Junior Taulago manages a sheep and beef farm in Pātoka near the Kaweka ranges in Hawke’s Bay. His year was going smoothly until Cyclone Gabrielle roared through. Now, like many farmers and growers, he’s in recovery mode _ and here’s what he’s doing to get through.
How affected was your farm by the cyclones?
We’ve had major infrastructural damage across our whole farm. This includes boundary fence lines, access bridges, water lines wiped out, major slips on hill blocks. The list goes on. The main access bridge which gets us into town washed away so we couldn’t get into town at all. We had no access point, so we just battled on like everyone else. Got things helicoptered in. We had no power for two weeks. It was pretty crazy really. You felt stranded. But the cool thing was everyone in the community pitched in, we all had our diggers and helped each other make a road. Everyone got together.
Did you lose much land and fencing?
We’ve probably got around 12km of fencing ahead of us to do and a lot of slips all over our farm. There’s a long haul ahead but we are just doing the best we can every day. Being positive is key! When it first happened, everyone was operating on adrenaline. Getting power back on our electric fences and fixing main water lines felt like a huge win. Celebrating those wins is really important, because it took a lot of mental and physical strength showing up and working long hours trying to fix things that were important, as well as looking after our own wellbeing. Putting the generator away was a nice moment.
How do you deal with a big setback like this?
You’ve got to pace yourself so you don’t burn out. Initially, we had all this stuff to do and just went hard at it. But you can only operate like that for so long. Now, I reckon it’s about making the most of the small wins. Trying not to think of the big picture all the time, taking it one step at a time. So, putting up a fence line is a win. We’re probably talking two years of work ahead, so it’s about doing whatever it takes to stay positive and getting off farm when you can to get a mental and physical break away.
One thing that’s worked for me is taking a moment every night when I can reflect on our progress, write down what’s going well for myself personally. I also read and workout at my garage gym setup to relax. It is very important that we find an escape from reality, a healthy hobby that will take our mind away from our daily routine.
You’ve started up your gym sessions again for other farmers too, haven’t you?
Yes, before the cycloneI ran a men’s fitness class called Rural Rise for the men around our area at the local hall. We used to get together once a week and have a workout. It started off with one or two of us and now I have a good bunch of lads who I call my brothers. So, we’ve got it going again at the Glencoe woolshed every Thursday night at seven. I started this movement because there is huge mental pressure on farmers and rural men. Gone are the days where we can just say “she’ll be right”. It’s about really taking the time to be heard and seen, taking the farming mask off and just showing up for yourself. I always push the boys to turn up with a purpose which transcends the daily grind of farming life.
What’s the benefit of taking time off when people are so busy?
Taking time off farm is important for the soul. Sometimes I feel we get so caught up on the mahi that we forget to take a break here and there. I make it a goal for me and the family to take a long break over winter when we are not so busy on farm. Getting off farm when you can is really important!
What else are you doing to get through?
Getting enough sleep, eating properly and staying hydrated are vital too so you have enough energy to get through the day. I also visualise how my day will go so I motivate myself to get the most out of my day. Training for the Hawke’s Bay marathon keeps me grounded, running 8-12km twice a week when I can – that pushes me mentally.
What sort of mindset do you think is required to hang in for the long haul?
There’s no doubt the cyclone did serious damage to this area and brought a lot of stress and grief for people. I know a lot of people lost their entire homes. I know farmers who have lost a lot more then we have here. I know a lot of men who are struggling in silence. The challenge is to look for the positives in the negatives.
I tell myself, the sun always shines through the storm. So it’s about acknowledging where you are at the moment, taking pride in how far you have come and celebrating your wins! If there’s a silver lining in any of this, I think it’s strengthened our community and sense of gratitude. You don’t take things for granted anymore. I can still remember how just being able to go into town to get our own groceries after the cyclone felt amazing.
How would you describe life on farm now?
Life on the farm for me is great! I’m just taking it one day at a time without looking too far ahead. We are making huge progress with repair and maintenance jobs and we are in the process of purchasing of our own bit of land which is something that I have been visualising ever since I started farming. I’m upskilling myself where I can, so I’m always learning too.
Our Rural Rise men’s HIIT classes definitely help keep me honest. Working alongside a bunch of like-minded men like that really sets you up to win every day. Despite the challenges ahead, it reminds you that life’s all about living and owning the moment.
Farmstrong is a nationwide rural wellbeing programme for farmers and growers. To find out what works for you and lock it in, head to www.farmstrong.co.nz