LAURA SUTHERLAND was raised on a family dairy farm and now lives on the runoff property, five minutes from the home farm run by her father Chris and brother Jordan at Tallandoon in the Mitta Valley in north-east Victoria.
“Growing up on the farm gave me freedom to explore and work things out on my own,” she said.
“Kids can go outside and play and develop skills you don’t get in town.”
She wants her children and future generations to have the same experiences and hopes a leadership program will give her expertise to help strengthen the local dairy industry and the broader community.
Laura is being sponsored by Gardiner Dairy Foundation to undertake the Alpine Valleys Community Leadership program and says it will have lasting benefits for herself and the community.
“The dairy industry is something I feel strongly about,” she said.
“The Mitta Valley was once all dairy but there are hardly any dairy farmers left now. I hope through this course we can find different ways of doing things and try to improve the industry to make sure it has a positive future in this region.”
Although now working as a physiotherapist as well as raising two young girls, Eleanor and Rosie, Laura helps the family farm with administration and occupational health and safety.
“I am passionate about the dairy industry and would like to get further involved in some form,” she said.
Laura has always enjoyed country living and hasn’t ventured too far from the region, studying at Charles Sturt University and working at Align Work Health in Albury.
She moved back to the farm six years ago to be closer to family and friends and enjoy “a lovely place to live”.
Now she’s learning a lot more about the region she loves while developing her personal skills in the leadership program.
“I’ve done local community work through the netball club and Mitta Mitta Muster; I like to participate and volunteer but I need the skills to do it properly,” Laura said.
“This program is helping with that.”
When the Gardiner Dairy Foundation scholarship opportunity appeared on her Facebook feed, she knew it was an opportunity too good to ignore.
“I plan to be in this community for a long time so I’m sure I’ll be volunteering, and I want to do what I can to support farmers with healthy lifestyles and increased opportunities to develop their businesses.”
Laura said the first half of the program had taught her to understand what type of leader she is, how to communicate with people and different types of leadership skills.
“There are little bits and pieces that make you a better and more effective leader, such as governance and chairing meetings and better understanding other people’s skills,” she said.
“This course is about empowering people and making them better at the processes so we can go back to help our communities.”
Laura is also appreciating a bigger picture of the Alpine Valley, its industries and its people.
“One of the good things about the program is the people you meet,” she said.
“There are 28 people from different industries and at different stages of life that I would not normally connect with.
“They all bring different skills and you can see different leadership styles at play.”
She also finds the program very accommodating.
“Rosie was 12-weeks-old when the course started so I took her along with me for the first six months. The course facilitators and participants were really helpful and supportive,” she said.
Laura had previously received a Gardiner Dairy Foundation scholarship during her first year at university.
“I follow the dairy industry because I have a great interest in its future and I couldn’t have done this program without the Gardiner Foundation support,” Laura said.
Applications for the Alpine Valley Community Leadership Program opened on March 16. For more information visit gardinerfoundation.com.au or email Richard Meredith at firstname.lastname@example.org