Telling rural stories online

Educated, well-travelled, entrepreneurial and creative; many women on modern New Zealand farms want to connect with others like them and showcase the lifestyle they all have in common. They may live far and wide, with not a coffee shop in sight, but that is where online communities are proving a source of inspiration.

It was a turning point when Philippa Cameron came across the Facebook page of fellow Kurow ladies, Bex Hayman and Sarah Douglas, ‘Young Rural Ladies’. “I thought it was a great way of bridging the gap between rural and urban people. These were two young women who had had other careers, had travelled the world but were now immersed in station life and were celebrating that with others like them. Their projects really inspired me.”

Pip lives with her husband Joe and daughters Flora (4) and Evelyn (2) on the remote sheep operation, Otematata Station, which is owned by Joe’s father Hugh. As well as raising the girls and working on the 27,000 Merino and 200 cattle farm, the trained teacher’s main job is to provide food for the six live-in farm workers. The meal they have as a crew is smoko time and Pip sees this as a special time. “It’s a chance for everyone to come together, chat and get a good meal in them for the day. It’s important to help them feel connected and for their mental health,” Pip says.

Whether that’s a packed lunch up in the mountains, provisions for the 2-week muster or when they all make it back to the woolshed. They need hearty food – carbohydrates, sugar, the works. You never see a fat shepherd,” she muses. “I wanted to share my recipes with others, to prove what I could put out every day and maybe make things easier for other people. I wanted to motivate myself and provide inspiration, as it’s not always a farm job that is valued,” she says. With over 3,000 followers, it seems Pip has got the flavour right. She points out that these are tried and tested recipes, they’re easy and quick, freezeable and use cupboard standbys such as UHT milk. After all, living 110km from the nearest supermarket means “if you’ve run out of an ingredient you have to make do,” she says. While coming up with meal ideas every day prompted her to start the ‘What’s for smoko’ Instagram page, it has helped to fulfil other needs in her life.

“On my story, I share snippets of our day – like packing the girls up and heading out to sort some irrigation or whatever! I guess I’m trying to put life into my day. It helps me to be grateful for the good moments as it can be lonely out here. “I wanted to feel worthwhile in this industry and to help others in the same situation to realise that what they do is important.” It has also been a platform where Pip can promote her cause against single-use plastic and get ideas to live more sustainably – something she thinks farmers often get a bad rap for in the media.

She thinks Instagram is a great platform for Kiwi farmers to showcase their products. Pip is a big advocate of buying local and so was “stoked” to find her local Farmlands store had Farmer’s Mill flour, a manufacturer from South Canterbury. “I’ll tag all the time, to champion products that people might not know about.” Whether it’s supporting other farmers in the wake of the Kaikoura earthquakes, organising Food Fairy packages for new mums in the community or posting a pic of their own “massive woolly Shrek with 4 years’ growth on him”, Pip uses social networks every day to have a giggle and to feel good.

Naturally, Pip’s feel-good factor has won her new friends around New Zealand and further afield. She has found the social interaction to be just the antidote to the negativity voiced by some, who see these postings as a throwback to a “1950’s wife doing all the cooking for her husband”. “I’m not chained to the kitchen,” she says. “We don’t have any childcare nearby so this is my job for now, it’s an important one and I’m making the most of it.

“Instagram isn’t as bad as Facebook for negativity. When I do get some I just ignore or hit back with a bunch of positivity. “It can be hard for partners who marry into the farming community. Social networking can let them know they’re not alone. None of us are perfect – I post about my burnt scones and that the trick is to smother them in lots of butter!” With typical Pip-passion, she enthuses about the opportunities that the online world presents to her family.

“Te Kura correspondence school offers a pre-school programme that my kids do. It’s not advertised anywhere so when a package arrives I post that on my site too – so others can find out and benefit as well.”