Articles, Blog

Bringing Love into Business and Farming – Melissa Clark-Reynolds at New Frontiers

August 12, 2019


(audience applauds) – (Māori language introduction) I’m shaking because you know
I knew that I would be moved by Charles’ speech and as well as that some of you who know me kind of, I started out as a technology entrepreneur so I have this really strong
brand as a geek in New Zealand and I’m the first New Zealander who, first New Zealand woman to
get what’s called to ONZM which for the rest of
you is called the OBE for services to technology. So I’m a certified geek and a few years ago,
and I studied a mixture of engineering and applied math and I specialized in environmental health and epidemiology so really you know, all that geeky nerd stuff. But what happened I think is that I’d never had an experience of not being in love with the planet and so no matter what I ended up doing I ended up in the service of that somehow. And a few years ago I decided that I would become two things. I would work as a futurist in agriculture because I cared so
deeply about New Zealand and the need for us to
heal our relationship, particularly between urban New
Zealand and rural New Zealand and that divide is quite
wide at the moment. Particularly, as we see what
degradation has happened to our rivers and our land
and the world around us and so in that I found myself, I saw that there was an opportunity for a non-farmer to stand for the board of Beef and Lamb New Zealand and so for the rest of you from outside this is basically the
association of ranchers. And so I stood for that position and I am the first
non-farmer to be elected to the board of our beef and lamb farmers. I know, pretty cool eh? Really brave of them. Really, really courageous of them and they’ve been amazing. As I walk around the country and I get invited more and more and more to regional meetings and what
I end up talking about is love and I’m very open about talking about love and it’s what they ask me
now to come and talk about. That’s pretty awesome, eh? Pretty awesome. And the main reason they
want me to talk about love is that they produce food. And I kinda come from a culture, you know I have an Italian grandmother and so I was raised from a very small age, I could feed 50 people if
you give me five minutes and I also grew up around (mumbles) where I was the little Pakeha girl in kapa haka in the 1970s. And yeah, the little Pakeha girl right? Let me make that clear, the
blond girl in the back row. And so the same, I would find
myself more often than not with (speaks foreign
language) in the kitchen because I really don’t mind serving and I love to feed people. And even last Christmas,
my son was teasing me and he goes, “Mom, you’re just a feeder.” And he meant that I just
can’t help myself, you know? It’s like, “Are you hungry,
do you need something else?” (mumbles) And so when we think about food, it’s very easy I think
often for us to disassociate farming and food. And when we think about food, the reason I buy food and
the reason I feed the people around me is because I love them. And so that food has to have love in it all the way from the
land that it came from, through the entire production process to the point I put it on my dinner table and in fact, after that as
it goes back to the land. And you know, my mother was a gardener and I come from a long
line of nursery people, of gardeners and you know, I have a big organic veggie garden and some of you, who may have been here
a couple of years ago know that I’m also a beekeeper
and I speak about bees. And so, you know, for me, that’s very much that integrated agriculture. So, I want to talk to
you a little bit about regenerative agriculture and I’m currently doing my
regenerative practitioner training so you know, I’m a baby at this and some of you may be way further along. But what I really take from
that last bit that Charles said is we start with what
we’ve got and the tools that we have in front of us and what doesn’t matter, whether we’re working
on indigenous issues or if we’re working on food issues, we’re working on homelessness, all of this needs to be healed. And I think what I really
like about this approach is that we really think
about it as a system instead of going, “I’m
just going to do my bit.” And then feeling not
good enough about our bit being not big enough,
perhaps or not taking on enough of the pie. So, we have this big divide
and we have this sort of, discussions at the moment and it’s interesting. We’re about to release
our environmental plan from Beef And Lamb and we
have all these kind of, it’s almost like the old
sustainability movement has become one of like
doing the least harm, right? And if we think about that medical model of doing the least harm, it’s not at all the same
as saying, “How do I keep the patient healthy?” Makes sense? And so, we’ve kind of
got caught in a paradigm for a while now about
doing the least harm. And with it, we’ve all got this like, debates about organic
