19 Oct 2018

Chanelle O'Sullivan is a lot more than just a farmer's wife

From Country Life, 9:45 pm on 19 October 2018

The South Canterbury mother-of-two is developing an educational virtual reality programme with her husband Dave, a support hub for rural start-ups in Timaru and on the side is a marketing specialist and social media maven running the super-successful Facebook pages Farming Mums NZ and Just a Farmer's Wife.

No caption

Photo: RNZ/Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

Chanelle identifies with the term 'multipotentialite'.

"[I'm] 'like an octopus doing eight different eight different projects at the same time, but it works for you because that's how your brain works, otherwise you get bored easily. If I'm ever working on one project at one time I find it easy to get distracted, whereas if I'm flicking between many I'm always stimulated."

Chanel was born and raised on Auckland's north shore, worked as a vet nurse, studied agriculture at Waikato, then worked on a dairy farm at a high country station near Mount Cook.

Now she and her husband Dave farm in Waitohi, west of Temuka.

Chanelle started Farming Mums NZ as a blog back in 2013 when her daughter was one year old.

"You're sort of out of your career, out of your environment, family are nowhere around you and you're living on farm. What's next?"

It's now a website and Facebook group "supporting, inspiring and connecting women that live on farms".

Farming Mums NZ has around 11,000 members, with 50 to 80 new additions every week.

But they do carefully vet newcomers, Chanelle says.

"We've had a couple of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) protestors join the ranks and that always creates a bit of drama."

They have clamped down on people talking about employer-employee relationships, giving veterinary advice and making 'What's the rash on this kid?'-style inquiries, but everything else is on the table, Chanelle says.

"We talk about everything from calf rearing to kids, to recipe sharing, to photos on farm … absolutely everything you can imagine has been discussed."

Chanelle and David O'Sullivan with their children

Chanelle and David O'Sullivan with their children Photo: © Virtual Insight

The Farming Mums NZ Facebook page also has an anonymous section where members can ask more sensitive questions, she says.

"There's a lot of depression and anxiety among these [rural] women. Not sure if any higher than in urban areas, but it's certainly a huge topic of discussion."

Chanelle and Dave are both from urban backgrounds and weren't taught anything about primary industries at school, she says.

"On Instagram this morning I saw people were horrified at seeing shorn sheep because they thought the sheep had to die to get this product. That's really not good enough in this day and age when we have such excellent ability to communicate but people still have no idea."

They hope their Virtual Insight project will help educate school students about what really happens on a farm and promote primary industry careers.

Kids don't want to sit in a hall getting a lecture and slide show to learn, so this way they'll get to experience 360-degree captured footage on augmented reality TV headsets.

"You're being transported to that place without the worry of huge costs and health and safety.

"[We want to] to show kids what happens when the milk leaves the farm or the wool leaves the farm. You could be up in the hills mustering sheep you could be down in the shearing shed, shearing sheep."

Chanelle and Dave are also developing an app which people can use in the supermarket to get information and video content about the origins of an item of produce.

This will improve the traceability and trackability of New Zealand products and farm practices, she says.

"When I'm walking through the supermarket I want to know where the oil was made or the wraps that I'm buying. I want to be able to know where they come from and how they got there.

"Everything we buy is essentially a vote about what we want to see more of."