Monday, April 22, 2024

Community comes first for DWN award winner

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A Northland sharemilker knew from a young age that dairy farming was the career for her and since embarking on her farming journey, has embraced all the opportunities presented to her. When Northland dairy farmer Donna Griggs was announced as the Dairy Women’s Network (DWN) Regional Leader of the Year, her childhood school friends reminisced that they could never beat her in an arm wrestle.
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A Northland sharemilker knew from a young age that dairy farming was the career for her and since embarking on her farming journey, has embraced all the opportunities presented to her.

When Northland dairy farmer Donna Griggs was announced as the Dairy Women’s Network (DWN) Regional Leader of the Year, her childhood school friends reminisced that they could never beat her in an arm wrestle.

“It must have been all the farm work,” Donna laughs.

Some years later, it is not only physical strength she is being celebrated for, but also her great strength in supporting dairy women and the rural communities she has been a part of.

In May, she surpassed 80 volunteer regional leaders supporting dairy women around the country to win the title of Regional Leader of the Year. But in the fashion that befits her humble nature, she insists she represents all of the DWN regional leaders in New Zealand as a whole.

“For me, the title means an opportunity to grow in leadership skills and to bring that knowledge forward into the Dairy Women’s Network community, our farming community and our business,” she says.

Growing up in a sharemilking family, she is the eldest of five children. The family farmed throughout the Waikato, King Country and south-west Auckland before settling in Northland in the Mangakahia Valley.

As a family with Māori ancestry, she was involved in kapa haka, which she describes as a wonderful mix of teamwork, culture and artistry.  

“We were affectionately known as the ‘milky bar’ kids,” she says.

It was also one of the leadership roles she relished at school.

Outside of school, she helped out on the family farm.

When it came time to leave school, she was determined to carry on working in farming but her parents insisted she “go and do something else for a while”.

Donna worked in a lawyer’s office as an office junior, receptionist and word processing operator. When she’d had enough of “sitting within four walls”, she moved into an office role at a building firm.

However, the call of the farm was too great and she eventually returned to working on the land.

“With my husband Steven, we stayed in Northland and worked our way up from management roles to contract milkers, lower order sharemilkers and finally 50:50 sharemilkers,” she says.

The pair have a blended family with adult children Dylan, Kirsty and Luke, teenagers Hayden, Katie and Tyla, and six grandchildren. 

The family have lived in Ruawai for six years and are in their second sharemilking role in the area.

They milk 850-900 cows on the flat, 300ha farm, producing an average of 270,000kg MS; their aim is to build production to 300,000kg MS.

Donna first joined DWN 14 years ago, when a friend leading the South Whangarei group handed over the reins to her.

“From the start I just loved the knowledge sharing, the workshops and business support – and the personal life support as well,” she says.

“Helping others grow their confidence and ease stress and isolation is really fulfilling.

“The value of bringing people together with connection and growth is significant. DWN is such a professional organisation and it is grown and run by volunteers, which makes it even more amazing.”

As a DWN regional leader, Donna is able to initiate workshops and training in her community to fill any gaps that she sees arising, whether that be new technology, managing an office, or stress and wellbeing.

She says winning the DWN Regional Leader of the Year award was overwhelming.

“I was so humbled to win the award,” she says.

“DWN has some amazing ladies and I feel that every leader deserves the award.

“It made me feel proud because I felt I was representing all our amazing leaders and what DWN stands for.”

DWN chief executive Jules Benton says their regional leaders are at the core of the organisation and recognising and supporting their efforts is so important to the morale of the team and the longevity of the network.

“Both our finalists show a real passion for people and work to strengthen the dairy industry through connection not only between farmers but at a social and community level as well,” Benton says.

“Donna and Rebecca (Green, runner-up) were noted by the judges as having strong value foundations and for helping people to find their place within the industry, which will ultimately help our sector to thrive.”

DWN is just one of many community groups Donna has been involved in.

“We lived in Bream Bay (Northland) for 13 years and we were very active in the community there,” she says. 

“Steven was a volunteer firefighter for 12 years so we were always involved in fundraising committees, as well as the kids’ activities, Dairy Connect, Dairy Industry Awards, Playcentre and the PTA.

“We’ve always believed that it takes a village to raise a child and a strong community helps build a great society.”

Today, she volunteers as Kaipara regional leader and assists Sue Skelton to run the Coast to Coast Business Group for Dairy Women’s Network. She also hosts DairyNZ discussion groups on their farm and organises industry workshops for local farm teams to build their knowledge when time allows. 

As much as she enjoys her community work, she admits dairy women are often trying to keep multiple balls in the air.

“As dairy women we have an incredible amount of roles and responsibilities – from office work to human resources and compliance, as well as outside duties with the animals, pasture and milking,” she says.

“Then, there is a family to take care of as well; we wear a lot of hats.

“However, I believe dairy women’s capability is their biggest strength.

“They are adaptable and able to overcome adversity, whether it is fixing a broken zip on the farm overalls, interviewing prospective team members or helping their business survive through adverse events.

“We tend to underestimate how capable we are.”

She says DWN has been invaluable for getting off-farm and “defragging the hard drive”.

“One of the hardest things about living and working on-farm is defining work and home – and preventing them from overlapping,” she says.

“You need to set up a system that works for you.”

She also says the dairy industry has set itself big goals and is focusing on strategies to achieve milk production that is sustainable and profitable, while meeting environmental targets.

“Farmers have always been conservationists; it is our aim to leave the land in better condition for the next generation,” she says.

“Feeding the world has its challenges, but our farmers have the strength, resilience and number 8 wire mentality to meet those challenges.”

Going forward, she has a desire to increase support to farmers experiencing stress and burnout.

“I’ve suffered from burnout myself. The Rural Support Trust does an amazing job,” she says.

“Ultimately, I think the directive will have to come from the top down, from government policy level.”

Donna would also like to help improve HR management policies and legislation to make the process streamlined for employers.

“Small businesses employ people, farms employ people, and we need great teams to keep those businesses running,” she says.

“If legislation makes it too tough for small businesses to employ people, what happens to that small business?”

As the 2021 Regional Leader of the Year, she received registration to the Dare to Lead™ Programme facilitated by Kaila Colbin from Boma New Zealand, as well as accommodation and travel to the location of the programme, to help her on her leadership journey.

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