and I want to be clear, I’m not poking anything
in the eye of organic, I have this organic
vegetable garden at home, I’m really supportive of organics but we also all know the stories about industrial organic, right? And so, we can no longer kind of go, “Organic good. Non-organic bad.” Because we suddenly, if we
start to play in all that data, we kind of get to a place
where we’re not entirely sure is industrial organic any
better than old-fashioned, or actually not
old-fashioned, new-fashioned interventionist agriculture.
It’s not so clear. And also I want to be clear,
I’m not poking the eye in anybody that’s permaculture specialist and I’ve got one right here in my face. And again, you know, I planted
the permaculture food forest and it’s doing its thing. I’ve just got rid of my chickens actually, gave them to Gareth Hughes
from the Green Party for their garden because we
got sick of the mess, you know? But so I’m all for permaculture but I want to be clear that
there’s perhaps something more. That we can think beyond
some of these labels,, beyond some of these good,
bad, different systems. And you know, you’ve all heard
these kinds of quotes before but “The problems of today
were caused by yesterday’s technological successes.” And I think we often
don’t think about that that often what happens
is we solve a problem, and in solving the problem,
we create the next problem. And we never meant to do that but actually we probably
just have to accept that that’s part of the human condition is that we’re never
going to be able to see 10 problems ahead. And so what we have to do is to think, “What are the principles
by which we’ll live?” And using those principles,
how do we solve the problems? And new problems will come our way. Yeah. And we don’t believe those
sustainability stories anymore and again, for the non-Kiwis in the room, this is our biggest dairy
company in New Zealand. It’s got these lovely
words about sustainability but if you ask most people
outside of the dairy industry, they’re going to tell you that these guys are not sustainable. They’re going to tell you
that the belief from most urban New Zealanders
is that these guys have destroyed our waterways. And I want to be super clear here, I’m not saying that they are sustainable. What’s happened is that
this word sustainability starts being bandied about by everyone and we no longer trust it, right? I fly a lot, much to my embarrassment. At the moment, every time I
sit on that Air New Zealand plane and I see the
video about how they’re supporting the Antarctic and I think my flight just killed another
kilometer of the Antarctic. Right? But they’re trying to tell me that somehow their research is supporting it. I just stopped believing
it anymore, right? And you wonder if they do, yeah? So, we’ve got this much
bigger problem, right? And I really take it out
of what Charles was saying, is that we want to
unfuck the world, right? And it really, truly doesn’t
matter where we start because there’s so much of
it that’s fucked up, right? (audience laughs and claps) So, isn’t that serious? Like, yeah. So, right now I’m
starting with agriculture. But you know, you guys
just pick a path, right? Because we need it all done. Yeah. So what I wanted to think about and it was lovely, Charles
set me up beautifully is starting to think
about, what if our farmers weren’t actually just in the food business but were in the soil business? And if we were in the soil business, because New Zealand made
the transition some time ago to being in the grass business, right? And it really has. When I talk to sheep and beef farmers, I am in awe truly of what they do. So, you don’t know this,
but 25% of New Zealand’s indigenous forest is on
sheep and beef private land, sheep and beef farms. 25%
of our indigenous forest. And it’s growing. I know. Yeah, the only place there
is more indigenous forest than there is on New
Zealand sheep and beef farms is in our national parks. And so, when we think about it, we already have this groundswell in the sheep and beef industry, particularly about
stewardship of the land. When we start to think about how can we grow the right soils, how can we really protect our
soil so that it isn’t just the top centimeter? And one of the great
things I heard recently is, two things, so the word organic basically means carbon, right? And what we’re wanting to
do is to take as much carbon out of our atmosphere as we can and put it in its soil and lock it up and every time we till that soil, every time we expose it, we’re taking carbon back out of the soil and putting it back in the atmosphere. And the other thing I
thought was really fantastic, is this idea that
photosynthesis is basically another word for carbon sequestration. Right, isn’t that cool? And what it means by that,
if you think about it, a plant breathes in carbon
dioxide, keeps the carbon and breathes out the oxygen. And so, the more green that we
have and the deeper the roots of those green, the
