Thirty six cyclists, a mix of farmers and individuals associated with rural communities, rode into Mangoplah (outside of Wagga Wagga) last month after completing a challenging three day, 400kms ride from Forbes NSW, to raise funds and awareness about building resilience in farming communities.
‘Riding for Resilience’ is the brainchild of Ginny Stevens, local farmer and mother who established Active Farmers, an organisation that reaches out to rural and regional Australians offering them the opportunity to engage with each other on exercise programs lead by personal trainers and designed to improve both physical and mental health.
As the daughter of a farmer in Tasmania and the wife of a Wagga Wagga farmer, Ginny saw a need for individuals to connect with physical exercise by connecting with each other. She was concerned with the increasing levels of depression and suicide in many of these communities.
“It stands to reason that just like the cows and sheep we tend to, we’re also gregarious animals so connecting not only to the land but to each other is important to our overall physical and mental wellbeing.”
“Some farmers lead sedentary lives. Due to the nature of their work, a grower can be sitting on a tractor or a harvester all day, every day. Not only is it demanding, it’s also lonely work.“
“It’s been proven time and time again that exercise is important to everyone. I run regularly and I know how beneficial this is to my own physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. After speaking to farmers and townsfolk in the local district, I realised the importance of setting up Active Farmers as a means of engaging the community with exercise and each other.”
Established in 2015, Active Farms operates in 38 different locations throughout Australia. Ginny Stevens hopes to have twice as many rural communities benefiting from their programs by mid-2020. So far there are over 700 regular monthly participants.
‘Riding for Resilience’ was the inaugural cycling event for Active Farmers. Each rider was responsible for raising a targeted amount. Over $110,000 was raised with Colleambally farmer Joe Briggs achieving a remarkable $30,000.
”Everyone dug in deep to support the cause whether they were riders or donors. It was a tough ride and the first time I’ve experienced riding long distance,” said Joe.
“It’s an important cause given that the drought isn’t easing and that it’s more important than ever to support the mental health of our farmers and people in farming communities.
“The old-age theory that ‘she’ll be right’ no longer applies. There comes a time when it’s not alright and that time is now.”
According to Ginny, it’s a simple philosophy that involves people understanding the connection between being physically fit, well connected within their community, and mentally strong.
“Active Farmers is creating a large network of farmers and community members working together to improve both physical and mental health and build social capacity in their communities.”