Growing up on dry stock and dairy farms in the Waikato instilled a fire for rural life that Hannah Bignell could never extinguish. Despite a university degree and a 14-month stint in corporate accounting, it’s safe for Hannah to say that she never mastered the skill of making the ridiculous amount of money that she studied for. Instead, she learnt a valuable lesson in what makes her happy – returning to the simpler way of life and farming with her husband Tony on Beau Brae, near Te Awamutu. A proud mother of two children, Hannah is also the talented curator of her own blog, ‘What She Said’. Originally pitched at shedding a light on the realities of motherhood and the funny things that happen along the way, her writing has since evolved alongside her passion for farming, and she now uses it to connect and discuss ideas with other rural women who share that same love for the land. This self-confessed sheep lover not only enjoys raising her own children, but also spends her spring looking after her wooly babies. 

When asked what concerned Hannah about the health, safety and wellbeing of those in rural industries and communities, she highlighted how being relatively new to farming often means she worries about her husband being alone on the farm as he masters new skills. Often heavily pre-occupied with juggling a toddler and a new born, Hannah is adamant that there’s always someone around to help out on the big jobs – whether that’s his mum, dad or best friend – ensuring no one is ever in a position where they can’t call for help. Reinforcing the importance of swallowing your pride, Hannah openly acknowledges that it’s the wrap around support they received in their first year of farming that made them the success story they are today.

How would you describe yourself in three words?

Quiet, loyal and curious.

Tell us something interesting about yourself...

I grew up on both a dry stock farm and then a dairy farm in the Waikato. I paid an institution a ridiculous amount of money to teach me how to make a ridiculous amount of money and then went to work in a corporate accounting environment. I left after 14 months and returned to a simpler way of life. Safe to say I never did master the skill of making a ridiculous amount of money, but I did learn early on what makes me happy and I’m so grateful I get to live and work so close to my family. Shortly after my daughter was born I started writing a blog called @whatshesaidnz about the realities of becoming a first time mum and the funny things that happen along the way. It was a way for me to process some of the ups and downs that we all experience in one way or another. The blog has slowly shifted focus as my passion for farming alongside family life has grown. I’m really enjoying the connections I’m making through social media and discussing ideas and issues with rural women who share a similar passion for our industry, particularly the land and the animals. I think the impact of women in the primary sector is greatly undervalued. There are some extremely smart and inspiring women out there, and while they might be busy raising children right now – you just wait ‘til they get some time on their hands!

What achievements are you most proud of?

Of course it’s our kids. I wasn’t kind to my body as a teenager but it still grew two beautiful children. Becoming a mother gives you a new appreciation for your body and what it’s capable of. Please, don’t abuse it.

What makes you truly happy?

Sheep. They’re very smart and affectionate animals. I also love the beach and spending time with family.

What do you love the most about being a rural woman?

I love that I can go for a run on the farm and finish out of breath, red faced, and collapse on the ground with no one watching. I also feel so privileged to be raising our children in the same way we were raised. Teaching them to appreciate the land and care for the animals. Most of all, I love that we are creating a place they know they can always come home to.

Tell us about a time when you felt worried about your own or someone else’s health, safety or wellbeing.

We’re relatively new to farming and my husband Tony is learning to master many new skills –  shearing being one of them. It’s a dangerous job and one that gave me huge anxiety as he was learning – you just don’t know what could happen. Last year, there were a few late nights in the shed when I couldn’t go and help, but Tony’s mum or dad would be there. We’re extremely lucky that Tony’s parents still live on farm and they help us a LOT. I honestly don’t think we would have coped or made it through our first year without their support. Farming is a lot tougher than people think, so don’t think you can do it all on your own and don’t be too proud to ask for help. Team work is key.

What practical things did - or could - you or someone else do to prevent yourself or someone else from getting hurt?

With one small child and a new born it’s not practical for me to be out on the farm in as hands on a role as I would like, so when there are big jobs to do, such as shearing, there is always someone there with him – whether it’s me, his mum, his dad or his best mate. We try to ensure no one is ever in a situation where they can’t call for help if it’s needed. He also makes sure he comes home regularly during the day to check in and keeps in contact by phone when he can.

"Food is fuel, but it also brings people together around the table. Use this time to check in on each other. Our mental health is equally important as our physical health."

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?

Any time there’s a beverage in one hand and a piece of cake in the other.

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?

If you have concerns, voice them. A gentle reminder on a daily basis to be careful before they walk out the door will plant the seed in their mind. Don’t be afraid to say what you’re thinking and always have money in the budget for new tyres – lots of tyres.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

Food is fuel but it also brings people together around the table. Use this time to check in on each other. Our mental health is equally important as our physical health.

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