In this year’s Land Champions edition, we celebrate domestic and imported people in agriculture, from the Italian clan that owns a slice of North Otago wool production to the teacher rebooting ag education in the hort heartland if western Bay of Plenty.
Inspired by a lifetime of living and working in rural New Zealand, Angela Cushnie focused her career on projects that would connect land and water, cultures and communities to shape a future all Kiwis could be proud of.
“Early on a very wise gentleman told me there are no easy answers,” she says – only “commitment”.
Angela has certainly learnt that to be true when navigating the tug-of-war between environment, economic, cultural, social and recreational sustainability.
“Community, collaboration and communication is where my career and personal values align.
“When we hear ‘sustainability’, we tend to think of the environment only, but the principles are equally relevant to other parts of our lives, including our health, prosperity and collective wellbeing.”
Agriculture and the environment are a partnership.
“I believe that by working together we can create an amazing legacy for future generations and our grandchildren motivate me to do just that each and every day.”
Angela hails from the small rural district of Eiffelton in Mid Canterbury. Born and raised a country girl, she’s been round the world and back, and settled in married life not far from where she grew up on the family farm.
Inspired to do something in the space of water she did a lot of research, asked a lot of questions, and in 2015 co-authored the book Water, Farming and Families, on the history of a local Mid Canterbury irrigation scheme.
“I was inspired to do something proactive to contribute to the future of Mid Canterbury.
“The research and history revealed the same challenges for communities to overcome in the earlier days – financial, political, climate; all shaped and influenced communities through the 1940s depression.
“Communities worked together … people sacrificed time from farm and family for better good.
“I found that fascinating in today’s context, it gave me awareness and inspiration.”
Angela threw her hat into the ring for a position on the Ashburton Water Zone Committee in 2017, established as part of the Canterbury Water Management Strategy.
The dedicated co-ordinator championing local environmental projects is still on that committee and doing much more.
“I found it really worthwhile, hearing all sides of the story. Getting information firsthand helping to build knowledge and understanding makes you realise how complex the water space really is.
“It gave me great insight and encouraged me to see my local landscape through a new lens, which added a new dimension.
“I found there is a lot of history on the development of farming but not a lot of natural history pre farming.
“You can’t protect what you don’t understand or don’t know about. I just wanted to keep learning.”
In 2019 Angela co-founded the Kanuka Mid Canterbury Regeneration Trust with the vision to link land and water, culture and communities.
The trust facilitates the Exploring our Footprint programme with local schools.
But Angela realised there was a need to do more with landowners.
“We needed to harness the community, establish a team culture of united like-minded people; you can’t do it on your own, you need varying perspectives, skills and leadership styles.”
In 2012 Angela became a founding member of the Mid Canterbury Community Collective (MCCC).
This made placing catchment communities in the Ashburton District at the centre of decisions and direction on biodiversity, water quality and the environment possible.
The collective, made up of farmers, rural professionals and community representatives, delivered greater horsepower and strategic direction for the multiple and diverse catchment groups across the region.
The district has about 16 potential catchments between the Rakaia and Rangitata rivers, ranging from the mountains to the sea, with each having its own issues and needs.
In 2022 Angela was appointed co-ordinator of the MCCC.
The MCCC’s goals include a focus on several water bodies in the area, enhancing biodiversity and mahinga kai, and improving ecosystem health and enhancing recreation and amenities.
“Collaboration, knowledge sharing and partnership opportunities will bring more cohesion to the overall vision of our region.
“MCCC sees these challenges as an opportunity and my role is all about supporting communities to create positive environmental changes in a way that is sustainable and inter-generational.
“I can draw on my communications and facilitation background to join the dots and bring science, ideas, and action together.
“Often it is just a matter of connecting diverse groups of people who are looking for the same outcomes so we can avoid duplication and make the most effective use of our resources, time, and energy.
“One of our main objectives is to acknowledge and celebrate the good work that is already happening inside farm gates, while continuing to improve our environmental footprint, support catchment group initiatives and champion community wellbeing.
“Identifying the key areas to focus on is really vital and this is where I believe my new role will add value, connect communities and apply a strategic lens to address projects at a catchment level, then step that out to a regional level.”
Angela’s community spirit goes further.
Through the Rural Support Trust she was welfare co-ordinator for the Mycoplasma bovis outbreak in Mid Canterbury and through Federated Farmers she co-ordinated the Farmy Army in the 2021 Mid Canterbury flood.
“I just love working with people. My passion is communities and communications.”