Support and inspiration for rural women

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Julie Dee embodies the benefits of the Dairy Women’s Network.
The Ikawai sharemilker, who is in her native Scotland for her parents’ golden wedding anniversary, is the organisation’s North Otago regional convener. She is also an ambassador for the Pathways Programme it developed with the Agri-Women’s Trust, to identify women’s skills and help them to lead changes
in their businesses and communities.
Having completed the six-month course in November, she believes it should be offered more widely.
“Many in the dairy industry are feeling the squeeze at the moment, but initiatives such as the Pathways Programme are hugely important,” Mrs Dee said. “We need programmes like this to lift people up in dairy communities, because the need has never been greater.”
When she heard Dairy Women’s Network chief executive Zelda de Villiers speak about it last year, she said “there was a fire lit in my belly”.
She stepped up as the volunteer convener and applied for the Pathways Programme, becoming one of almost 30 who have undertaken it with funding from DairyNZ and the Ministry for Primary Industries.
Not letting the grass grow under her feet has characterised Mrs Dee’s eventful life. The daughter of Scottish rugby representative Peter Brown and niece of Scotland and Lions player Gordon Brown, she left her Glasgow media career to go to the 2003 Rugby World Cup in Australia then came to New
Zealand to play the sport herself and work for a year.
She met her future husband, Paul Dee, at the 2004 Waimate Hunt Ball and they have been sharemilking in Waimate and Waitaki for a decade. They married in 2008 and now have two children, Connor (6) and Erin (4).
Dairying was a new experience for Mrs Dee, who was soon milking and feeding calves.
“The Pathways Programme opened my eyes to my own achievements. I’d never stopped to take stock of what I’d done. I moved to the other side of the world, started a totally different career and became a mum, and it wasn’t until I went on the programme that I realised the grit and determination it
had taken to do that, and to appreciate what I had achieved.
“We need to stop saying things like `I’m just a mum’, or `I’m just a Playcentre parent’. Those are all areas where you are learning valuable skills and taking on important roles and responsibilities.
“The Pathways Programme helped me to reconnect to my core strengths, and boosted my confidence.”
Although the Dees finished their sharemilking contract before their Scottish holiday, they are “very committed to staying in the district”, Mrs Dee said.
She is seeking people to come forward as potential Dairy Women’s Network leaders, and join in its activities.
Membership has soared to some 250 members since she became convener, with nearly 200 followers on the North Otago Facebook page.
“It’s amazing seeing the number of women who are engaged and are enjoying making connections through the group.”
Mrs Dee has organised workshops on topics including health and safety, calf-rearing, negotiating contracts, and budgeting. Last year she worked with Federated Farmers, the Rural Support Trust, Plunket, and local vets and banks to put on support days for dairy personnel in Waitaki and Waimate.
She has also set up regular social gatherings to stave off isolation for farming women.
“If I can be part of something for the women of the region, and help make the region stronger, it’s worth it,” Mrs Dee said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: “A determined over-achiever who takes everything in her stride, Julie is both supporting and inspiring our rural women.” –┬áMelanie Tavendale