Turning 100 years old is impressive enough, but Grace Martin can also boast to holding one of the longest Federated Farmers memberships in the country.
When Grace became a centenarian in late January, surrounded by family in Nelson, she reflected on a life deeply connected to farming and rural New Zealand.
“I always loved living in a rural community and supporting my husband on the farm,” Grace says.
“Times were different back then – women very much had a supporting role on the farm. We all pitched in and worked together, helping each other and getting through the challenges of rural life side by side.”
Raised a “city girl” in Dunedin, Grace met future husband Rupert on a blind date.
Rupert was working on a dairy farm in Boggyburn, Southland, and their marriage in 1951 thrust Grace into rural life.
She quickly joined the Women’s Division Federated Farmers (WDFF), which was named the Women’s Division of the Farmers’ Union until 1947 and is now Rural Women New Zealand.
“I was taken along to my first meeting by the lady who owned the farm we were working on,” Grace says.
The WDFF was set up in 1925 by a group of farmers’ wives to improve conditions for rural women and children, and to encourage the cooperation of women within farming organisations.
“Being from the city, I was used to always being around friends and I wanted to have that in the farming community too,” Grace says.
“We’d meet up and go to a hall or someone’s home and we’d share stories and concerns. It was very important for farming wives to support each other.”
When she and Rubert got married, they visited Nelson on honeymoon and Rubert promised they’d move there one day.
True to his word, Rupert made Nelson their home a decade later when he landed a job managing a 3000-acre farm in Redwoods Valley, owned by Sir Jack Newman’s company, Transport Nelson Ltd.
To start with, ‘managing’ the farm meant clearing the entire block of gorse, before it could be populated with Romney and Hereford.
Grace got involved in the Redwoods Valley WDFF, later serving as president, and was made a life member – meaning she’s been a member of Federated Farmers for 73 years.
“She’s always been involved and is all about service to her community. She’s also a proud rural woman,” son Allan says.
“Mum was a great supporter of dad. She wasn’t involved in the farm physically; her role was making sure the home ran smoothly and raising her children. She saw her primary role as a mum and a wife. Dad would be working from 6am till 6pm, and mum took care of the home.
“I remember seeing dad walking the floor in the evenings, under pressure, and mum backed him 100% and believed in him.”
Allan says his mum was a great cook and her food was a highlight for anyone who came through the front gate.
“Whoever came to the farm was always fed very well, no matter who you were.
“On the Redwoods farm, mum would always give the shearers a beautiful morning and afternoon tea of scones and pikelets, and a cooked lunch every day.
“It was hard to get shearers out there in those days, but we had these four guys who’d come back year after year and they said it was because of mum’s cooking.”
When the Transport Nelson farm was eventually sold, Grace and Rupert moved onto 10 acres nearby, where they bred black and coloured sheep, and reared calves.
They also ran a farm shop built off the end of their shearing shed, which did a great trade with locals and tourists. Their wool was exported all over the world.
Grace says she still takes an interest in farming, particularly when it comes to the changing role of women on the farm.
“I enjoy seeing the young women out there working on farms doing the physical work – and raising their families on the land at the same time. It’s very impressive what they’re doing.
“It’s very different to how it was for my generation, but it’s nice to see what they’re able to do. The role on the farm might have changed, but I can see the values are still the same.”
And what’s the secret to a long life?
“Make a big wish when you’re young and then keep to it. Mine was to live a good, happy life – and I have.”
Federated Farmers, New Zealand’s leading independent rural advocacy organisation, has established a news and insights partnership with AgriHQ, the country’s leading rural publisher, to give the farmers of New Zealand a more informed, united and stronger voice. Feds news and commentary appears each week in its own section of the Farmers Weekly print edition and online.