Episode 5 - Family Ties
David and Alanna Clarke farm together as much as they can on their 315 hectares near Glenham, in eastern Southland.
When there’s fencing to be done, they’ll tackle it themselves before using contractors – and daughters Isla (6) and June (4) like to pitch in too.
“The girls love fencing, it’s their favourite thing!” says Alanna. “Right from when Isla was first born she was in a backpack when we planted trees along this stream.”
Planting is something the couple has done a lot of in recent years. Along with David’s mother Julie, the couple won the 2017 Southland regional Ballance Farm Environment Awards.
They’ve fenced off nearly all their waterways, with just two kilometres still to go, and planted a variety of native trees to attract birds, along with poplars and other exotics to provide shade and shelter for stock.
“We want to look after our animals as best we can,” David says. “But the increased biodiversity we’re getting on the farm is really valuable and it’s really cool to preserve these streams for the future generations to enjoy.”
Family is a big part of what makes their farming operation special; David’s two brothers both farm nearby.
Brendan runs a 700-cow dairy farm 20 minutes away, and just a few minutes down the road, his twin brother Stephen also runs a dairy farm.
The benefit of the three brothers living so close together is that their businesses can work together and support each other.
The heifer calves from Stephen’s and Brendan’s farms are grazed at David and Alanna’s farm for a couple of winters before they go back to the dairy farms just before calving.
The boys’ mother Julie is the glue that keeps the different farms running. She does the books for all the businesses, as well as running a farm of her own with her partner Roger Tuck.
Family has become important to the Clarkes since Julie’s husband Graeme took his own life 20 years ago.
“He’d suffered from depression previously when Brendan and Stephen were babies, and we both probably didn’t realise depression is something that will always be with you,” Julie says.
“He’d never had a doctor of his own, like probably a lot of young rural males, I’d say. And maybe if he’d had a good a relationship with a doctor, he’d have found it easier to go and talk about things.”
When Graeme died, not only had Julie lost her husband, but she was left with three teenage boys and a farm to run. But she was determined to stay on the land.
“I don’t think it would have been good for the boys if they’d had to move off their home, as well as lose their father, and I didn’t want that to happen. I was lucky there was lots of good support from family and friends.”
At the Ballance Farm Environment Awards, Julie took the opportunity to raise awareness by telling the family’s story.
“It was the first time I’d heard Mum talk about rural depression and Dad in public” says David.
“It’s certainly given me more confidence to talk about it. If it helps just one other person or family, that’s good.”
For the Clarkes, support from the community was one of the keys to getting through those hard times. Getting out to local community events was a good way to keep in touch with friends and family.
“Farming can be quite isolating so it’s good to get off-farm and get out and talk to people,” David says. “We’ve just got be open and honest about how we’re feeling, which for we Kiwi males is not traditionally done.”
David’s advice for helping others is to be direct: Tap them on the shoulder, look them in the eye, and ask them if they’re feeling alright.
“It’s a simple question, it might put that person off guard and you might have to ask them a couple of times, but it might just make the difference.”
Read more about the Ballance Farm Environment Awards here.
Find out more about the Glenham School stream study on David and Alanna's farm here.
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