Community meeting on the farm
August 2015 — Phil McKenzie
I think a community gathering together, to talk about what they value most, helps to build relationships and generate new ideas.
In 2015 at a group of Pāmu farms known as Moutoa, between Foxton and Shannon on the banks of the Manawatū, river we were receiving negative feedback from one of the community groups on the effects we were having on the environment. We decided to gather the community together at the farm for a meeting one Saturday.
- An agenda with a clear idea before you start of the desired outcomes and a loose set of ground rules.
- Everyone has their own perspective.
- Give everyone time to outline their own knowledge and what they value most.
- It is important to name and claim what’s working well as well as what needs to be better.
- Good questions invite thinking, stretch the imagination and inspire new thoughts.
- Sharing some food informally helps people get to know each other and feel more comfortable.
- Agree on where to from here, even if it is just to repeat next year, because it went so well.
The impetus for the meeting came from a meeting with the Chairman of the Save our Rivers Trust based in Foxton. They have a special interest in an area of water called the Foxton loop, close to one of the Moutoa farms. Some negative YouTube clips had been posted naming our farms as major polluters of the waterway.
Working with the Chairman of the Trust we agreed what we wanted a meeting to achieve, primarily to give everyone an opportunity to voice their perspectives. We invited members of the Save our Rivers Trust, other local NGO groups, representatives from our local iwi, neighbours, Department of Conservation and the Horizons Regional Council.
Together with our Farm Managers and their families we welcomed a group of around 35 people and we gathered at the farm office one Saturday around 11.30 am. We started with a barbeque to welcome everyone and meet informally. This was really helpful for making connections with our farm teams who were already active in various community events. Being New Zealand there are only about ‘two degrees of separation’ between people who know friends or family that you can talk about. Conversation flowed quite freely.
We then gathered in the farm office and everyone introduced themselves formally and took a few minutes to explain why they had an interest in this group of farms in particular. There was certainly some passion shown with those views, but no animosity. We followed this with a powerpoint presentation on the farms with our current activities, photos and maps. The maps were particularly revealing. They showed that the area of main concern to some of the group was not part of the farm complex as had been assumed. This brought an apology from the person who had posted the You Tube clips and a promise to rectify.
We spent some time addressing particular areas of concern, and agreed where we could jointly work together, and where we would follow up with more information. We also had some areas that were bigger than the group or this group of farms. We couldn’t solve these, but people seemed happy that they had had a fair hearing.
We had planned a tour of a number of the farms to finish the day, but the weather turned quite showery and we limited the visit to one farm only to view their new effluent disposal system. This also proved helpful to point out some things in real time with practical examples.
The day finished with a commitment to repeat the exercise the following year and we agreed to attend the Save our Rivers Trust meetings on a regular basis as well, and to generally keep in touch during the year.