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Being involved in something bigger than oneself is so good for the soul, newly appointed Federated Farmers Taranaki president says.
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It’s not her high school ambition for a ‘high heels and business suits’ career in the city but Leedom Gibbs has found her niche as a farmer.

And the Federated Farmers Taranaki president says her involvement with the federation has proven to be a “massive part” of her strategy for good mental health.

“Being involved in something bigger than oneself is so good for the soul,” she said.

Leedom is the middle daughter of three, with parents Grant and Dinny kicking off their family in a rush – “there were three of us under three years old”.

The Gibbs family moved to their current farm in Manaia, south Taranaki, when Leedom was four.

She did her share of milking cows as a teenager but never had aspirations to farm.

Leedom’s ambition back then was to “be someone important in law or finance in a big company, wearing high-heeled shoes and lovely suits and hanging out in a city CBD”.

At Canterbury University she initially pursued a degree in accounting and law.  

“I lasted about one day in accounting and a year in law. It didn’t suit me. I didn’t know what I wanted to do but it wasn’t that.”

She switched to history and found it fascinating, graduating with a BA Honours even though mental health issues that had dogged her since she was 13 flared up again.

Nevertheless, she embarked on her masters, and had done all the research she needed for her thesis exploring the first 25 years of Egmont National Park. But her mental health at the time was too fragile and she was unable to get together the 40,000 words.

“It’s funny how life works out. It was in Feds that I really came to appreciate how policy and government decisions impact our world, despite the fact I’d pursued a master’s thesis on the establishment of a national park that required a piece of government legislation to create. 

“I’ve found that I have a practical kind of brain; on a purely academic level I just don’t really understand how the world works.”

Leedom worked in restaurants and took part in repertory theatre as she learned to deal with depression “and find a way to prosper”. 

She had a daughter, Venus, counts herself as lucky to be able to be a stay-at-home mum, and got involved with Play Centre, discovering she really enjoyed the business and committee side of that movement.

She was 35 when her parents offered her a role on the family trust’s two farms, one run with a contract milker, the other with 50/50 sharemilkers.

“I’m running it like the farm owner for my parents. It’s not a massive enterprise but it’s complicated enough that someone needs to run the accounts, look after those relationships, and so on. 

“In a way, I’m realising those high school ambitions. I’m definitely doing something important. 

“I don’t have to make the on-farm decisions, but I now know what decisions need to be made, and make sure they can be: when to buy in feed, understanding what needs to happen if it doesn’t rain, and what it means if it rains too much.”

When Leedom and her parents won the Ballance Farm Environment Award for Taranaki in 2018 for their riparian planting, effluent management and what judges described as “an impressive business built on an extremely tidy and functional property”, Leedom was invited to the Taranaki Federated Farmers AGM.

Before she knew it, she was roped in to join the local executive. The year after that was her first year of four as dairy chair and, when national board member Mark Hooper stood down as provincial president last December, Leedom – then vice president – stepped up.

Leedom says she discovered in Federated Farmers opportunities to develop professionally, to get involved in the sector and community life at a higher level, and the chance to have fun and rub shoulders with some great people.

“Farms are big businesses and they’re run by interesting and smart people, doing all kinds of things in different ways.

“Being part of Federated Farmers is a massive part of my mental health strategy.  

“Getting involved, even if it’s just paying the sub and being included in the updates on the work the federation does, helps you to get that bigger-picture perspective.”

Like other provinces, Taranaki has regulation challenges ahead – in particular, working with the local council to update, and stay practical, with a freshwater plan that’s 22 years old.

As president, Leedom has set herself priorities around stepping up engagement with members and strategic partners so they too can maximise their benefit from Federated Farmers.

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.

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