Farmstrong is a nationwide rural wellbeing programme that provides advice and tools for farmers and growers on how to stay healthy and productive. The aim is to help farmers, their teams and families stay in great shape and get more out of life and work.
The ups-and-downs of farming present many challenges to the wellbeing of farmers and rural communities. During its planning phase, Farmstrong spoke to many farmers and growers. They were told that farmers have systems to look after their land, stock and equipment, but not as much in place to help them stay in good shape. In other words, farmers said they were good at looking after their farms but not so good at looking after themselves.
That's where Farmstrong comes in. It was launched in 2015 to help farmers make small improvements in how they look after themselves so they can cope better when the going gets tough. These include things like taking regular breaks and time off, sleeping well, eating well, spending time with family and friends, keeping active and using healthy thinking strategies to stay positive.
Sam Whitelock, Farmstrong ambassador
Farmers and growers, their families and workers are the most important asset on any farm. Investing in your wellbeing is crucial to the longterm success of your business, says Sam Whitelock, rugby player and Farmstrong Ambassador.
"Farmstrong is a great fit for me. I can identify with many of the pressures that farmers have to deal with every day. That's why I know that looking after yourself and getting time off the farm are so important."
"Farmers have got to remember, if you're healthy, then your farm will be healthy. It's as simple as that. That's what Farmstrong means when it says, 'live well, farm well'. Farmers need to schedule in time to get away from the farm. That's exactly what I do with rugby. When the season's over, my wife and I spend time in the Sounds, turn off the phone and relax."
From strength to strength
Since it was launched in 2015, Farmstrong has been the catalyst for a national conversation about wellness in the rural community. The starting point was research into what farmers and growers say are the biggest challenges and barriers to their wellbeing. The following topics were the ones that farmers said were most important:
• 47% how to achieve better work-life balance
• 35% how to manage tiredness and fatigue
• 34% how to get the best out of employees
• 31% how to manage stress
• 29% how to stop worrying about work all the time
This research shaped Farmstrong's initial programme of activities. Farmstrong developed a website and Facebook page to share online information and farmer stories, as well as tools and resources to help people lock in small improvements and healthy changes to their lifestyle. By the end of last year, the site had attracted nearly 100,000 visitors and Farmstrong engages regularly with around 8,000 people through social media.
Farmstrong has rolled out a series of Dr Tom Mulholland's Healthy Thinking workshops across the country. A total of 31 workshops were attended by 1,122 farmers, growers and rural professionals in the first year alone.
In 2016 Farmstrong launched the Farmstrong Challenge and Fit4Farming Cycle Tour – initiatives designed to encourage rural New Zealanders to become active by walking, running and cycling. More than 1,000 people signed up for the Challenge, travelling 633, 216 kilometres. The Fit4 Farming team, a core group of 20 farmers, cycled for 16 days from Ngatea in the North Island to Invercargill in the South. En route they hosted six event-days where over 600 farmers and their families participated in walk, run and cycle events. A new Farmstrong Challenge will be rolled out later this year with many more opportunities for rural people to get involved.
Farmstrong has also had a profile at national and regional agricultural events, and has sponsored over 40 performances of the popular Mel Parsons and "Sons of a Bitch" woolshed music and comedy show as a way of creating an opportunity for rural communities to socialise, have a laugh and get off the farm for an evening. More than 600 media articles about Farmstrong have featured in 30 different print, broadcast and online outlets. The combined effect of all these activities has been to put rural wellbeing on the agenda for a growing number of New Zealand farmers and growers.
Since it began, Farmstrong has been committed to tracking the progress it is making in achieving its goals. The results achieved in its first year have been very encouraging.
Half of New Zealand farmers were aware of Farmstrong within 17 months of its launch. Research shows that 38% of farmers participating in Farmstrong reported an improvement in their ability to cope with the ups-and-downs in farming, compared with 21% of the general farming population. 41% of farmers participating in Farmstrong reported an improvement in their work-life balance, as compared with 22% of the general farming population.
Alongside the encouraging statistics has been a flow of postive feedback from farmers who have engaged with Farmstong.
"Farmstrong is crucial and I fully support its programmes," says Tony Coltman, ATS Director and Dunsandel dairy farmer. "It's vital that people feel comfortable talking about these issues. If things are bad for you, you can guarantee that 99% of other farmers think so too or someone's got it worse than you. Farmstrong helps people talk about these things and realise they are not alone in any of the struggles they're having out there."
"Keeping well is absolutely crucial to the success of this business and developing the mental resilience to manage the challenges is really important."
James Pharazyn, manager of Moutere Angus in Hawke's Bay, is equally enthusiastic.
"Meeting Dr. Tom at the Healthy Thinking workshop was fantastic. He had so much to offer. After doing the workshop I came back and passed on the tools to the guys who work here. I also made some good friends at the course and picked up some great ideas from them."
"The biggest insight I got out of it was how much we worry about things we can't control. It really makes you question why you are getting so worried. Now I just focus on getting things done and not stressing."
Plans for the future
Farmstrong has plenty planned for the year ahead. Increasing the reach of Farmstrong so more people lock in positive lifestyle changes is a priority and so too is growing an active network of community-based supporters who can share Farmstrong tools and resources in their local area.
Some exciting new ideas are on the table, including initiatives to help farmers get a break from the farm.
Expect to hear more from Farmstrong ambassador, Sam Whitelock, who said he "is really impressed with what Farmstrong has already achieved." He added that "When the opportunity came up to get involved, I jumped at it."