TRAINING, mental health, the divide between organic and conventional horticulture – these were some of the issues raised at a Women in Horticulture seminar held in Gippsland recently.
The day event was designed to capture the interest of women working in or owning farms focussed on vegetable production, fruit, potatoes and forestry.
“Basically, anyone who grows plants,” said organiser Shayne Hyman, industry development officer with the National Vegetable Extension Network.
Among the attendees were agribusiness extension officers, water industry specialists, strawberry growers, vegetable growers and economic development officers from eight local government areas.
“We had a theme of Water, Waste and Wellness,” Ms Hyman said.
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“Water security is a big part of everyone’s attention. Waste is part of people’s everyday business. Wellness – if not today, then tomorrow, women will find themselves putting others’ first.
“A common theme among the women was around trying to make space for themselves, either to learn more about their commodity or industry, or to take up a new interest.”
Among the growers were a number of women who have taken early retirement and now grow a vegetable or fruit to sell.
They were now part of an industry responsible for creating nearly $1 billion of wealth in Gippsland.
Ms Hyman said these women were keen to learn about growing methods, supply chain dynamics, biosecurity, occupational health and using machinery.
“More and more women are taking up roles in vegetable growing, especially women from overseas,” she said.
There was discussion about the feasibility of establishing a trial farm in Gippsland.
“It would be a property that allows for innovation and experiment, independent of individual growers,” Ms Hyman said.
A common theme among the women was around trying to make space for themselves, either to learn more about their commodity or industry, or to take up a new interest.
“We also want to facilitate a sensible conversation between organic and conventional growers, about areas which complement each other.
“In the Yarra Valley and Gippsland there is a real need for information sharing about biosecurity – particularly increasing awareness and accountability in the local government area.”
She said a focus of future conferences would be facilitating discussion between organic and conventional farmers.
Mental health first aid was also discussed, after a presentation by Diane Robinson.
“We’ll look at partnering with Ausveg for funding to deliver a course in 2018,” Ms Hyman said.
“Depression is often identified by the wife or girlfriend of the farmer, and results from eight months of gruelling work, six to seven days a week, people not taking care of themselves and not recognising the signs of depression include extra alcohol.
“So let’s have some proper training, for everyone, in first response around mental health, particularly substance abuse.”
She plans to organise a follow up seminar next year, to include women who are employees and overseas workers, rather than the decision makers who attended this conference.