The farmer mental health initiative Surfing for Farmers won the Ember Innovations Provider of the Year Award at the 2021 Headfit Awards.
The winners of these awards, which celebrate individuals, teams and workplaces who are leading in the area of workplace mental health, were announced on 31 March at an online event.
The Headfit Award comes on the back of Surfing for Farmers win of the Teams Award at last year’s Primary Industry Awards, reflecting the impact the programme is having on the rural community.
Now operating at 25 venues across the country, this summer Surfing for Farmers gave well over 5000 farmers the opportunity to get off the farm once a week and spend a couple of hours enjoying the waves and learning to surf while meeting up with other farmers.
The Headfit judges commented that the programme has been wide-ranging, innovative and impactful.
“A fun, friendly and connective way to strengthen the mental wellbeing of farmers.”
Surfing for Farmers was the initiative of farmer and Gisborne-based Bayley’s rural property consultant Stephen Thomson.
Stephen, a keen surfer, says he knew how much better he always felt after being in the salt water and was determined to give local farmers the opportunity to get off-farm once a week and experience that same feeling of well-being.
“While there is a lot of conversation about mental health in the rural sector, this has not been matched by action or programmes that actually take farmers away from the farm and put them in a completely different yet supportive environment.”
In that first year, up to 50 farmers, their staff and families were gathering every week over summer to try their hand at surfing and get together away from their farm environments.
Four years on and the programme has grown exponentially running from 25 locations across the country from Northland to Invercargill.
All gear, lessons and barbeque is provided and farmers of all ages are encouraged to come along and just get out in the water and have fun.
Run entirely by volunteers “on the smell of an oily rag” Surfing for Farmers relies on the support of national and local sponsors.
John Ladley, Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s General Manager South Island, says B+LNZ is proud to sponsor Surfing for Farmers and give farmers the opportunity to get off the farm once a week and into a whole new environment.
He says poor mental health statistics are a real concern for the rural sector and Surfing for Farmers is one of the tools farmers can use to keep healthy.
“Farmers are under significant pressure especially with COVID-related supply chain delays, on-going regulatory changes, the vagaries of the weather and markets and scrutiny from the wider public. Many farmers work in isolation, so it is important they take the opportunity to get away, enjoy learning a new skill, meet new people and just have some time out from the day-to-day workload.”
Other national sponsors are Bayleys Country, Rabobank, Ballance Agri-Nutrients, Jarden and Meridian.