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Gippsland calendar crew has message to share

By Jeanette Severs

THERE IS a new calendar available this year, starring many dairy farmers from Gippsland.

Each month, one of the farmers is the pin-up.

But the subject matter is unusual. Each month, the farmer tells their story about financial stress, relationship breakdown, the impacts of drought and their mental health battle.

Their reasons for being involved is to smash the stereotype of the silent farmer, gritting their teeth and stoic in the face of adversity.

For some of those involved, that is part of their story. For others, they share the reality of how they negotiate their lives so they are not consumed by stress.

Titled, ‘The hands that feed you’, the project is a collaboration between Sallie Jones, one of the owners of milk processor company, Gippsland Jersey, and Sue Medson, chief executive of Gippsland Lakes Complete Health.

“Good mental health equals regional prosperity,” Ms Jones said.

“At Gippsland Jersey, mental health is a key pillar of our brand. We need to create change in our society and our communities so we don’t have suicide.”

Ms Jones’ father took his own life on the farm after a long battle with his mental health. He was well respected in the community and, as well as the farm, had built a successful value-added dairy business.

He left behind a bereft family who have become passionate advocates for breaking the stigma of silence around mental health and depression.

“When farmers struggle, their communities struggle economically and socially,” Ms Medson said.

“Without farmers in Australia, we are not a food secure nation.”

Pat Purcell, of Marlo, is the oldest dairy farmer in the calendar. Blair Austin, of Orbost, is one of the youngest.

Thirteen dairy farmers were happy to answer the call to feature in the calendar.

For Jason Bermingham, of Dennison, his involvement is about raising awareness about mental health.

“We’re well aware there are people around us who are struggling. We want to get away from there being a stigma about talking about our mental health,” Mr Bermingham said.

Dennis Reynolds, of Orbost, would like his children to have the choice to work in the dairy industry.

“With the price of fodder and water, we’re in survival mode. We want to keep working in our industry, but when the NSW Government offers freight subsidies, that makes fodder prices rise and increase inequities between farmers,” Mr Reynolds said.

“At the end of the day, I have two young boys. We need to get young people into the industry, but the cost of buying land makes it hard; especially when we’re not getting paid a fair price.”

For Max and Tameeka Vera, of Dennison, sharing stories helps people to find new ways of managing their dairy business.

“Talking about financial pressures and sharing our stories, you find things that work. Our biggest feed bill is our grain bill. You need that feed. When you talk to other people about it, you find out you’re not the only one struggling and worrying about how to pay it,” Mrs Vera said.

Craig Calvert took on the family dairy farm at Mossiface during drought. He admits it can be a struggle.

“Drought is bloody hard work. Money rolls out and there’s twice as much work in a drought, keeping water and food up to the cows. You can’t forego production,” Mr Calvert said.

“I’ve got to think about the kids, my family and micromanage every process on the farm to minimise the impact on our equity. I’m constantly preparing for the drought to break, so we can recover.

“Sometimes it feels like a brick wall.”

The calendar was launched prior to Christmas, at the Gippsland Jersey milk factory at Lakes Entrance.

Most of the farmers involved attended, along with their families.

The calendar is available online through Gippsland Jersey and Gippsland Lakes Complete Health.