Empowering rural women
Farming Women Tairawhiti (FWT) has taken off since it was founded in 2014. Chairwoman Sandra Matthews from Te Kopae Station at Rere tells the Weekender about her role in the organisation and the support avaliable for women who want to achieve more in their farming businesses.
In resource terms, Rere farmer and Farming Women Tairawhiti (FWT) chairwoman Sandra Matthews has struck personal gold while the organisation has grown exponentially.
The Gisborne farmer has helped empower farming women in this region, tapping into an often under-utilised pool of talent that sits within New Zealand’s farming communities.
Mrs Matthews, who farms Te Kopae Station at Rere with her husband Ian, was a founding member of FWT — which was born out of the inaugural Agri-Women’s Development Trust course held at the Portside conference centre in Gisborne in June 2014.
The group has exceeded all expectations in both numbers and enthusiasm, with more than 550 members now part of FWT.
Having completed Agri-Women’s Development Trust’s Understanding Your Farm Business and First Steps programmes, Mrs Matthews and fellow classmate Marie Burke were keen to carry on the momentum generated through the courses by organising a Tairawhiti farming women’s group.
“The aim of this group was to facilitate ongoing education, events, personal development and networking amongst rural women in the region,” Mrs Matthews says.
“By helping women realise and grow their skills, FWT will ultimately help grow farming businesses, families, rural communities and economies.”
The first focus day FWT organised in 2015 was a speed-dating type format with agribusiness professionals.
“We hoped to attract 20-30 women to the event . . . . 85 women turned up and we realised we had tapped a nerve.”
After that, FWT got Beef and Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) on board.
“The B+LNZ eastern extension manager Mark Harris is more than happy to be the ‘honorary’ woman at FWT events.”
High level of interestThe group established a Facebook page to communicate with the group members.
“Such was the level of interest, we set up FWT as an incorporated society and formed an executive committee in October 2015.”
The organisation was then officially launched as a registered charity.
“Three years later, FWT runs one large focus day every year. Last year the focus was on wellbeing and soil health; the previous year it was on financial skills.”
FWT also run skill-based workshops throughout the year which have included operating a chainsaw, driving quadbikes and computer courses.
“We tap into workshops, courses and events run by other groups and industry organisations such as B+LNZ and the Red Meat Profit Partnership.”
They now support rural women around the country as they set up similar groups within their own regions, she says.
“FWT has been as much part of my own personal development as it has been for our members.”
In July last year Mrs Matthews received an ANZ “Escalator” programme scholarship for leadership and governance skill development for women in New Zealand primary industries.
The same month 108-year-old Te Kopae Station received a Century Farms award recognising the hundred-plus year milestone the station has achieved.
Australian by birth, Mrs Matthews had a career in banking and finance before marrying husband Ian, who is a fourth-generation Tairawhiti farmer.
For the first 10 years of married life Mrs Matthews was not involved in the farming business, but that changed when the couple became B+LNZ monitor farmers between 2005 and 2007.
She then completed the Agri-Women’s Development Trust (AWDT) programmes.
“Last year’s national Escalator programme proved to be a life-changing experience,” she says.
“The programme opened my mind, and doors, and helped identify and hone my leadership skills, while learning additional skills — and how to use them.
“You are growing the entire year — it’s amazing how you change.”
Through all of Mrs Matthew’s involvement in FWT and AWDT programmes, she has been inspired by the enthusiasm and support shown by farming women as they help each other grow both personally and professionally.
“I have met some incredible women and tapped into an enormous pool of talent that typically makes up half of New Zealand’s farming industry.
“We at FWT welcome all newcomers, and want to see our numbers continue to grow as we move forward.”
FWT, supported by AgFirst Wairoa and BDO, will host Marlborough farmer and author Doug Avery at an evening event following B+LNZ’s annual meeting in Gisborne on Thursday, March 22. Mr Avery will speak at the Emerald Hotel from 7pm-9.30pm. Contact B+LNZ to register.