Women in Ag: Nicky Berger

By: Shannon Williams

Auckland farmers Nicky and Dan Berger are part of the Open Farms initiative, which is in line with Nicky’s passion of connecting town and country

For the first time, Nicky and Dan Berger are opting to welcome guests onto their sheep and beef farm, located on the outskirts of Auckland, in the hope of opening up some minds, just like Nicky’s did when she first came into the sector.

Scheduled to take place nationwide on 21 February, changes in COVID-19 alert levels saw the nationwide Open Farms initiative postponed, with the new date yet to be announced at the time of this issue going to print [Ed's note: The initiative has been rescheduled for Sunday, 21 March 2021].

Fresh vision

Nicky and Dan Berger are passionate about promoting the value of farming

After the unexpected death of Nicky’s father, Nicky found herself spending more time with then-boyfriend (now husband) Dan on the farm.

"I had my eyes opened to what an amazing, diverse sector farming was, and the complexity of what farming was as a vocation," she says.

"Some of the stereotypes that I brought into the sector when I first came were that it was a male-dominated sector, and I didn’t think it was a highly skilled job. I was proved completely wrong," she says.

"I didn’t realise the amount of thought and strategy that went into it, and the ability to take discrete pieces of data and use that to make these big decisions. I didn’t realise how complex and amazing it was.

"I not only wanted to be part of a vocation that just had so much complexity and so much versatility but I also knew that I wanted other people to know and to break out of the stereotypes about what people thought farming was."

Nicky has now been farming with Dan for 17 years. Prior to that, they ran a shearing gang for a few years. Before rural life, Nicky was working in Auckland in the building sector and completed a Bachelor of Planning at the University of Auckland.

"I’ve definitely seen a change. Because of social media and because there has been a massive change in the sector, because of the work of Beef and Lamb, and Dairy NZ, and the Agri Women’s Development Trust have done to highlight our sector and talk about our sector outside of just talking to farmers," she says.

"And then you have bloggers and social media where we actually connect with people who aren’t farmers, too. I think it’s done a huge amount for people to grow their understanding and, of course, initiatives such as Open Farms are the perfect opportunity for people to get on farms and talk to farmers about what we do and why we do it."

Opening up

Sharing the joys of farming with the next generation

Nicky says she was probably the project’s number-one fan from when Daniel Eb, the founder, first started Open Farms.

"We’ve remained in contact and remained mutual supporters of each other’s work and so when the opportunity came to give them a hand to make 2021 happen, I just jumped at it," she says.

Nicky and Dan volunteered to open their gates and property to allow visitors onto their farm as part of the Open Farms initiative.

To showcase the realities of farming life, Nicky made the effort to offer a true insight into what goes on behind the scenes on a daily basis: everything from a shearing demonstration to having farmers and food producers on hand for people to chat to.

"And showcasing them the drought because it’s pretty parched out here at the moment. But this is all real life on a farm."

Nicky says Open Farms is a good opportunity to show people first-hand the effects of what a drought and water shortages can do to a farm and the impact on a business.

"I was actually going to connect a sprinkler to a hose down by the woolshed and turn it on a little bit every day for the next couple of weeks to show people if we’d had rain, this is what our pasture would have looked like right now," she says.

Nicky says initiatives such as Open Farms are important to bridge the gap between the public and the sector.

"People are increasingly not trusting what they see and read on social media, and in quite a post-truth era, I think the best way for people to connect is in one-on-one, face-to-face interactions," she says.

"Open Farms is a social engagement project; it’s not coming from a careers angle. It’s about people having a chance to see where their food begins, whether that’s a vegetable-based farm, an orchard, a sheep and beef farm, or dairy farm.

"It’s about strengthening those connections between how your food starts and how your food ends up on your plate in front of you, and just getting people to think about that a little bit more.

"The people who come to our farm are the same people that influence our decision-makers at a local level and at a national government level. So this is a good opportunity to get them thinking about how different policies will impact food growers in New Zealand."

Life on the farm

Helpful hounds assisting with sheep handling

Nicky and Dan’s property is located just west of Warkworth, where they run a sheep and beef farm. They use a range of equipment, including a Maxim 2.5-metre mower, Hustler bale feeder, Handypiece kit and battery, C-Dax spreader, Tru-test weighing system, Combi Clamp, Prattley sheep yards, and a John Deere 6300.

Nicky and Dan have four children, aged 15, 13,10, and 8, who all help out on the farm.

"They acknowledge the privilege. I think sometimes they get sick of working so hard and wish Mum and Dad would get off the farm a bit more, but they are incredibly privileged that they get the best of both of worlds living so close to town and that they’ve got the opportunity to work on farms," Nicky says.

"They’ve been able to create their own businesses within our farm business from quite a young age, so that might be selling sheep poo to local gardeners. Our two oldest kids are now learning to shear sheep and are able to shear small mobs of sheep around the community. There are some cool opportunities for them to learn about business and the nature of work," she says.

Outside of the farm, Nicky enjoys powerlifting and weight training. GrassFed in the city is her Facebook and Twitter platform, where she talks about farming and issues around farming.

"I try to share the good, bad, and the ugly around food production," she says.

Her husband and two older kids are getting ready to head off to the Golden Shears in Masterton and NZ Shears in Te Kuiti.

To learn more about Open Farms, visit openfarms.co.nz.

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