The Omihi community hall is a monument to rural (taiwhenua) resilience itself, rebuilt after a devastating fire in 2015. It’s a place with a storied rugby history – photos of former All Blacks from the area adorn the walls. But tonight, the hall is full of farmers who’ve turned out in numbers to attend Farmstrong’s comedy night featuring an all-star line up of Nick Rado, Courtney Dawson, Tarun Mohanbhai and Tevita Manukia.
Covid has affected a lot of livelihoods. The comedians themselves are pleased to be back on the road. The event has been postponed and rescheduled several times due to covid-19. Since then, more extreme weather events have hit the region and a polar blast the day before has blanketed the surrounding hills with snow.
“This is the fourth Farmstrong gig I’ve done,” notes comedian Courtney Dawson. “It’s always so much fun and it’s nice to see the community come together, have some kai, share a laugh. It’s also good for an Aucklander like me to actually meet hard-working people that have proper jobs,” she laughs.
Julie and Rob Stokes, who farm in the Lees Valley, have given themselves a night off. “Why have we turned up? We’re in need of a good laugh,” says Julie.
Adds Rob, “It’s been a bit of an awkward spring so far, but it’ll come right in the end. This is a very resilient community, but it’s good to celebrate getting through these things too. It’s good to feel like you’ve made it out the other side of the tunnel and you’re good to go again. It can be as simple as having a laugh.
“Have I ever been a comedian myself? No, I think clown would be a better description,” jokes Rob.
Julie likes the idea of Farmstrong. “I absolutely believe in it. I think it’s a good cause and it’s doing a good job helping farmers.”
Bill Lott, a sheep and beef farmer from Waiau, has been farming for half a dozen years and is also involved in a local earth-moving business. “This community has been through a bit. It’s been a testing old winter really. It’s good it’s getting back to normal and you can come to functions like this. It’s good to get out.
“I think Farmstrong’s doing some good stuff. I’m keen to learn a bit more tonight. You do need to be pretty focused in farming and have the right mindset. The ‘top two inches’ matter. Even if you’re working hard, it’s important to take time off, catch up with locals you haven’t seen for a while and see what’s going on in the rest of the community.”
Marie Black, mayor of Hurunui, also praises the value of the event. “We’ve all come through quite a dynamic two- to three-year period. We’ve had the covid effect which has prevented us from actually coming together.
“Our primary producers are the anchor of this district. They are people who roll up their sleeves and make things happen for this community and support New Zealand Inc.
“I think Farmstrong’s ability to bring an event like this to our rural community (taiwhenua hapori) is great because the fellowship that we get from each other at these events is really important.
“So, I’ve come along to support our district and encourage our people to come along and have a bit of fun. When it comes to wellbeing, there’s nothing like a belly laugh.”
MORE: For farmer-to-farmer tips and resources on how to stay Farmstrong, check out farmstrong.co.nz