Connect with the community to 'change the rules of the game' for the welfare of East Otago's farms

Connect with the community to ‘change the rules of the game’ for the welfare of East Otago’s farms

Greg Hand. Photo/Alice Scott

As part of her Southern Rural Life Wellbeing Wednesday series, Alice Scott talks to sheep and meat farmer Greg Hand who has forged new relationships in a community that has always been there.

It took the breakup of the marriage of East Otago sheep and meat farmer Greg Hand to realize he was a prisoner of his own making, a “trap I fell into,” working seven days for weeks and always feeling he was trying right.

Accepting the offer to coach senior rugby team Strath Taieri earlier this year was the catalyst for a major change in Hand’s mindset and sparked new welcome relationships in a community that has “always been there”.

Hand Cultivator Alfalfa Downs; 4000 hectares near Macraes Moonlight. His house is a 30-minute drive from Palmerston in one direction and Macraes in the other. He rented the farm for 13 years and until recently also owned a smaller North Otago farm.

Agriculture has always been his passion and he has made his way into farm and stock ownership through management opportunities, mostly in South Canterbury.

He farms 4,500 sheep and 400 cattle, and gets occasional labor when he needs it.

An avid rugby player, Hand has played ‘300ish’ matches for the Premier MacKenzie Country and played the representative rugby game of South Canterbury, often getting up before dawn to get winter food done before his matches.

After retiring from the game, Hand began training his children at the Rugby School and Age Group in Oamaru.

“I’ve never set my sights on coaching my first rugby team, and I haven’t had much to do in the game in the 12 years I’ve been at Clover Downs,” he said.

“I’ve watched a couple of local games over the years, but I think I’ve been putting my head in the ranch.”

The training party at Strath Taieri was a success, with the team winning the season final after 20 minutes of overtime.

“It was a test of fitness, and the team won it through.”

The Clover Downs house is at the other end of the farm where most of the day’s work is, so Hand will pack lunch and go for the day, work through jobs and spend most of the week at his own business.

“The Macraes Pub was always my local watering hole so to speak, and I knew the people there, but only at roof level; I was drinking my pitcher and talking and coming home.

“The training has taken me off the farm on a regular basis and really got to know the community that has always been here.”

Farmer Greg Hand says group fitness and rugby training created a structure and purpose in his week that got him off the ranch and connecting with others.  Photo/Alice Scott
Farmer Greg Hand says group fitness and rugby training created a structure and purpose in his week that got him off the ranch and connecting with others. Photo/Alice Scott

It was April of this year while enjoying a beer, Hand found himself on the hotel floor competing with a couple of local ladies in a ‘as you do’ calf raise.

“I sparked a suggestion from the girls that I should run a fitness class at Macraes.”

Hand delivered on his promise and held an in-ring class Tuesday night at the local auditorium, bringing many of his gym equipment from home along with weights and a boxing bag.

“We do a 90-minute session and go to the bar for a drink afterwards.”

Since the rugby season is over, he’s also added a Thursday night session.

For Hand, introducing decency into the lives of others was a “change agent” for his well-being.

“It gave me structure and purpose in my week away from farming. I haven’t yet looked back and seen how I would visualize the tunnel on the farm; I exercise 12 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Hand’s advice to others in the same hamster wheel trap: “Do something different that gets you off the farm. Get out of your comfort zone and take this small step; you might just be surprised where you end up!”

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