How a group of young farmers on the East Coast rallied to take out FMG Young Farmer of the Year’s coveted new category.

Among the debris and devastation of Cyclone Gabrielle, a small force for good was born with one community set on taking out this year’s inaugural FMG Young Farmer of the Year Region Off. Grand Finalist Patrick and wife Izzy said it was one thing in the couple’s control as they looked toward the July Grand Final in Timaru.

The FMG Region Off was a new feature in this year’s FMG Young Farmer of the Year contest suite. The new category saw AgriKids, Junior and Young Farmers competing in a regional showdown. Points were earned by each of the seven Young Farmer regions through public voting, community focussed challenges, as well as winning specific categories during the Grand Final.

With a Cyclone damaged farm in Patoka, fence lines gone and accessways obliterated, it was going to be a tough year for Pat to put his all into Grand Final preparations. He and Izzy turned their minds to what they could control – and that was earning points for the Region Off.

“You can’t control the other contestants, but you can control what you know and what you put into it” Pat reflected during a discussion in September. Two months after Emma Poole took out the 2023 Grand Final title.

When times are tough one of the first adages in the rural community is to control the controllables. It is something often reiterated by award winning rural wellbeing programme, Farmstrong, founded by FMG alongside the Mental Health Foundation.

“It was probably one thing that we were quite realistic about going for. Off the back of the trauma or adversity we had experienced as a community we had opportunity to earn points.  Much of which we would have been doing regardless of the contest – so it really was the silver lining to then turn our minds to earning some money for a good cause” commented Pat.

Alongside other Young Farmers members in the community, the Junior Young Farmer contestants from Napier Boys and a bunch of enthusiastic AgriKids, they set to work submitting their activities and earning points through community focussed challenges.

Meal drives were organised, winter wellness packs packed, silt was shovelled, and rubbish collected. They pitched in at vineyards and a fencing a resource distribution day with donated goods from a variety of organisations including a Young Farmers Club from down South. They could even earn points having a cuppa with a friend.

Preparing for Grand Final in Timaru also gave Pat something positive to focus on and provided a healthy distraction from what he was seeing every day on farm.

“With the report and the other prep required, it was something else on my mind that I was able to do instead of dwelling on all the things that needed to be done on farm. It is much more than just a competition; it is the networks, the people you get to meet and the other opportunities that come with it.”

The trip to Timaru was not in vain, with Pat taking out 4th place, the Community Footprint Award and stepping up to receive the FMG Region Off top prize on behalf of East Coast Young Farmers. The FMG Region Off win also gave the region $5000 to donate to a cause of their choice.

That cause was East Coast Rural Support Trust, an organisation that has been giving back to the rural community for XX years, this year more so than ever.

Pat’s wife Izzy was one of the key drivers behind getting the community into point earning mode.

“This new format, of a Region Off, allowed other people to benefit from our competitiveness. And for all the other regions that put in effort to earn points, it was not for no reason if they did not win because their own communities had benefitted from that hard work.”

Izzy referred to the community spirit that poured out of the Cyclone recovery as “by the bucket load”;

“It sometimes takes an adverse event to bring it through, but the benefits born out of doing good for our community were far reaching.  If we were giving out meal packs it as an opportunity to knock on a door and have a chat, to check in and make sure they were doing ok in the circumstances. Often it was us as partners of farmers who came together to do meal drives or care packages.  It gave us the chance to check in on how we were getting through things and to understand if anyone or their family needed any additional support.”

By the time Izzy and Pat were heading to Grand Final their community had written 126 thank you letters acknowledging goods donated to their small Patoka community. Goods that came via helicopter, plane, across the river or by bank account. From farmer to farmer to big corporations.

“Those that donated goods for us to put toward meal packs, or fencing gear, did not know that they were ultimately contributing to us taking home $5000 for Rural Support Trust as well” reflected Izzy.

“There were hundreds of people in even our small community that I had not met before the Cyclone. Now we know their names and it is more than just a little wave as we drive past.  All of those relationships have meaningful connections now”.

On October 25th, the Crawshaw Family, Napier Boys, Rural Support Trust and FMG came together in Hastings to celebrate the iconic win.

Izzy concluded;

“At the moment, anything in Hawkes Bay when you can bring everyone together, it's just a vibe and everyone just loves being able to catch up.

“Farming’s under pressure up and down the country, but that’s obviously heightened on the Coast. We are so proud to have won this money for East Coast Rural Support Trust to keep doing the good work they do.

“Thanks to all the people and businesses who helped us to get here. There is a long road ahead and a never-ending list of repair jobs but for now we will keep controlling the controllables and taking the chance to catch up with old and new friends”.