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Challenges from life on the land


From water scarcity to food security, Patrice Newell is at the frontline of enormous challenges.

Mrs Newell left her job in 1987 to become an organic farmer in the Hunter Valley.

Based at Elmswood Farm in Gundy, she grows garlic, makes olive oil, and keeps bees.

It is from this vantage point that she sees many unsustainable processes.

“This extraordinarily diverse agricultural sector of ours is also the third biggest carbon emitter behind electricity and transport,” she tells Newcastle Weekly.
“Most of NSW is in drought and yet there’s this massive overgrazing and production of greenhouse gases.

“In this time of climate change, managing the land has never been more important.”

Mrs Newell examines some of the problems for Australian farming in her new book Who’s Minding the Farm? In this climate emergency.

Her love song to a life on the farm and part-passionate appeal aims to make people think differently about food consumption and the damage it reaps on the land.

Some of the issues she points to include the neglect and abuse of land by farmers; a shrinking, unskilled labour force of short-term workers; depressive illnesses and isolation; and the chemical industry’s stranglehold on farmers.

She believed the agricultural sector needed to “rise up” and address greenhouse gas emissions head-on.

“There’s this, ‘Oh, the poor farmers are struggling’, but that’s not the story we should be constantly telling,” she said.

“When people have sympathy for you as a farmer, psychologically it can be confronting and not helpful.

“A farmer is a businessperson; nimble, creative, adaptive – that’s what I’d like to think I am as a businesswoman.

“The ag sector is not the only one that has an issue adapting to change.”

Mrs Newell will discuss her book during a free Meet the Author event at Cessnock City Library on Thursday 25 July.

Who’s Minding the Farm? ultimately provides a window into the pains, pleasures and politics of life on the land, while it also promotes new ways of thinking.

“I have been in the sector for 33 years and I’m not leaving,” Mrs Newell said.

“Bad internet and never having access to enough labour – they are two things we always talk about as farmers and there are new ideas we’re exploring.
“There are really good farmers, but also some very ecologically-damaging practices that are being done in the sector.”

The Meet the Author event will take place from 5pm to 6.30pm.

Bookings are essential; visit libraries.cessnock.nsw.gov.au to reserve a spot.

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