I’m grateful for the privilege to serve on a number of different boards. The intellectual stimulation that comes from sitting alongside far smarter individuals than myself, collaborating to plot a better future for the organisations we’re entrusted to govern is amazing. At the end of my working week, I try and take a moment to reflect upon how fortunate I am.

At the same time, having lived in the country for 25 years, I’m struck by the pragmatism of rural folk. It’s not a case, as some would naively suggest, of being intellectually-driven in the city and entirely practical in the country – the truth is far more nuanced than that. But despite the nuance, the reality is that the notion of “Kiwi #8 ingenuity” was borne out of rural-folks ability to fix pretty much anything around the farm with a piece of Number eight fencing wire. While GPS driven harvesters and cloud-based farm management solutions have reduced that adage to one of being able to fix many things rather than anything with a piece of number eight fencing wire, the essence of practicality remains.

I was reminded of this fact when I recently attended the Boma Agritech conference. The conference brought together a number of thought leaders in the food and fibre space to discuss how the future would look for the sector. Cue much talk about synthetic proteins, vertical farming and high-value chains.

One thing that was a littler concerning was the lack of actual farmers at the event. There were a number of rural bankers (as always, you can rely on banks to go where the money is) and, to their credit, the organisers had invited a number of Lincoln University agriculture students to attend for free, but I didn’t see many there who actually do the work that feed and clothes people. I’m reminded of my buddy Dan Henry, of Country Calendar fame.  Every time he produces a Country Calendar episode telling the story of people doing farming a different way, I’m sure he hers howls of protest about it not working on “real farms.” As a nation we haven’t yet worked out to really span the theoretical/practical or urban/rural divides and the Boma Summit was no exception to this rule.

Anyway, that aside, one group of farmers that was represented was Meat The Need, an initiative that perfectly encapsulates the glorious practicality of the rural sector. Meat The Need is an programme that describes itself, in a no-nonsense rural way, as New Zealand’s Farmers, Feeding New Zealand’s Families.

The idea of Meat The Need is simple – farmers, who regular have to send their sheep, cattle or deer to the saleyards or abattoir, are able to donate an animal or animals to Meat The Need. From there, Silver Fern Farms, the processing partner of Meat The Need, kills and processes the animal, and bags it up into 500 gram packs of mince. From there, Meat The Need takes care of distributing the mince to the various community groups and food banks that, sadly, have an increasing demand on their supply. The end result – Kiwis less fortunate than others, can enjoy sustainably-grown New Zealand lamb, beef and venison.

It’s worth thinking for a moment on the difference (and excuse my gross generalization here) between an urban and a rural approach towards solving poverty. In the urban context, the answer would be to muster (pun intended) a group of economists, policy wonks, Wellington beltway civil servants and other associated shiny arses (as rural folk undoubtedly call them)_ and come up with some high-level strategies or focus groups to consider policy changes that might, in a decade or two, solve the problem.

The rural sector approach is one of pragmatism and independence – rolling up sleeves, leveraging exiting models and networks and providing a grassroots solution to a grassroots problem. It’s also handy that another consequence of initiatives such as Meat The Need is to subvert the dominant characterization of rural folks as down home rednecks that care nothing for those less fortunate than themselves.

Meat The Need is something that the rural sector should be justifiably proud of and the urban sector should consider an exemplar of solution and systems-based thinking. It’s a group that should be applauded and supported at every turn.

Ben Kepes is a Canterbury-based entrepreneur and professional board member. He’s only lived in the country for 25 years so has at least 50 to go before he’s accepted by the country folk.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.


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