more it has the ability to be a source of carbon
sequestration for us. And we often don’t
think about it that way, we think, “Oh, they’re going to come along and take my land and plant forests on it.” But what we really want to be doing is thinking, “How can
we get the most possible photosynthesis on my land?” And so, these lovely long root systems that perennial grasses
and perennial herbs have draw water up from much
lower than ever before, they need less irrigation and of course, they’re much much better
at carbon sequestration. So, we have a lot of work
going on in New Zealand as well as in other countries as to how we can really think carefully about how we create
polycultures on our farms in order to have not just great food but to sequester carbon and
also to encourage all kinds of life forms to come back. So my beef with sustainability
is that is seems to be doing the least worst. What we really want to
be in the business of is healing the soil, healing the land, healing the biodiversity that lives there, and healing the human
beings who are on that land. Really healing the communities. And we can’t just say,
“Oh, it’s a sustainable development thing.” We should be moving right
through to how do we heal that. Yeah. So, there are four key steps. You can read them. But the two I just want to pick up on, really closely is this
idea of thinking about how we can really grow our communities and really heal the people who are there. Globally, farmers have the
highest rate of suicide of any profession. And in New Zealand, our suicide
rate amongst our farming men is really, it’s high,
it’s completely intolerable. And so, when we see that, we can’t separate the healing of the soil from the healing of our men, particularly, who are on our farms. And so strong rural
communities is also important. We have a third less
people working on our farms in New Zealand than we did in 1990. A third less. That means there’s a
third less people living in those rural communities, that’s a third less people
to look after the elderly who live there, a third
less people to turn up when you have a baby with some dinner. A third less to turn up when
you have post-natal depression and you need someone else to talk to and the nearest farm is an hour away. All of that is starting to dissipate and that needs to be healed as much as thinking about just
our, “What do we plant and how are we planting it?” Yeah, some of you, I know
there are a few people here I saw at the Tuhoe working
bee, Yoseph and a few others. And so I’m also the only
independent on the board of our largest architecture
firm in New Zealand and we were the architects
for this building. And when Tuhoe got their settlement, they decided to build a building that was more than a building, a building that would heal their community and that would heal the whole
of the settlement process with them and the Crown. And they built this
beautiful living building of which we were lucky
enough to be architects of. And it’s an extraordinary building, they’re very willing to
have you come and visit and have a look. But it is designed to heal the community, not just to house an administration. And it is utterly extraordinary, if you get the chance
to go, you should go. I mention this because some
farmers I really admire in the Dakotas have done a
very similar relationships where they’ve brought bison
back to the land that they work and healed the land
through their relationships with the indigenous people there and by bringing back the original animals. I’m going to quickly talk about corn because there’s a big
study about regenerative corn growing that showed
that farms that used regenerative practices had
far less pests on the land than the people who used the pesticides. Shock, horror. And because they did integrated farming, they were able to not use
any pesticides on this land, but their pest levels were way lower. They were also far more profitable and I’m just going to talk, this is a New Zealand example. Those of you who eat meat, I’m doing an ad for them. They will do boxes to your home and they’re an extraordinary,
extraordinary farm who are practicing regenerative
farming in New Zealand. I spoke recently at the Beef and Lamb AGM and over a dozen farmers who
practice regenerative farming came and spoke to me and asked
me to champion this cause, which I’ve agreed to do. So what I can is this last idea, and it’s often been credited to Goethe but in fact it’s from
a guy called JM Murray that Goethe was quoting, which is that, “Boldness has genius,
power and magic in it. Begin it now.” Get on with whatever you
can, wherever you are that heals the people around you, the soil that we live in, the animals and the beings
that we could live with and you can’t go wrong. Thank you. (audience applauds)

1 Comment

  • Reply EDR1976 September 22, 2018 at 5:33 pm

    What you are doing is so important! Thank you!!! I am hopeful your advancements will begin to affect the US.

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