Although Paeroa dairy farmer Tina Keeys worked on the farm alongside her husband Peter for years, he made most of the big decisions. Until his death from cancer in May changed everything.
“Suddenly, on top of my grief, I was dealing with balancing feed, the drought, the bank overdraft and being responsible for making all the right decisions,” she said.
“I wasn’t sleeping, and the more you don’t sleep, the more everything gets on top of you.”
Taking time out was a distant dream, but when a friend convinced her to go away to Mount Maunganui for a weekend, it was a real turning point.
Getting off the farm, eye opening
“If I’d known what a world of difference a few days away from the farm would make, I’d have gone so much earlier,” she said.
“I came back so much stronger. My advice to anyone out there who feels the farm is getting on top of them is, just go - even if you don’t think you can. The farm will wait.”
People want to help
Accepting offers of help was another key coping strategy for Tina. When Peter got sick, his mates came round, chopped firewood, planted crops and fixed the fences he could no longer take care of. A friend’s wife offered to do Tina’s books.
The family’s long-time fertiliser sales rep looked over the farm and gave help and advice. Tina has also been able to source direct farm advice from a farm consultant and a neighbouring farmer.
“It’s been really valuable to get different points of view and insights into the farm. I’ve found the advice from different people is often complementary, though everyone has different preferences. This gives me plenty of new ideas and the confidence to back-up the decisions I make,” she said.
“Since I admitted I need support, I’ve realised people want to feel like they can do something to help, and that’s been such a
weight off .”
Conquering sleep and fixing the little things
Tina also learnt to get back to sleep by getting up in the early hours of the morning and writing down the thoughts racing through her head. Fixing annoying little things on the farm is another small thing that helps.
“When you fix the little things that annoy you or make life hard on the farm, even if it’s just to repair a gate latch, it makes you feel good at the end of the day because you’ve ticked that off and achieved something. And you feel good every time you open that gate,” she said.
Family and friends invaluable
Off -the-farm time with family and friends helps too. Tina and her friends have ladies’ nights most fortnights, where they chip in for takeaways and do their best to talk about things other than pasture cover and mastitis. Her three adult children also offer time out from the farm and ongoing support. Son Jack in particular juggles working in the agri-food division at KPMG in Auckland during the week with weekends helping mum out back in Paeroa.
A family that keeps giving
Diagnosed with melanoma in 2019, Jack had two surgeries before receiving the all clear. Now he’s in training for the Auckland Marathon on 1 November, which he plans to run in red gumboots to raise money and awareness for Melanoma NZ and the Rural Support Trust.
“I set up a Givealittle page with a target of $2000 and the CEOs of both organisations called me straight away. They sounded really stoked,” he said.
Rural Support Trust - farmers helping farmers
Tina said the Rural Support Trust is a lifeline for many farmers who are under pressure on multiple fronts.
“Before he died, Peter said he used to be proud to say he was a farmer, but that had changed recently with the public perception of farming starting to become more negative,” she said.
Humbled and proud
“We had Peter’s service out at our Kahikatea stand and 150 people came and planted native trees of all different species. Our local rural community has wrapped itself around us over the past eight months, which is a real testament to the giving and humble man Peter was. I couldn’t be more humbled and proud to be a farmer than I am right now.
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If you're worried about someone in our rural community who may be experiencing the effects of unhealthy stress or depression and don't know what to do, check out our Elephant in the Paddock campaign for advice and where to get help.