Climate strike: loud cry for creation, but our farmers feel silenced

Climate strike: loud cry for creation, but our farmers feel silenced

Anglicans from our movement were a significant force in the global climate strike action on Friday the 27th of September, however, a rural priest recently told Synod that farmers are feeling the pinch from increasingly negative urban attitudes towards them, and this is having a drastic effect on their mental health.  He says that good work is being done in rural areas, but we could all work better together.

The 27th of September 2019 will go down as a historic day, when perhaps the largest public protest action in New Zealand, if not the world, delivered a strong message to our government, demanding better kaitiakitanga of God’s creation in this whenua.  In our diocese, prayer vigils and strike events were held in Masterton, Feilding, Palmerston North, Wellington, Paraparaumu, Whanganui and elsewhere, with over 200 people from our churches and over 250 students from our schools taking part.

In Paraparaumu, protest action included a beach clean up, and one-fifth of the participants came from our churches.  In Whanganui, Bishop Justin joined with worshippers at St Peter’s Gonville for a prayer vigil, before marching on Council buildings, bringing the only Christian presence in the public event.  In Wellington, an estimated 40,000 people descended on Parliament, including over 100 Anglicans from Urban Vision communities and a number of greater Wellington parishes, about 250 students from Samuel Marsden Collegiate, and many university students from amongst the 3,000 Victoria University students who were expected to come.

Kate Day, our Advocacy Enabler, tells us that this represents the largest and loudest presence of Anglicans in a political advocacy space, continuing our celebrated work to advocate for a strong Zero Carbon Act.  In July this year, Bishop Justin and Bishop Eleanor called on us to gather over 500 submissions on the proposed legislation, making up 3.5% of all submissions – from our diocese alone.

But as we celebrate our becoming family with the worldwide movement of people demanding better guardianship of our climate, Steve warns us against cutting off our own whānau in rural areas.  “Our mission statement tells us that we are family,” Steve told Synod, but he is becoming increasingly wary at feeling left out and not listened to.  He cited a recent government policy consultation where farmers were given scant time to have their say, and it was in the middle of their busiest season – so none of them wanted to leave their farms.

Meanwhile, RNZ recently reported an increasing urban-rural divide – with some farmers even bearing the brunt of death threats and bullying of their children.  Steve works with a rural organization that supports farmers’ mental health, but despite all their work, he says, farmer suicides in Wairarapa are continuing to rise.  “We need to listen to our rural parishes.  What about pairing up rural parishes with urban parishes?  What about inviting speakers from each parish to visit the other?” Steve postulated.

When it comes to solutions, Steve says it’s complicated.  Electric vehicles and travelling by bike are simply impractical in rural areas, but solid work is being done.  “I owned a farm for 35 years, and for all that time I had a farm plan in place,” he says.  A farm plan involves working with regional council conservators to plan, budget for and implement conservation programmes such as riparian planting, installing culverts and bridges to prevent cattle crossing waterways, and ongoing planting of trees.  “I reckon about 70 to 80% of Wairarapa farmers have a farm plan in place,” Steve told us.

The strike action was a poignant moment of our strong commitment to God’s creation and future generations.  It is worth celebrating, and so are the positive strides made in our country parishes on improvements to farm practice.

So what does being family look like from Steve’s place in rural Wairarapa?  “Country people help each other out.  Rural people are the first to stand up for each other when there’s a need. Some people in urban areas don’t even know their neighbours.”  Being family is clearly a part of everyday life in rural areas.  So a family, we continue to speak up for future generations, whilst we endeavor to listen up to what God is already doing amongst us – in all corners of our diocese.