The Facebook group delivering a hug in a box to struggling farmers
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The Facebook group delivering a hug in a box to struggling farmers

Stories/344 , Issues/Environment , Issues/Technology
Runnymede QLD 4615, Australia
31st Aug 2018
The Facebook group delivering a hug in a box to struggling farmers
Doing it for our farmers is a people-powered Facebook group of over 13,000 members dedicated to supporting drought-affected local farmers.

Rain has started to fall on the dehydrated land. An unseasonably warm winter crawls into spring after the driest autumn in decades and properties in Queensland and New South Wales are beginning to feel the first raindrops since Christmas.

The relief is, however, only temporary. It doesn’t mean the drought is over. There are many more tough months ahead for Australians living rurally, our farmers especially. For the first time in more than fifty years, not a single farm around Tamworth will see a winter crop.

ABC News has declared that New South Wales is 100 per-cent in drought, and roughly 60 per-cent of Queensland is in the same boat.

Pictured: Deceased cow 25km south of Binnaway, NSW. Credit: Annie Jenkinson.
Pictured: Deceased cow 25km south of Binnaway, NSW. Credit: Annie Jenkinson.

A growing awareness around the severity of the drought over the past months has warranted a variety of responses. Media are visiting barren properties, state and federal governments are promising to commit more money to support and relief, big businesses are making donations, benefit concerts are in the works and hashtags are trending.

The overwhelming response comes after months of struggle and haphazard engagement plans from the government. Community-driven initiatives and charities have spawned a movement of drought support for farming families, yet there are still farmers in dire need of assistance that are not being reached.

Pictured: Cow and calf in Aymagee, NSW. Credit: Alisa Keighran.
Pictured: Cow and calf in Aymagee, NSW. Credit: Alisa Keighran.

Doing it for our Farmers is a people-powered group of volunteers dedicated to supporting drought-affected local farmers. The group coordinates the majority of their activities from a Facebook group with nearly 13,000 members. The organisation manages an ongoing donation drive which collects and redistributes toiletries and non-perishable food items to hundreds of individuals residing at farming properties.

The group regularly dispatches shoe-boxes packed with toiletries and shopping bags stocked with groceries. These packages are delivered to farmers who are going without daily necessities in order to redirect what money they do have towards the maintenance of their livestock.

Sue Ellen Wilkin, co-founder of the group and active coordinator based in Tamworth,spoke to The QUO over the phone from a storeroom of care packages ready to to be delivered to the doorsteps of rural farmers. She told us that, “[Farms and farmers] are the food bowl of Australia, and that food bowl is now in flames” as she reflected on the growing toll the drought is taking on the community.

Pictured: Before the drought hit Runnymede, QLD. Credit: Lou Higgins.
Pictured: Before the drought hit Runnymede, QLD. Credit: Lou Higgins.
Pictured: After the drought hit Runnymede, QLD. Credit: Lou Higgins.
Pictured: After the drought hit Runnymede, QLD. Credit: Lou Higgins.

Doing it for our Farmers started taking shape in May, when Sue Ellen posted a callout for expressions of interest on a local community Facebook group. A day later the group started with 200 members, and from there, Wilkin said it, “snowballed”. It wasn’t long before activities spread from Tamworth to the Central Coast, down to Wollongong, up to Coffs Harbour and further inland to some of the most severely drought-affected areas in inland NSW, Queensland and South Australia. ‘Doing it for Our Farmers’ is a whopping example of social media being used for the powers of good.

Sue Ellen explained that many Australians don’t realise the extent to which the drought is affecting farmers, especially ‘mum and dad farmers’ and those managing smaller properties.

“The first things that goes are the luxuries of life, and that’s your toiletries,” said Sue Ellen.

As many farms attempt to downsize their stock, hay and animal feed are becoming increasingly more expensive and more difficult to come by. This results in spending being reduced to the bare essentials for many people. Something like petrol becomes a precious commodity – when town is as far as 40 kilometres away, there’s no quick trips for groceries (let alone what you can afford), and medical appointments might simply never be tended to.

Neighbours are few and far between in many of these rural areas, and it’s possible for farmers to isolate themselves without even realising it.

“If you want to use a word that describes farming out in the bush, it’s isolation, and out of that isolation a lot of things are born,” said Sue Ellen.

In situations like this, mental health is a huge concern. On top of this, there’s an unhelpful and deeply ingrained cultural attitude at play of the rural “Aussie battler”, an attitude that prevents people from asking for help.

“They’d rather suffer, give the shirt of their back to their neighbour, than have someone give them anything. When those walls come down, they come down in a very big way”, she reflected.

For this reason, finding the people who are most in need of care packages, or a ‘hug in a box’, as Sue Ellen calls it, is not a simple task. Doing it for our Farmers works off local tips and direct requests, targeting communities rather than specific farmers to help keep the process diplomatic. The group may also rally around farmers or families experiencing particular hardships, such as illness and medical issues.

Pictured: Unnamed farmer and cow showing thanks for donations.
Pictured: Unnamed farmer and cow showing thanks for donations.

Sue Ellen has noticed as an awareness of the drought circulates, more well-meaning people have begun loading up their cars and going door knocking at the homes of farmers. This is strongly discouraged, as it can be embarrassing, and at times, dangerous. Sue Ellen suggests contacting Doing it for our Farmers or similar groups such as Country Women’s Association if you wish to help or obtain advice.

With no end in sight for the drought, pressure on the government to step up their involvement, and policy falling short, groups like Doing it for our Farmers bring hope.

If you’d like to help with donations of toiletries or non-perishable food, join the Doing it for our Farmers Facebook Group (see the pinned post to find the coordinator in your area). ‘Doing it for our Farmers’ is also seeking volunteer coordinators for areas within Sydney.

See also, Drought Angels and Aussie Helpers.

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