Thursday, April 25, 2024

A listening ear when you need to fill your cup

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Teacher turned farmer shares why she put her hand up as a volunteer for Rural Support Trust.
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Long-time sheep and beef farmer, Jen Le Pine, fills her cup with volunteering in the Cheviot community. She’s an area representative for the North Canterbury Rural Support Trust, using her personal experience to help farmers like her navigate tough times. She chats with Shepherdess about the power of a listening ear and how locals help keep the Trust going strong.

We understand you’ve been farming for quite a while.
I grew up in Waiau on a sheep and beef farm. I went through primary school teacher training and worked as a teacher in the Hurunui area until I met my husband. We began farming together initially in Hanmer Springs, but over the years we’ve bought and sold a few different farms in the North Canterbury area. We’ve been in Cheviot on a breeding sheep and beef property for seven years. We run approximately 2200 breeding ewes and one hundred or so breeding cows on a 600-acre drystock block.

How did you get involved with the North Canterbury Rural Support Trust?
In the time we’ve been farming in Cheviot, we’ve been through three years of drought and a major earthquake. When we were in the middle of the droughts, I was part of a group called Refill Your Cup. We organised a day off the farm for women to have a nice lunch and connect with others. It was all about providing a mental health boost for farming women. A lot of support that was out there was directed at men. There was really nothing for women, yet women are often the glue that holds everything together on a farm – they have to deal with the needs of the children, finances, a stressed husband… North Canterbury Rural Support Trust was the main financial contributor to running Refill Your Cup days, so I got to know people within the Trust. I realised I really enjoyed support work.

What do you do for the Trust?
I am an area representative for the Cheviot area. When people ring the 0800-number, they will talk to our co-ordinator who directs them to talk to me or another area rep. I don’t necessarily talk to people only in my community – sometimes people might prefer to talk to a complete stranger, and other times they prefer to talk to someone they know. It’s completely up to the person who they feel comfortable with as their support person. Sometimes people don’t want others to know they are talking to someone from the Trust and that’s completely okay.

Why do you love volunteering? I get to use the skills I’ve gathered along the way during my life and it’s my way of giving back to the community. Just keeping up with the changes in farming can be stressful. Knowing how many changes are thrown at farmers all the time and the stress it can create, I see the importance of helping out where I can. Often at a community gathering, people come up to me and tell me how much they’ve been helped by the Trust.

We’ve been through tough times ourselves. When you have, you know how important it is to have someone to talk to and to have support. The last drought was tough. Prices were low, some of the crops failed to grow and we were spending a lot of money feeding animals. The Trust helped fund some social events with learning aspects –specialist speakers on animal health, weather scientists and on keeping your mindset right for when you are under extreme stress. These social gatherings were invaluable for getting farmers off farm and talking. Sometimes just realising you are not alone was super helpful.

The Trust recently received a grant from the PGG Wrightson and Ballance Agri-Nutrients’ Cash for Communities programme. How has this helped? The $1600 we received from donations is used for providing support for our farmers and growers. This might include one-on-one counselling support, a weekend away if a farmer needs a break from the farm, supporting Surfing for Farmers and other partner events, Red Cross First Aid courses, care packages and providing wellness events for our rural communities. Most of the time people know what help they need, it’s just being brave enough to verbalise it, and reach out to ask for it.

What kind of help have farmers needed recently?
Most of the help we provide is just talking to people, just being a listening ear to somebody who is going through tough times. It can be a relationship split, anxiety, workplace dispute, anything that is troubling someone. What we supply is psychological first aid and direct people towards where they need to go to get further help when needed. Most of the time we chat over the phone, but there is an opportunity to meet in person.

Together with Ballance Agri-Nutrients and selected agchem suppliers, PGG Wrightson runs the Cash for Communities programme to raise funds for rural schools, clubs and community organisations across New Zealand. Find out how to give back to a charity or cause close to your heart with your spring fertiliser and agchem purchase from 1 September at

Story written as told to Petra Nyman and photographed by Esther Kilgour for Shepherdess magazine. Shepherdess magazine was started around a kitchen table on a dairy and beef farm in the Horowhenua. We continue to come to you from this kitchen table, and from many other farms, home offices and lounges across provincial Aotearoa. The magazine is here to connect, empower and inspire women across rural New Zealand, by offering a place to tell stories of our rural communities. Find out more about Shepherdess here

Suffering from depression or stress, or know someone who is? Where to get help:

Rural Support Trust: 0800 RURAL HELP

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757

Lifeline: 0800 543 354

Need To Talk? Call or text 1737

Samaritans: 0800 726 666

Youthline: 0800 376 633 or text 234

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