A community project that enlists the help of retired farmers to assist tree changers on their land and help improve connections has been started in Kyneton.
When Melissa Connors and her family moved to their 4-hectare property in Kyneton four years ago, they did not know much about hobby farming.
Having previously come from a small block in the outer suburbs of Melbourne, they needed a different set of skills to tackle livestock, fencing and water management.
“We did things backwards. We put six black Angus steers on it before even looking at the fences. We’d come out and they’d be on the road,” Ms Connors said.
“We knew nobody and we didn’t know what to do.
“We just found ourselves on a really steep learning curve.”
After meeting and befriending local retired farmer Noel Jenner, the idea for community project This Farmer Needs a Farm was born.
“It’s about creating a platform for tree changers, like myself and my family, who have moved up to our plots of land and know absolutely nothing about working them, getting our retired farmers to share their knowledge and build our farms into what we want them to be,” Ms Connors said.
She said the farmers could be involved as much as they wanted, taking the form of a one-on-one partnership or within a group, depending upon the different needs of the community.
“The bottom line is, it’s getting this knowledge out of these guys’ and women’s heads,” Ms Connors said.
She said the project was trying to tap into an existing knowledge base by creating connections and encouraging people to talk.
“Rather than sitting behind your computer screens to find the answers,” Ms Connors said.
Feeling isolated after leaving the farm
Melissa Connors and Noel Jenner leaning against a paddock fence.
PHOTO Melissa Connors and Noel Jenner have formed a friendship after three years of waving hello to each other.
Mr Jenner, 78, is well equipped for the job, having previously worked on his wife’s family’s 56-hectare dairy farm in Gippsland.
Although he does not miss rounding up cattle in the dark, moving off the farm and into town proved harder to maintain connections, leaving him feeling isolated.
“As you get older you sort of stick to your own and just keep to yourself mainly. I think most people do, and just keep in your little circle,” Mr Jenner said.
But a chance meeting between Mr Jenner and Ms Connors changed both their lives for the better.
Even though they waved to each other twice a day when Mr Jenner went past the property on his daily walks, Ms Connors said it took him three years to finally “warm up” to her and have a conversation.
Ms Connors was curious about his dedication to walking, and Mr Jenner’s response to her question was the catalyst for the project.
“Well, I’m off the land, what else do I do?” she recalled.
“That’s when This Farmer Needs a Farm was born.”
The idea coincided with a local government community funding scheme that Ms Connors successfully applied for.
“I have found this project is just really needed within the community. That’s the constant feedback I get,” Ms Connors said.
“This is basically a platform for [farmers] to butt in and help, because we need their help.
“We get up here and we have these dreams of this beautiful idyllic property, then the reality hits.”
Ms Connors said many young families were moving to the country and buying land, and in some cases the husband was away working.
“If things go wrong and David’s not home, I have to take care of it,” she said.
Farmer now part of the family
The relationship has been more than just Mr Jenner providing general farming advice around the property and recommending tradespeople.
The pair has also developed a strong friendship.
“We’re very good friends. We have a lot of good times together,” Mr Jenner said.
Ms Connors said Mr Jenner even walked the family dog, and her children enjoyed his company.
“It’s been a fantastic and unexpected friendship, and I’m really lucky to have Noel in our lives,” Ms Connors said.
Mr Jenner said it was important he was making a difference and had found something meaningful in his own life.
“It’s a lovely relationship. We get on very well together, and we do lots of things together and it keeps me busy,” he said.
He hopes more retired farmers get involved in the project.
“They’ve got nothing else to do. They should get involved and come on board,” he laughed.