MELISSA CONNORS - THIS FARM NEEDS A FARMER
I grew up in a suburb in the Dandenong Ranges, called Tecoma. Not many people know where that is, so I always find myself saying near Belgrave or Puffing Billy, and that usually rings a bell. Think trees, trees, more trees and hills, so many hills and I walked them everyday to and from school - I probably complained about it everyday too!
After completing VCE in 1993 (not very well I might add - just so many social engagements that were so much more important than actual study) I was offered and completed a Business Traineeship with Tuckerbag, where I worked part-time as a check out chick. This meant working 3 days and studying 2 days at the local TAFE - and I absolutely loved it.
I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grew up - I've just worked it out now! I have a very diverse resume which includes office administration (yawn), fitness and personal training (so much fun!), finance(blah, blah, blah), hospitality (does 5 weeks working behind a bar count?),service delivery in an IT company (stab me now), receptionist and personal assistant (hated every minute). I've studied accounting, business and fashion design just to name a few things- I was giving everything a go to find my passion.
We moved to Kyneton after a trip to Nenagh, Ireland which is part of County Tipperary to meet my husband’s family. David and I always had a dream to move country at some stage in our life - we had actually decided to retire in Castlemaine (I have no idea why as we'd never even been to Castlemaine!) After our trip at the end of 2010 we decided to just have a look at possibly moving to Kyneton. We chose Kyneton as David could still commute to Melbourne for his work. The minute we made our first visit to Kyneton I was home - Kyneton is stuck with us now as I am not going anywhere!
How much experience did we have ‘on the land’ before moving to Kyneton? Does spending school holidays on my grandparents dairy farm in Kerang count?? I highly doubt me and my sisters were much help around the farm and I definitely haven't retained any lessons Pa probably painstakingly tried to teach me. So I would say the only experience I had on the land was swinging on farm gates, making tunnels and cubbies with all the square bales in the hay shed, hooning around on the ATV, fishing for yabbies in the dams, picking apricots from the fruit trees and making more work for Pa than actually helping.
During our first year here, I was in a BAAADDD mood!!! The week we made the move the clouds opened and the rain didn't stop, we quickly found that the house was full of drafts and impossible to keep warm, the driveway was basically a river and I had to wade out to the car in gumboots carrying 2 children if we wanted to go anywhere, our fences were rubbish - but of course we didn't know that at the time so didn't hesitate to buy 6 black Angus steers at the sale yards to eat the grass (that took all of about 5 minutes!) and for our own meat supply. 6 steers, 4 people with only 3 eating solid food at the time - you do the math on that one! We naturally bought the obligatory chickens - which we promptly lost to foxes (we almost had a funeral!), my husband also wanted our own lamb supply, he researched and researched and wanted Dorper Sheep, so drove to NSW to pick up 2 of them, yep 2 - I've since found out there are many Dorper studs much closer to home - one is even on the the next street over to us! Due to our useless fences they ran away never to be seen again. We ended up buying what felt like tonnes of feed - as it turns out 10 acres of grass isn't going to sustain 6 steers and winter saw me feeding our beasts daily in the wind, rain and sleet - so much fun, oh and did I mention I found out I was pregnant as well?
Funnily enough, no matter what was thrown at us we never thought we'd made a mistake and of moving back to Melbourne.
Noel, our neighbour and a retired farmer had no idea that This Farm Needs A Farmer was created after the first conversation we had, and he asked me, "I'm off the farm now what do I do with my time?". After that I applied for and received a seed grant from the shire's community funding scheme. The ball was well and truly rolling and when I next saw Noel in town I just about bowled him over with excitement as to what he had inspired. His reaction? "I'm not a farmer Melissa". Ever so humble and shy about it all.
I have lost count how many farmers I’ve met since starting this project and I just love spending my time talking to my farmers. They are all very humble about their achievements. They are all so similar in their lack of recognition of knowledge they possess. I hear time and time again, “I don't know anything special Melissa, we just get on and do what needs to be done.” They have no idea how incredibly valuable they are and that their knowledge is so desperately needed.
The most common mistake tree changers make? We were chomping at the bit when we made our move to buy livestock, to buy toys - I mean machinery- and turn the vision we had of our property into a reality. We had the motivation and the vision, but what we didn't do was give ourselves time to get to know our property and how it responds to each new season and the challenges different times of the year would bring. We didn't know what we didn't know and bringing the 'Melbourne mentality' we had and taking action on a rural property without really getting to know it and giving ourselves time to adjust to this different way of life saw us making some very costly and unnecessary mistakes.
The community has been overwhelmingly supportive and positive. The haters are in there too - it ain't all sunshine and rainbows. I've had some pretty interesting comments thrown my way but that doesn't deter me, those comments actually help me to sort out who is best suited to jump on board TFNAF and how I adapt it to suit the needs of the community, the project’s members and its mentors.
Future plans: World domination of course! TFNAF and the model I am creating can easily operate immediately within every rural, regional and remote community across Australia. I'm sure every community wants a thriving and vibrant economy full of opportunity and TFNAF is one step to support that outcome.
I feel like the secret is out and Kyneton is now the 'hottest ticket in town!' Lucky for us we found our property at a time when we could afford it. It has been amazing to see the growth and new families moving into this pretty special place in the short 7 years we've been here. I love the Campaspe River Walk, breakfast at the Social Foundry, borrowing books from the library and sitting on my deck with a wine in hand watching the sun go down....ahhhh the serenity (!!)
Tips for people thinking of moving out here: Don't hesitate - just go for it. You'll never look back, it was the best thing we ever did for our family and our kids are thriving out here!