Noel shadowing This       Farm Needs a Farmer

November 9th, 2020Noel shadowing This Farm Needs a Farmer

ONE day in 2015, Melissa Connors struck up a conversation with retired farmer, the late Noel Jenner, who passed by her property every day. She said how dedicated he was to be walking every day no matter the weather. He said: “I am off the farm now, so what else can I do with my time?”

And in that moment an idea took shape in her mind. Melissa and her husband David were tree changers. They had recently moved onto a block near Kyneton and quickly realised they knew next to nothing about how to look after a rural property.
The couple and their farm needed an experienced hand to help them; someone like Noel. And they were not the only ex-city greenhorns who needed folk with a lifetime’s experience on the land to help them make a go of country life. The idea that day turned into This Farm Needs a Farmer; a community project intended to bring the two groups together.
Five years later the project has grown. Melissa knew back when The Local first featured the project that it had the potential for a massive ripple effect Australia-wide and that reality has come to pass.
“It’s been amazing, actually. Since then we have had two field days with another postponed this year. I also won the 2018 AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award with the idea. And earlier this year in January there was the soft launch of a new concept called Shadow Farming, which is basically a means for people to book time to come onto a mentor’s farm through the This Farm Needs a Farmer website.”

Shadow Farming allows users to go through a list of mentors across Australia, see what their specialties are and meet up with them to spend time with them on their farm.
The concept allows This Farm Needs a Farmer to work nationally because if Melissa has a mentor listed in say, Yeppoon, and someone who wants to learn in the same area they can be connected straight away.
“Physically I don’t have to be visiting all these communities and towns setting up connections,” says Melissa. “If there is a match, it can be arranged straight away no matter where the people are.”
And while public outings at events such as the Victorian Farmers Market Association Easter Field Day have been restricted this year, Melissa has found that the enquiry rate during lockdown has remained consistent.
“The disruption caused by COVID has piqued the interest of people wanting to be a little more self-sufficient, growing their own produce and also accessing Australian produce. In that regard This Farm Needs a Farmer has heightened people’s awareness that Australian agriculture is an important part of our wellbeing and isn’t valued highly enough.”
Next year is promising to be a big year for Melissa and This Farm Needs a Farmer. However it is tinged with a touch of sadness as Noel, the catalyst for the entire project passed away suddenly on October 27.
“It has left a really big hole in me personally,” says Melissa. “I am so grateful for the day I had that conversation with him because if he hadn’t sparked the idea when we had that initial chat I don’t know whether I would have started it and if the whole thing would have got to where it is now.
“As things turned out we became really good mates and I was honoured, not only to be invited to his funeral, but to be able to speak there too. His passing has given me that extra drive to just reach to the stars with the project and no doubt Noel will keep helping from the other side.”

Pictured, the late Noel Jenner with Melissa Connors, Tux the border collie and Emma “the little ratbag”

Words: Tony Sawrey | Image: Nicole Cleary

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