Thursday, November 30, 2023

Just getting on and doing it

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Farming communities have long been New Zealand’s backbone but there’s a need to look after both them and the next generation coming through central North Island hill country farmer Lis Giesen told Colin Williscroft.
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Farming, farming and community – that’s what life is all about for Lis Giesen.

Not only is she passionate about the farm she and husband George run and the stock that come off it, she loves the community the family lives in, the expanding beekeeping and honey sideline named after her children and the knowledge and enthusiasm gained from it being passed on to pupils at the local school.

Brought up on a sheep and beef farm in South Canterbury’s Hakataramea Valley, farming is in Giesen’s blood.

After finishing school she wanted to go farming but in those days that wasn’t really seen as a career for young women so she went to Dunedin and trained as a nurse then spent two years nursing in Tauranga.

Though now a proud farmer she has no regrets about the path nursing took her on.

“I met some amazing people through nursing and I got to travel. It helped shape me as the person I am now.”

She went first to Wales and England, which included work in St Michael’s Hospice in Herefordshire.

However, the bond to farming was strong and her two years in Britain involved alternating nursing with a lambing beat.

Giesen used her connections through a charity associated with the hospice and on her way home went to Tanzania where she helped set up a palliative care ward in Muheza Hospital.

Back in the southern hemisphere she spent two years in Melbourne at the Peter MacCallum oncology hospital.

She loved her work but it was stressful and her life lacked balance, which really hit home on a holiday to New Zealand.

Driving back to South Canterbury she found herself asking what she was doing.

To find out if there was another way and if that way was farming Giesen took a year of unpaid leave and went to work on Table Top Farm at Hakataramea.

While there she built up a team of dogs, did some casual nursing including helping the Cancer Society and met George, her future husband.

The farm work led to an 18-month shepherding job on Otamatapaio Station in the Waitaki Valley.

About 10 years ago she and George moved to where they live today, between Waituna West and Hunterville, a property that used to be owned by George’s parents.

It’s 350ha of mainly hill country with about 20ha of flat land, well positioned in terms of how it faces the predominant weather.

They run 1650 ewes and 450 replacements along with 120 cattle, with 30 R1 and 30 R2 replacements.

Though she misses the South Island hill country Giesen is more than happy with what she describes as the beautiful place she now lives in.

The couple have five children, Jonty, 13, who is a boarder in his first year at Palmerston North Boys High School, Ayla, 12, Archie, 10, Tilly, 8, and Elsie, 6, who all attend Waituna West School.

Her ties to the local school go beyond her children as she and the school’s pupils look after five beehives, four belonging to the school and one of her own.

Lis and George Giesen farm 350ha near Hunterville. Phots: Colin Williscroft

She is proud of what she and George produce on their farm, trying to fatten as much as they can while placing a high priority on animal health.

“We’re passionate about what we do, which you have to be as farmers.”

In recent years what the good farmers do for the country has not been appreciated as much as it could be though that seems to have changed with the growing impact of covid-19 on the national economy, she says.

However, it’s a two-way street and there needs to be a better balance with what the urban population is calling for so more understanding between rural and city communities is imperative for the whole of NZ to grow stronger.

Working together is a big part of what makes rural communities tick and Lis says she would not be where she is today without help and inspiration from others. She hopes to do the same for others.

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