Farmers. Aussies love 'em.
The weather, well, it doesn't love 'em. Nor do the rain Gods. And the forecast looks grim.
Eurobodalla Shire Council and Local Land Services recently organised a social event for farmers. Fetch 'Em Up hoped to unite and inspire farmers and generally spread good cheer.
Moruya High School student Alika Hall spoke: "Despite what is going on with our climate ... I understand why everyone in this room and all the farmers around the country do what they do. It's because they love it."
About 150 farmers dusted off boots and pulled out frocks and suits to attend the dinner at the Moruya showground. "Most farmers are hermits, so it's a good way to get them out," Ellie Stearn, a Tuross oyster farmer said.
"I pulled out my brightest dress tonight,' Emma Lipscombe, a Mogendoura beef farmer said, 'because it's so bleak out my window right now."
This year's winter and spring broke records for all the wrong reasons, and the big dry is set to continue. Scientists warn us about what we are now seeing - climate change is making tough times even tougher. When considering 120 years of BOM data, Spring 2019 was the driest on record. And little change or relief is predicted in the coming months.
Local farmers spoke on the topic of My Farming Future. They were asked to keep it positive, so there wasn't a single mention of climate during formal proceedings, but the topic dominated social discussions. Moruya vegetable farmer Tobie Patrick asked: "How can we address the problem (of climate change) if our leaders do not even believe in it?"
Mental health advocate Butch Young was the keynote speaker. He shared his story of resilience and recovery from schizophrenia: "Everyone is in the drought, we need to listen, love and share ... it's a village, that's the answer. It's a team effort that gets you through, it's not an individual sport."
He said it was vital to support farmers and consider their mental health. A study of NSW farmers from 1970-2007 found the suicide rate increased by at least 15 per cent as droughts worsened.
As I made my way around the room, chatting to farmers, there were not many positive stories. Some are in a desperate situation: dried out dams and bores, bills piling up, not enough income to survive and feeling let down by our government.
Some even spoke about finding another job, but quickly added: "Where else could I find work?"
While the climate presents tough challenges, it's also an inspiring time to be a farmer.
First-generation vegetable farmer, Fraser Bayley from Old Mill Road Bio-Farm, who is supporting the new SAGE farmer training program Stepping Stone Farm, says there are reasons for optimism for Eurobodalla Shire agriculture: "There is good opportunity, provided we can adjust our mindsets and look at our farms with a more circular-economy thinking and observe them as diverse farm ecosystems that are not separate from the community we live in."
"Outside the Eurobodalla, farmers have lost a lot, but are rebuilding and have been forced to look at their farm through a different perspective - they have developed integrated farming systems and stacked enterprises, agroforestry and silvicultures, restoration grazing practices, pastured-cropping techniques, low-till production models, cultural burning practices - all methods that are being implemented to profitable success, even on a small scale," he said.
"These practices give me optimism. Together we are a collective of invaluable knowledge and potential drivers of a thriving local economy."
Milk & Me dairy farmer, Farran Terlich, from Verona, spoke about the need for "looking back in order to look forward" and the need for community involvement and support, consolidation and innovation.
Regenerative farming is a relatively new topic, yet to be championed by most Australian farmers, but as the climate changes, farmers are forced to look at how their practices must too.
Moruya High School agriculture teacher Mellissa Marshall said:"Change often means substantial risks and cost outlay; that is why we must continue to support our farmers."
If you're a farmer interested in looking at methods to help your farming into the future, the Climate Smart Farming Program could be for you. If you wish to be part of the Eurobodalla Farmers Network email Andrew from Local Land Services on firstname.lastname@example.org
Not a farmer, but want to help?
A simple message from our farmers: Support us by buying local meat, dairy, vegetables, fish, bread, honey, eggs, flowers, even worms! The SAGE farmers market on Tuesdays at Riverside Park, Moruya, runs from 3-5pm weekly, rain, hail or shine. You can order a box for pick up or delivery. Register for the e-market here. If you can't make the markets, Southland's fruit and vegetable shop and Southland's butcher in Moruya stock local goods year round.
In Batemans Bay, Go Vita and the Thursday market at the community centre stock local produce.
Market stallholder Kirsti Wilkinson said: "It means we can keep our business alive in these tough times. It means jobs and employment for not only us, but the flow on effect to other directly related business such as mechanics, irrigation suppliers, feed and fertiliser stockists."
Support our growing community in advocating for action on climate change. Email the Eurobodalla chapter of 350.org at email@example.com or visit Farmers for Climate Action.
Are you friends with or know of a farmer doing it tough? Farmers need of random acts of kindness, as Bodalla Milk & Me dairy farmer Vanessa Todd knows: "If someone arrived with a bag of groceries and just put them away, I would burst into tears of happiness." If you're feeling overwhelmed, please reach out for support.
If nothing else, pick up the phone and ring your GP - we care about your mental health just as much as your physical health, or lifeline on 13 11 14.
I love my sunburnt country, home to many networks of diverse farming communities, but my heart breaks to see its sweeping plains of dust and ragged mountains raging with fire.
Will you join me in showing our farmers some love?