Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Cock your hat - angles are attitudes

I was in Sydney two weeks ago for the Art4Agriculture Young Farming Champions #YFC14 Master Class, taking workshops on media interaction, public speaking, social licensing, and developing value statements and key messages – all in relation to food and fibre production. It was an exceptionally engaging weekend, with so many points sticking in my mind…

“There’s no good/bad/better/worse in food production systems, just different.”

“Trust is driven by confidence, competence and influential others.”

“Confidence comes from value similarity.”

“Consumer trust is driven by shared values rather than skills.”

“Sustainable balance = ethically grounded, scientifically verified and economically viable.”


“Don’t just turn up to the ‘events’ – keep talking in between.”

I especially need to remember that last one. Life gets in the way oftentimes, but it’s important we keep the conversation going.

But there’s one thing that’s really been at the top of my mind since #YFC14 and it came from Canadian Nuffield Scholar Clayton Robins.

Clayton spoke to us about youth development organisation 4-H. It’s awesome. If you haven’t heard of it, you need to. Check out the website for Clayton’s local branch here: http://www.4h.mb.ca/

I’m not being intentionally dismissive of the fabulousness that is 4-H, but I want to move on quickly because that is not what’s been on my mind.

Clayton’s a fourth generation farmer from a mixed beef and cropping enterprise in south-west Manitoba. And according to him, his family farm is a “farm” – rather than a ranch - because he’s a “ball cap guy.”

It’s stereotypical of course, that a farmer wears a baseball cap and a rancher wears a wide-brimmed cowboy hat. (In Australian terms, we’re talking graziers on stations wearing Akubras.) But stereotypes can be useful sometimes, whether they’re right or wrong.

I love hats. And I reckon most farmers do. The right hat on the right person seems to become an extension of personality or an extra limb.

I have mentioned the many metaphorical hats a farmer wears previously. But now I’m talking literal, physical hats.

We have quite the collection of them. It includes lots of baseball caps. Mostly because suppliers and product reps like to give them as gifts. Buy a truck load of poly tanks? Here, have a free cap! Buy a pallet of chemical? Here, have a cap! Buy a grader? Here’s your matching cap!

The most recent addition was these awesome #australianagriculture and Art4Agriculture caps from the YFC workshop in Sydney.

When I presented ST with his, back home, he delightedly announced that this cap would be going straight into the ute to be worn when mustering on the motorbike. This was a good response, because many caps don’t ever make it off the hat rack – forever on the sidelines, never to fulfil their life’s purpose.

We have baseball caps for all occasions. And the funny thing is, that we actually do wear different caps for different occasions. ST has caps that are for mustering, caps that are for social occasions, caps for travelling, flash caps for Town trips, around the house caps, caps for particularly dirty jobs, and of course there are favourite caps, second favourite caps, least favourite caps… and so it goes on…

But generally, every day, we both wear wide-brimmed hats. ST’s is a traditional rabbit skin Akubra, while mine is straw.

It’s not unusual to have both ordinary day-to-day wear wide-brims and “stepping out” wide-brims. To wear while working, and to wear when attending farm themed events or visiting other farm properties, respectively.

It’s important to pick and choose the right hat for the right occasion because if you wear your good hat to the wrong event, your neighbours may never let you live it down. In some settings, too clean a hat can be equated (jokingly) to a lazy worker. The same can be said for boots. It’s all very political, this farmer fashion business.

But let’s get back on track…

If we are mostly wide-brimmed hat wearers, then by Clayton’s definition that means our farm is definitely a station.

We already knew this of course - we call it Burragan Station - but I like having a new data point to draw from.

The thing is… I don’t mind calling it a farm when the circumstances require it. For example, when I visited Hamilton North Public School in Newcastle two months ago. Or on this blog.

I also have no problem with calling myself a farmer (or farmer’s wife), rather than a grazier. I know it may seem like I use the term farmer with total reckless abandon. But it’s a conscious decision. Not the result of being new to station life, or taking advantage of artistic licence and gross commercialisation, as has been suggested to me in the past.

My reason is four-fold.

1) Grazier, to me, is a subcategory of farmer. Farmer is the overarching term which covers all food and fibre production. It’s a bit like someone introducing themselves as a doctor rather than a dermatologist. So I believe farmer is correct - just not as specific.

2) I see the word grazier as being more jargon than is necessary for many of my readers. I have lots of friends who read the blog who have spent most of their lives in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. Saying grazier to them rather than farmer would be like a journalist using words like presser, grab or par (press release, quote and sentence) when talking to someone with no media experience. It’s about being less exclusive. Meanwhile, the graziers still know what I'm talking about anyway, so it's no harm to them.

3) To those not in the know, I believe the term grazier can conjure an overly-simplistic idea of livestock grazing on land, while the graziers just sit back and watch. Graziers are every bit a farmer as a farmer who tills the land. We are growing something (wool and lamb) every bit as alive and in need of "farming" as a cropping farmer. We prepare our paddocks and our mobs, we join the ewes and rams at certain times, we monitor the mobs as lambs are born and wool is grown - making sure there are no pests or diseases - we have periods of busy times when lamb marking and crutching, and then our "harvest" of shearing... All of this is the action of "farming.”

4) Last year I asked ST if it bothered him when people called him a farmer rather than a grazier. The conversation went a little something like this…
Bess: "Babe, do you mind when people call you a farmer rather than a grazier?"
ST: "No, why would I?"
Bess: "Well I've noticed a lot of graziers don't like being called farmers, because they say farmers are people who grow crops or plant pastures."
ST: "Well yeah, technically that's what we call a farmer I guess. But we're all farmers, it's just that specifically we have grazing country. I guess it depends what kind of country you have as to what specific type of farmer you are. But in the end aren't we all doing the same thing?"

So if the man calls himself a farmer, then that makes me a farmer's wife!

Meantime, we’ll still be wearing our wide-brimmed hats out in the paddock and our “ball caps” on other occasions. This is Australia after all; sun protection is vital.

"Cock your hat - angles are attitudes." - Frank Sinatra