Barb Sutton describes herself as a buxom beneficiary bludger of Blind River. But rural reporter Cherie Howie discovers there is much more to the Birchmore Farm founder than clever alliteration.
Barb Sutton could write this story herself.
The straight talking Blind River pig, sheep and cattle farmer's keen eye for the funny side of life is matched by quick turn of phrase and a sharply self-deprecating humour.
As I wrap up a two-hour visit to the three-hectare block where she raises free-range pigs and a small flock of sheep (the cattle are on friends' properties) for her small meat supply business, Barb speculates on how she might be described in the story.
She then offers up her own, irresistible, portrayal.
"Buxom beneficiary bludger of Blind River," she says, laughing as the words slide easily off her tongue.
I love it – and she knows it.
"Oh no, you're going to use that now aren't you?" she says.
But I don't think she'll be too worried.
The 50-year-old is as comfortable in her own skin as the merry band of animals that surround her Cable Station Rd home.
We started the interview with a walk around the property. Barb heads straight for the pig paddock – a paddock containing eight ewes and more than two dozen fat lambs sits next door – but it's clear her deepest affection is for her pigs.
"Yeah, I like pigs. When you get a litter of pigs it reminds me of puppies. And, it sells well. People like free-range pork, guilt-free pork."
An enormous – well, to me anyway – sow trots up.
It's Louise – Barb's first, and favourite, sow. Louise snorts and looks up at us expectedly, no doubt hoping for a juicy kiwifruit, a treat Barb reserves for her tribe of mostly Berkshire pigs.
"Hopefully she's in pig, but you're not due for a while, are you sweetheart?"
The same goes for her faithful dog Pip. Barb was hoping for a litter of pups following the arrival of new resident, retired sheepdog Ridge.
"I think he might be shooting blanks," she says matter-of-factly.
Pigs are pretty friendly, but Louise has been in a bit of a funny mood lately, she says.
Pigs have bad days, too, it seems.
Other pigs scamper towards us, as Barb tells me the names of some of the lifelong residents.
"I don't name the ones that go into the freezer."
They might have a short life, but it's a good one.
All piglets stay with their mothers for eight weeks, and all are free range.
"Some people say why don't you put them in a sty and they'll grow quicker, but my idea is to have free range. I guess [a sty is] a lot more economic, but I like to give my animals as good a life as I can."
In summer Barb fills their hollows with water so they can wallow.
"They dig them themselves, they're like rotary hoes on legs."
Barb has been a fixture at the Marlborough Farmers' Market since 2003, but began selling meat a couple of years later. She also offers free-range eggs when available and homemade jams under the Birchmore Farm label.
Her animals are slaughtered and butchered at Harris Meats in Cheviot, while small goods like salami, sausages and bacon are made at Premium Game in Riverlands.
Barb also supplies privately through an emailed newsletter, but demand is higher than supply.
She also enjoys the products – she is definitely not a vegetarian, she tells me after I inquire hoping for a quirky angle for the story.
"People that aren't prepared to eat their own animals shouldn't be breeding them.
"I get people saying to me `how can you eat animals you know?' and I think `how can you eat animals that you don't know?'.
"When you go to the supermarket you don't know what kind of life [the animal] had or where it came from."
Barb lives alone, but the reality is the house is rarely empty.
A steady stream of Help X's – travellers who exchange four hours of work a day for board – pass through.
Barb has been inviting travellers into her home since 2006.
"It's like travelling without leaving home."
An American couple, one of whom I had earlier seen sitting outside enjoying the sunshine, head out to feed Barb's two pet lambs as we chat.
Looks like a tough gig.
The sense of community felt in Barb's home reflects that of Blind River, with neighbours regularly socialising together, swapping produce and sharing farm equipment, Barb says.
It's easy to imagine a lively get together at Barb's place.
The sitting room, where we have settled after taking a walk around the farm, sports comfy old-fashioned chairs, a piano and, lying across its top, a banjo.
Barb got the banjo following a running joke between herself and a former co-worker about the legendary hillbilly film Deliverance.
"I said I was going teach myself to play because we always joked about Deliverance and I had duelling banjos on my answerphone."
She has a chord book and has "strung a few things", happy to keep her interests wide-ranging.
Other favourite activities include cake decorating, sewing, knitting, cooking and taking care of the large vegetable garden at the front of her property.
Despite being raised in suburban Wellington, she was always headed for the country life.
"Right from when I was fairly young I knew I wanted to live in the country. Most of my jobs have been outside and I far prefer that."
Her first job was on a dairy farm, where she spent 18 months before being awarded a year-long Federated Farmers cadet scheme scholarship to Britain.
The experience was "amazing" as she worked at farms across the country, hosted by everyone from tenant farmers to "the people who owned the village".
That curveball was matched equally, if not more, by the adventure she had just getting there.
While some scholarship winners travelled by air, Barb was given a working passage on an all-male crewed container ship, spending six weeks travelling across the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean before reaching Britain.
Her 4 1/2 week return journey took her across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
The high fliers were the losers, she reckons, recounting the camaraderie of life at sea and adventures at exotic ports of call.
"They guys looked after me so well. They took me to all sorts of red-light districts where sailors are known to hang out, but they took me under their wing."
The work was a "doddle" compared to that on the dairy farm, Barb says.
Embarrassingly, she was repeatedly told to slow down because she was showing up the crew.
"I did a lot of cleaning and working as a deckhand – painting, chipping rust. It was a bit like being in the army – if it moves, grease it, if it doesn't, paint it."
However, she was not tempted to take up the sailor's life permanently.
"It was amazing and fascinating, but I would miss the land and plants and animals."
It is her animals that get the invalid's beneficiary out of bed on her worst days, she says.
"When I got sick and had to leave work I was told to sell up and move back to town, but I couldn't think of anything worse, because at least here I've got the potential to become more financially independent."
Her benefit is income tested, so the more she earns, the less benefit she receives.
Following her experiences overseas, Barb studied towards a degree in agriculture, but with work scarce ended up working on a vineyard as a stopgap.
It was the start of a career in the industry that would see her earn a post-graduate degree in viticulture and wine and jobs ranging across the industry, from the vineyard gate to the classroom.
She moved to Marlborough 20 years ago, settling at Blind River 10 years ago.
"I thought it looked a bit like factory work, but outside, because of the repetition of the rows. But, then it kind of dawned on me that it was quite fascinating.
"Plus the place where I was working [as a stopgap] we grew the grapes, made the wine, stuck the labels on by hand and sold it to the customers.
"There's not many jobs where you get to do the whole thing."
It is the same at Birchmore Farm, she says.
"To be able to take something from the raw materials, producing it, to the person that's actually going to consume it, is pretty satisfying."
- The Marlborough Express
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