Tuesday, September 12, 2017
The Resilient Farmer
‘I am filled with rage. So much rage. I raise my fists to that impassive sky and I bellow like a bull. And those clouds, those beautiful, dark, moisture-filled clouds, vanish out to sea. And my wife, who has also felt the lash of my anger and my nasty,
drunken misery, watches me through the windows of our front room, and is afraid and helpless.’
By turning his thinking around not only did it save his farm from ruin, it also saved his marriage and probably his life.
Recently awarded a MNZM Queen’s Birthday honour in recognition of his services to agriculture and mental health, charismatic Marlborough farmer Doug Avery now shares his powerful story in The Resilient Farmer, his much-anticipated new book of how he weathered years of drought and desperation to turn his farm — and his life — around.
The Avery family runs Bonavaree Farm at Grassmere, South Marlborough. The farm has been owned by the family since 1919 so they have a deep understanding of the land and how it is shaped by the weather.
The eight-year drought, however, took a personal toll on Doug Avery, and he suffered terribly during those long, dry years. Doug’s farm was depleted and so was he — to the point of severe depression.
The Resilient Farmer is Doug Avery’s empowering example of how to get life back on track. With candour and wisdom, he tells his story of turning desperation into determination, embracing risk, navigating change and, on top of everything, enduring monumental earthquakes.
It’s an incredible tale of Kiwi can-do and how one man overcame heart-breaking adversity to live a fruitful life and help others.
‘There are so many people out there, whether urban or rural, who are struggling with life as I did. My book is for them,’ says Avery.
He also adds that while the book is strongly around farming, his messaging is relevant to men and women of all ages, and from all walks of life in terms of how better to manage our mind-set.
‘There’s a huge difference between a broken leg and a broken mind. A broken leg is obvious to everyone whereas a broken mind is invisible and can represent such a lonely journey – but I realised it doesn’t need to be if the safety net is in place. The saddest part of it all is that anyone suffering from depression will become the master of disguise and hide it — which I did.’
According to the Ministry of Health statistics, suicide rates in rural men aged 15-64 are higher than suicide rates in urban men, and higher than the national male suicide rate. It also shows that it’s younger farmers who are suffering disproportionately from depression.
The Resilient Farmer includes a moving chapter from Wendy Avery, Doug’s wife, to whom Avery dedicates his book. Wendy discusses that dark time with Avery and reflects on what she would have done differently had she known what signs to look for as he was going under.
Since his return to good health, Avery has given countless talks around the country. He says people would come up to him after the talks asking him where they could get a copy of his book. He didn’t have one and he says he realised that he needed to put his “story and learnings” into an easy and helpful read for people.
‘I hope my book will be helpful to people who are not only but also helping people who are struggling with their journey in life but also to help them grow their emotional intelligence, so that when life lobs something massive and potentially catastrophic at them — whether it be in their work or personal relationships — like it did for me, they have the resources tucked away to help them manage those extreme positions,’ says Avery.
‘I developed my go-to toolbox to help me get through the dark times. My book picks up the threads of those vital tools of, firstly, how I broke and, secondly, but far more importantly, how I mended that break.
‘I now present myself as a resilient person because I know that I have the capability to solve at the most deepest and grave levels things that will inevitably happen to me in this life.’
Change, risk and sustainability management are also themes that run through his book. Avery says the three pillars to successful farming are emotional, financial and environmental resilience. By tackling all three, farmers will prosper and be better placed to weather the inevitable ups and downs that come with farming.