The front tire of my bike shuddered as it hit the gravel. I redoubled my efforts on the pedals. The smooth sound of the
tar-seal I’d been on, now ruptured by the roughness of this rural road. It reminded me of the Credence Clear-water song my dad used to sing along too, "Up around the bed...as the neon's turned to wood"
To the side, I passed a paddock, littered with old old machines, all rusting away. Maybe they were from the great reset in the eighties? Perhaps there’d been no time or money to move them away. Why move them anyway? I thought to myself,
things are either dying, decaying, or growing and flourishing on a farm—everything has a life-cycle. “You got livestock, and you got dead-stock,” my farming uncle used to tell me as a kid.
The yard was tidy, but not too tidy. I leaned my bike against a fence-post. One of the farmer’s dogs started barking. Wish that dog would stop barking, I thought. I felt like an intruder. The brake-lever of my bike caught on a strand of the barbed wire. I tried to free it but the bike fell over. I swore. All the dogs were barking now. I walked over to the house, weaving between old tractors and around a wood pile, up to the veranda.
I knocked on the door, wondering if he was home—the farmer. The door swung open. His weather-beaten face appeared, with a
big smile on it. He swapped the mug from his right hand to his left, dusted his hand on his shirt, and thrust it out, waiting for a handshake, but without saying a word.
The dogs swarmed around him. They were wiry, muscular, and more than a bit wary. One snapped at my heel. Its ribs stood out like banisters on a staircase. I imagined the great battles these brutes must have fought
with pigs, or the long days they’d had mustering sheep. Gosh it must get boring in between those times, I thought.
The farmer knew every patch of this land. He’d grown up here. He knew every soil type, what weather the wind would herald, what the climate was doing to his land, and how much dry matter the pasture could produce per
acre. He stood in his doorway, waiting for me to say something. I was just one more facet of the complex ecosystem, on this land—a visitor.
“Yeah, I’ve been to the US, you know. Japan. Italy. I don’t just sit around in my rocking chair with the shotgun waiting for city folks to bike up my drive,” he said as an opener. I laughed, nervously.
Despite living in this hidden corner of the paradise, he knew about the rest of the world, even the bits us city rats crawled around in. “Are you from the government, mate?” he asked. He knew a lot about them
too, I thought. “Hell no,” I said, trying my best to get off to a good start. “What brings you to this corner of the world?”, he asked.
I noticed out of the corner of my eye one of his dogs taking a piss on the wheel of my bike, probably getting in ahead of the competition.
“Don’t you remember? I emailed a couple of weeks ago”, I asked him back.
What did he remember? Well, he remembered how things were 30 years ago, when the river ran clear, when the school had a full roll, when the community met to dance, to drink, when they’d roast a pig on the
spit. And the day the neighbors son shot himself after getting tangled up with the dope growers.
“Oh, yeah. You’re the guy who called about making a video about farms or something, eh?”, he said.
That was it. This guy was a real farmer. He still used horses as a backup on the steep country, the rest of the time he used a quad-bike, or tractor. For spraying, tilling or spreading jobs he hired the guy with the
We got talking. Fuel prices were going up but everyone still expected food to be produced at a steady rate and at an affordable price. “Ever since the government took the cars off of the ‘boy racers’ and cut back on the
national car fleet, and some of the heavy trucking, there’d been a steady supply of fuel” he told me.
He explained it was still an ongoing struggle with the changes in climate and the lots of conflicting messages from the government about what types of crops and stocking numbers the sector should be working, “bloody
shiny bums from Wellington haven’t got a clue” he said.
Some of the local farms had been purchased and planted out with native forest a few years back, “some of those fellas that sold out made mega bucks on carbon credits, but now they have lost their family land, their
identity, and are going crazy in a retirement village, bugger that” he said defiantly.
“Do you mind if we can have a look around the property?” I asked. I was making a short film on the changing production of food in New Zealand, having recently moved my family to the country. “Sure, its about time
those city slickers learned a bit more about where their grub comes from” He looked me in the eye, and said with a wry smile, “you can’t eat coal or drink oil, mate”