the anonymous nominator said: These guys do so much in the community! They volunteer at events around the district, help out with community planting days, and do heaps of fundraising. For example, they recently held a quiz night that raised $1292.50 for Movember. It’s cool to see so many young people in our rural community giving back.

By Sharon Davis