All in the Family

 It’s Hobbit country. Just down the road from the Carters’ farm is where movie director Peter Jackson created the fantasy land of the Hobbits. The rolling hills and verdant grass look like they are straight from the pages of The Lord of the Rings. In this gorgeous rural landscape, it’s easy to see the appeal for Jackson and his set-building team.

For the Carters, this bucolic setting has been home since Colin and Dorothy Carter purchased 600 acres of farmland on Mangaotaki Road in 1943. Colin was a returned soldier, and the pair hand-milked 20 cows to supply the Piopio diary factory with cream.

Further acreage was added over the years, and Colin and Dorothy raised their family of six children on the property. Their eldest son John – along with his wife Judy – took over the running of the farm in 1971.

“In this gorgeous rural landscape, it’s easy to see the appeal for [Peter] Jackson and his team.”

“Dad paid six pounds an acre and eight pounds an acre for the back block – and after the war, 12 pounds an acre. I still remember Dad moving the furniture from this house to the house across the way [that] we now live in,” says John.

“When we took over the farm we expanded,” John says. “[But] I didn’t really chase expansion – mostly you are so busy in what you’re doing, day to day, but opportunities come along.”

John and Judy have four children, and their son Shaun now runs the farm with his wife, Kate. Over time more land has been purchased – and the goal, according to Shaun, “is to run a successful farming business that shows our pride and passion for our stock, farm and family; and meets customer and market demands”.

Kate and Shaun have three boys – Lachie, Leo and Mac. On the day of MiNDFOOD’s visit, the kids arrive for lunch hungry, and are excited to see their dad wearing a Silver Fern Farms apron, flipping lamb steaks and flat bread on the barbecue. This is a very busy family. Every day is packed full of activities and events – and at three o’clock today,

Kate, a Learn to Swim instructor, has to be “in town” to take a class at the local pool. The three boys also have swimming classes, so we all head down to Piopio to see this communitysupported initiative in action.

Kate is the current chairperson of the Piopio Community Sports Incorporated, and a past member of the Piopio Light Horse Club and the Under 7s Ripper Rugby coach. With her own vet practice as a side business, this mother of three is certainly busy.

Originally from North Queensland, Australia, Kate initially came to the district as an intern in her final year of veterinarian study. But as she says, “Look how beautiful this place is. I can grow things – the decision to stay was easy, it’s got a nice mix of everything.

“The local community was very inviting and welcoming,” Kate adds. “I’d be on a farm and the local farmer would say, ‘Do you want to come fishing after work?’”

“I was a swimmer when I grew up, and I have learned the coaching side of things here in New Zealand. There are eight of us that commit three hours four days a week to training the local kids. Our kids love water sports, and Shaun loves fishing and diving – so water is a big part of our family life.”

It was through this local King Country farming community that Kate first meet Shaun. “As the local vet, I was visiting the Carter farm to see a bull who had a dislocated hip. It was raining and Shaun was very grumpy, but he can’t remember that. He says we met at the local tennis club, but the first time we met was here on the farm,” Kate smiles.

Shaun is the chairperson of the Piopio Community Swimming Pools Trust, and is the current liaison between the recreation centre and the school – as the pool sits in the school grounds. Over summer the pool’s changing rooms have been painted, and next on the agenda is a new canvas shade cloth over the concrete sitting area.

“To raise funds, we host dinners with guest speakers and sell tickets to the event. We’ve had a wide range of people, like New Zealand rower and yachtsman Rob Waddell [who also attended the local Piopio College] come to speak. We have a great team to help make the pool a local success. It’s two dollars for access to the pool for a day during the holidays, and the trust provides a lifeguard. We had to get behind the pool and keep it running, as the locals love it.” In fact, according to Shaun, Piopio has one of the strongest swimming teams in the district. Sponsorship plaques from local families are on one outdoor wall, where the locals have donated money for the running of the pool: “We have had a drive over the last two or three years to raise funds for the ongoing support of the pool,” Shaun explains.

It’s clear that this family has a strong commitment to the local community. Shaun is an organising member of the Mangaotaki River Care. He’s also a committee member of the Piopio Community Gym, and is involved with the Waitanguru Red Meat for Profit Partnership (RMPP).

The Carter family hope to have all the waterways on their property protected by 2020. The farm boasts wetlands, creeks and bush areas, and the family take great pride in their land. They provide the ultimate plateto-pasture experience, and have a very strong interest in animal health and environmental responsibility. They are mitigating any nutrient runoff from key sources such as cattle and sheep yards through further planting and fencing – part of their fencing programme, which includes streams and bush areas. “It should and can be protected, because it’s an achievable goal compared to steeper farms in the area,” says Shaun.

Protection of waterways will include the fencing of wetlands and nova flow development of open drains in various blocks, and more recently specific shelter planting for wind reduction and shade for stock has also been initiated. 

John started the conservation fencing of native bush areas in 1984, and since then almost 20 hectares of pines have been planted and 17 hectares of native bush fenced. John says, “It’s just something we started doing as it helped protect the farm and stock.” Pointing to a block of trees in the distance, he says that they have recently been fenced, and the native under-planting has quickly returned. “It’s quite rewarding … within just a few months [that patch] started to grow, and it will thicken up. It will look great.” John believes that farmers have to be a lot more environmentally aware these days.
“The basics are the same, but our mentality has changed. [Years ago] we would cut down all the trees to get as much land as we could, and put more stock on the land. But things have changed, thank goodness. I think my dad would be pretty impressed how it’s now looking.”

Shaun and Kate are continuing John’s good work. “I would have dug in over 3,000 plants over the last three years,” explains Kate. “All new natives or big trees in a lot of areas we are actively retiring and improving.”

Shaun adds that “stock need water and shade and shelter – so you have to make a decision. And the conservation of the land is an important part of farming”.

As for the relationship with Silver Fern Farms, it’s been in place for as long as Shaun can remember. “Scott Bradley, our current rep, grew up down the road from us – two farms down – so he knows the area and the stock very well,” Shaun says. “They have been a great company to deal with over the years. The greater our commitment has been, the greater the company’s commitment is.”
“We love producing great stock, and I love working with Shaun on the farm,” says Kate. “I’m only out there three or four hours a week, as I have the vet work and the kids, and I also do the books for the farm, and the community work so life is busy … But I want to offer our three boys every opportunity that we can. I like dreaming, and if they really want to do something, we hope to be able to make that happen.”
Something tells me that in this community, anything is possible. Even a Hollywood director could see the
 potential.