Ginny discovered her love of agriculture, health and community growing up on a farm in northern Tasmania – a love she later explored through becoming a jillaroo, gaining an Honours degree in Agricultural Science and building a successful career in agribusiness banking. Energetic, passionate and caring, it was Ginny’s desire to help build healthier, more resilient rural communities that led her to establish Active Farmers – a not-for-profit that provides group fitness and wellbeing sessions to farming communities across Australia. In just five years, it’s grown to 1000 participants and 200 classes across almost every state, as well as workshops and events. A certified personal trainer, she’s well known for having trekked the Kokoda Trail and taken part in ultra-marathons. More recently, she played a key role in creating PA2health, a service that provides regional Australians with four-week health and wellbeing challenges online. Ginny was a state finalist for the 2018 NSW/ACT AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award and a member of the ANZ Agribusiness Graduate Program. She’s happiest when spending time with her three children at their home near Mangoplah in New South Wales’ Riverina region, as well as when helping others. “I am truly happy when I see healthy, happy and connected farming communities.”
When asked what concerned her about the health, safety and wellbeing of those in rural industries and communities, Ginny raised the issue of mental health and suicide prevention. This concern inspired her to create Active Farmers. “Research indicates that exercise in a group setting can have a very positive impact on physical and mental health,” she said. When it comes to her own farm, Ginny holds quarterly meetings with a consultant, creating a safe place for people to raise concerns and offer suggestions for improvement – including health and safety. Above all, she wants rural women to take their own health seriously. “Prioritise it and don’t feel guilty for doing so. If you spend time working on your health, you will have more energy to help others and get the most out of every day.”
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Energetic, passionate and caring.
Tell us something interesting about yourself...
I grew up on a farm in northern Tasmania and this is where I developed my love for agriculture, health and community.
I enjoy anything that involves being outdoors – horse riding, snow and water skiing, ultra-marathons and Kokoda trekking. I hope that my kids (three and a half year old twins Henry and Issy and nine month old Will) develop the same passion for the great outdoors as I do.
I also adore Labradors and have a black lab named Bonnie.
What achievements are you most proud of?
What makes you truly happy?
Aside from spending quality time at home on the farm with my family, I love helping others. I am truly happy when I see healthy, happy and connected farming communities.
What do you love the most about being a rural woman?
I feel so privileged to have experienced an upbringing in the country and now to bring my children up on a farm. I have travelled the world and lived in many places and I really believe that the people who live in our farming communities are some of the most genuine and down-to-earth people you can find. This is the thing I love about being a rural woman – it’s the people you get to share your life with.
Tell us about a time when you felt worried about your own or someone else’s health, safety or wellbeing.
I am constantly concerned about the mental health of those who live in our farming communities. The current statistics around rural and regional health are frightening and I strongly believe they need to improve (no doubt many others share this view). It saddens me greatly that there are so many people who choose to take their own lives in the bush.
What practical things did - or could - you or someone else do to prevent yourself or someone else from getting hurt?
My concerns about mental health were the catalyst for starting Active Farmers in 2015. Research indicates that exercise in a group setting can have a very positive impact on physical and mental health. The vision of Active Farmers is to build stronger and more resilient farming communities by bringing communities together through regular group fitness, suitable for all levels of fitness and ability.
Proactive health care is so important as it can be a tool we can use to help alleviate and prevent symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Today, Active Farmers takes over 200 classes for more than 1,000 participations in almost every state. We have also evolved to include health-related workshops, such as mindfulness, nutrition and mental health first aid, and facilitate fantastic events such as our Active Farmers Games, Ride for Resilience Bike Ride and, coming soon, Run for Resilience.
More recently, along with four other co-founders/health experts, we created PA2health, a service that provides regional Australians with four-week health and wellbeing online challenges. These involve healthy eating, exercise and mindfulness and encourage users to take charge of their health. We have been working with NSW Primary Health Networks to offer our health and wellbeing challenges to regional Australians in drought and bushfire-affected areas, free of charge. This has been very rewarding and we have loved being able to do our bit to help.
Is there a time, place or scenario when your partner or those you work or spend time with are more willing to make changes to the way the work is done, or are more open to making safer, healthier choices?
On the farm we hold quarterly meetings, facilitated by our consultant. We are constantly reviewing the farm business and this is the forum where we can all feel comfortable to raise concerns about the health and safety of those working on our farm.
If you could give any advice to another rural woman about health, safety and/or wellbeing in rural industries and communities, about influencing change in business - or just in general - what would it be?
1: Take your own health seriously, prioritise it and don’t feel guilty for doing so. Health needs to be viewed on a holistic basis – it’s not just exercise or food in isolation, it’s also sleep, stress, fun, family etc. If you spend time working on your health, you will have more energy to help others and get the most out of every day.
2: Find what you’re passionate about and make it part of your life. It could take time, but once you find it your life will be so much more fulfilled. It took eight years of my career to develop Active Farmers, and then PA2health and now, every day, I am so fulfilled – even now while on maternity leave.
3: Everyone has good ideas, so don’t be afraid to share them, especially if your idea can help improve the health and safety of our farming communities.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Human beings are herd animals and a sense of connection and belonging is so important for our health. If you don’t see or hear from those in your community, it’s very easy for people to slip away unnoticed. Make sure you look out for your community.