Friday, December 8, 2023

Walking a mile in her gumboots

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Matamata farmer Ella Wharmby feels more at home in the back paddocks than shopping in the high street. Farming was not her first choice but fate had different ideas. She tells Cheyenne Nicholson how she found her calling.
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As the saying goes, you can’t fully understand someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. And if you swapped the shoes for gumboots, Waikato farmer Ella Wharmby could tell you a thing or two about that.  

Looking at her now, it is hard to believe that she had barely stepped foot on a farm before embarking on a career that would see her combine her passion for food, animals and the outdoors. 

“Having not come from a farming background I now realise how far removed we’ve become from the food chain,” Ella says.

“It used to be that everyone had close ties to a farm but nowadays a lot of people have never stepped foot on one.”

Born in the UK, Ella, 25, and her family moved to New Zealand when she was nine and settled in Waikato. A keen sportswoman, she admits to being one of those people who had never been on a farm. 

Ella is the assistant manager on a 350ha farm milking 680 cows at Matamata.  

It is not where she expected to be when she left school. She attended Waikato Diocesan School for Girls, where students were encouraged to excel. In between schoolwork she juggled a mind-boggling number of extracurricular activities including basketball, hockey, swimming and horse riding.

“I played a bunch of sports and from the age of 14 had my own horse, so I had to fit riding around sports practice and games as well as assignments.

“I got good grades at school but found I didn’t like the way of learning that you [were] typically taught at school, it’s just the way my brain works. I’m a more hands-on learner for the most part.”

With an interest in food, food production and global food security she  was all set to study towards a degree in food technology at Massey University.

Ella and a staff member check out the information board in the shed.

Away from the farm she can be found out on the hiking trails, with a book in her hand, or indulging in her love of all things food and cooking. During her teenage years she was a regular on the equestrian eventing circuit. She has represented Waikato in the New Zealand Pony Clubs Association eventing championships, gaining multiple placings and wins at training level in one-day events.

Up until this year she was managing to fit in riding where she could but ultimately came to the decision she wasn’t able to invest the time in her horse that it needed.

With four-years working for the Browns under her belt she has had the perfect start to her career in the dairy sector and arguably, the world is her oyster. She says she’s not sure what the future holds. While farm ownership isn’t completely off the cards it’s not in her line of sight just yet. For now she has her sights on managing multiple farms.

“I’d love to work for a company or business that have multiple farms so the next step is a farm manager role, which I’m working towards. Next season I’ll take on some more responsibilities and keep looking at ways I can improve and learn.

“The great thing about my degree and farming in general is that I could turn my hand to other careers outside the farmgate. Farming isn’t just milking cows, there are a range of options, from sales reps to bankers and consultants. There’s something for everyone.”

She is candid about the challenges she’s come across getting into the dairy sector coming from an urban background and says if you’re a hard worker and have any sort of passion for animals and the outdoors, then farming could be your ticket. 

“It’s an amazing sector. There are people out there willing to give you the chance you need. You just need to keep a positive attitude and prove your worth. There are so many opportunities for you to grab.

“Farming is one of those careers that you can never really understand until you’re there in the moment, living that life and making those decisions. You see all these negative things on social media and the news but it doesn’t paint the whole picture.

“People should experience a day on a farm. It will them a whole new perspective.”


Farm Facts

Owners: Tracy and Wynn Brown

Assistant manager: Ella Wharmby

Location: Matamata, Waikato

Farm size:  350ha total

Cows: 680 peak split into two herds

Production: 2018-2019: 250,000kg MS

Target: 2019-2020: 260,000 kg MS

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