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Sweat and laughter make tomorrow look brighter

Updated: Jan 3, 2020

By Nicole Baxter

Back row left to right: David Mark, Jesse Moloney, Tom Dowling, Daniel Valente, Gus Bourchier and George Sandral. Front row left to right: Shane Moar, Alastair Austin, Roy Hamilton, Andrew Bourchier and Darcy Owen. Photo: Nicole Baxter | GRDC.

As National Farm Safety Week draws to a close, we wanted to highlight some positive initiatives that are helping people deal with depression, anxiety and stress.

Earlier this year Oaklands, NSW grain grower and Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) Northern Panel member Roy Hamilton alerted us to an 18-year-old school student, George Sandral, who set up a summer fitness group to help build resilience among growers in his area.

George, who hails from a farm near Oaklands, initiated the Fit Farmers class for stress management after seeing the impacts on people of prolonged dry seasonal conditions.

What stood out about George was his compassion for grain growers in his local community who were struggling to cope emotionally with the prospect of not having much grain to sell. For grain growers, it is not just the lost income, but also a sense of lost purpose.

In the article for GRDC’s GroundCover™ magazine, George says he wanted to bring farmers together for exercise and encouragement.

“I wanted to give people something positive to do rather than stay at home and watch the dust blow around,” he says.

Roy Hamilton. Photo: GRDC.

Roy Hamilton attended George’s six-week fitness class and says he felt inspired.

“It allowed us to come together away from our farms, and I have been motivated seeing George take the initiative to do something positive in a tough year,” he says.

“We can’t do anything about the weather and with most farmers taking on more hectares and farming in isolation, it’s been great to gather face to face for fun and fitness.”

Another group that grew out of a desire to improve mental and physical health in regional communities is Active Farmers.

Active Farmers founder Ginny Stevens, Mangoplah, NSW. Photo: Jackie Cooper.

Earlier this year, I heard Active Farmers founder Ginny Stevens speak when I attended the Central West Farming Systems Women & Youth in Agriculture Conference for GroundCover™.

Ginny formed Active Farmers in 2015 with groups in Mangoplah and Uranquinty in southern NSW after she became concerned about the level of depression in rural communities.

Ginny Stevens and some of the Active Farmers. Photo: Active Farmers.

“In January 2017 we started expanding the business and today have 35 communities gathering for fitness in almost every state,” she says.

The group runs about 180 classes a month involving 600 visits, with some people coming to multiple sessions through the week.

Read more by visiting:; @activefarmers (Instagram), @Activefarmers (Twitter); (Facebook).

South Australian grain grower Ben Wundersitz and his daughter Charlotte at Adelaide's City-Bay Fun Run. Photo: Fat Farmers Rural Health Initiative.

In South Australia, Yorke Peninsula grain growers Ben Wundersitz, Greg Hean and Scott Hoyle founded the Fat Farmers Rural Health Initiative to encourage physical and mental fitness among their peers.

Coretext associate and SA grower Emma Leonard first reported on the Fat Farmers Rural Health Initiative in January 2016 for GroundCover™.

Since 2016, Ben says the Fat Farmers Rural Health Initiative has grown to 250 members meeting as 10 groups for regular fitness sessions across SA.

Some of the members of the Fat Farmers Rural Health Initiative at Adelaide's City-Bay Fun Run.

“Some involve a workout in a local hall or a gymnasium, some go for a bike ride or a swim, and others go for a walk,” he says. “The age and fitness levels of those in the groups are diverse. For instance, our local group has people aged from 14 to 60.”

Ben, who hails from Maitland, says he has witnessed a shift in the culture of his local town since the group started.

Ben Wundersitz, Maitland, SA (front right) with some of his group training in his lentil shed. Photo: Fat Farmers Rural Health Initiative.

“Our local gym is across the road from the pub and we’ve had lots of people making health a priority and crossing the road to join us,” he says.

Read more by visiting: (web); (Facebook); @fat_farmers (Twitter)

It is wonderful to see these people help others in their communities. With so many in rural Australia succumbing to depression, stress and anxiety, especially in response to uncontrollable circumstances like dry weather, gathering with others for fitness and fun might not solve problems, but it does help people realise they are not alone.

We think it’s worth celebrating the work of these individuals and groups. If you or someone you know are experiencing depression, loneliness, stress or anxiety, we encourage you to reach out and perhaps join one of the positive groups in your local area.

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