Rural women make a huge contribution to agriculture
Fiona Gower is a true "Rural Woman" having lived and worked in the rural sector most of her life.
As the new president of Rural Women New Zealand (RWNZ), she has set herself several goals to accomplish during her term.
Her greatest aspiration is for RWNZ to be seen as the organisation of choice within the wider sector for all women, communities, organisations and decision makers.
"We have a strong charitable history and we are an authoritative voice for the rural community.
"We are focused on building stronger relationships with other rural organisations and working more closely with decision-makers to develop synergy."
Sharing knowledge and information is part of their theme for this year 'C to the Power of three – Communication, Connection and Collaboration'.
"The rural sector has seen many challenges over the years but through knowledge-sharing, collaboration and good communication, we can all grow and work through these challenges."
She says dairy farmers have been tested over the past few years but sees the industry becoming stronger as a result.
"In some areas, dairy farmers have had a tough time with floods, droughts, low payouts and the Christchurch and Kaikōura earthquakes.
"When something like that happens, it can be a hugely difficult or stressful time. That is why it is important to have a strong membership base so we can help where needed."
She sees enormous value in the organisation established over 90 years ago.
"It is still as relevant today as ever.
"Women make a huge contribution to the industry and it is our role to support these women through the network and help them grow. Some have incredible skills and knowledge which helps make us strong."
Membership currently stands at about 2000 but there is "potential to increase this".
"We have members from all walks of life and all sectors of agriculture.
"Our members come from the middle of cities through to the high country with a diverse range of backgrounds, skills and experience."
She says one of their greatest strengths is their branch network where members can meet others and learn something new.
"Social media is a great tool for women to talk, keep in touch and support each other.
"It is also important that women can meet-face-to-face, especially if they are a bit more isolated. It is vital that they have someone they can meet or ring up for a chat."
RWNZ is building partnerships with organisations such as the Dairy Women's Network, NZ Young Farmers, Agri-Women's Development Trust, Kellogg and others to help upskill and grow its members.
"I get a real buzz out of watching members develop their volunteer skills by completing training and leadership courses, which boosts their confidence and knowledge, and leads them to larger roles within RWNZ and in other organisations"
She joined RWNZ at the age of 13 as a junior member after tagging along with her mother to a meeting.
"Mum took us all along from the time we were babies so RWNZ has always been a part of my life."
The daughter of sheep and beef farmers from Marton, Rangitikei, she describes herself as "very much a rural girl" often helping on-farm.
She met her partner, Terry through the 'rural dating agency' that is NZ Young Farmers and they now have two children: Anthony, 10, and Emily, 12.
They moved to Port Waikato in 2008 where there was no RWNZ branch so the following year, she and a colleague started one.
"We had a lot of young mums move into the area so it has been perfect for them. They could bring their children along, in fact, we encourage it.
"We are all mums and know how difficult it can be with young children to get out and do things as simple as going to get a haircut."
Since becoming involved, she has held several roles at branch level and progressed through to national councillor and rural environment portfolio convenor, vice president and now president.
At 3pm on November 13, she received the president's badge. Nine hours later, she was "shaking things up". Just after midnight the devastating 7.8 magnitude Kaikōura earthquake hit, spurning her into action.
"It certainly wasn't the first day on the job that I had imagined.
"But it is times like these when we as an organisation can, and will, step up to help those affected."
For over 90 years, RWNZ has met challenges arising in the rural sector such as the Canterbury and recent Kaikōura earthquakes head-on to find the silver lining and create opportunities.
In 2011 following the Christchurch earthquakes, RWNZ launched Aftersocks™ a fundraising initiative selling black and red merino socks to support the Christchurch rebuild.
RWNZ encouraged people to buy, wear and share their support on social media by tagging @aftersocksnz to inspire others to purchase a pair.
"Aftersocks™ is a really worthwhile initiative which raised $130,000 for the Christchurch fund.
"It is something we are extremely proud of."
Aftersocks™ was once again promoted following the earthquake and proceeds from sales will go to the RWNZ Adverse Events Relief Fund set up after the Kaikōura event.
"The fund was set up to help those in need.
"After something like an earthquake, floods, and now fires, people often need the basics and the funds can be used for something as simple as a cutlery set. But it is also there to help people who may be suffering from post-traumatic disorder and need professional services."
The fund was kicked off with a $50,000 donation from the New South Wales Country Women's Association (CWA) which she says was "incredibly generous".
"RWNZ is one of the founding members of the Associated Countrywomen of the World so we have a long relationship with many associations around the world.
"It just goes to show just how far and wide our support network is."
By mid-February, many pairs of socks had been sold and several grants had been distributed to individuals and groups in the areas surrounding Kaikōura, with the aim of raising community spirit.
Regional groups also hosted several fundraisers in the area and members from North Canterbury and the wider Marlborough region have also been visiting rural farmers and residents isolated by the quakes to distribute care packages.
"Our aim is to continue providing support.
"We have the funds to help where we can, even if it is funding a morning tea or coffee group where women can get together and talk about things with others in a similar situation."
She is keen to get more projects off the ground including again pushing for better connectivity.
"There is a definite lack of understanding in the urban areas of what goes on rurally.
"Residents in urban areas may think we get just as good coverage as they do, but it couldn't be further from the truth. Our internet is so bad that some days I have to drive six kilometres to the port to get cell phone coverage. This is happening all over the country and needs addressing."
She says connectivity is important for many especially those running business or working from home.
"We have women running amazing businesses in our rural areas, as we have seen by the quality of the entrants in our RWNZ Enterprising Rural Women Awards.
"To ensure growth for these and our other important agri-businesses, as well as for our children's education, and to attract people to rural communities, good quality connectivity is vital. It also has an important safety aspect for those living rurally."
As well as holding the top job, she represents RWNZ on a number of other organisations including the LandCare Trust Board, the Police & Rural Stakeholders Partnership Group, the Scotlands Te Kiteroa Trust and the Rural Communities Trust.
At home in Port Waikato, she is involved with the Onewhero Amateur Swimming Club committee, Port Waikato Beachcare committee, Onewhero Area School Calf Club, as well as helping out at many school events, and Sunset Beach Surf lifesaving club.
When she is not on the job, she enjoys baking and making preserves and pickles, fishing and whitebaiting, reading and gardening.