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12Feb

Making their own luck

The view from under the veranda at the homestead of Kimberley Farm couldn’t be a more typical kiwi summer day. The backdrop is the majestic Mount Hutt, in the foreground, a high-octane game of backyard cricket. The wickets are two crates tipped on their side, of the seven children self-rotating in and out of the game, at least three are shirtless and it appears the rules are New Zealand backyard standard. Over the fence on the full is out, no LBW and naturally, it’s tip and run. And since they are all Currie’s, if you decide to tap in, you’d better have an accurate throw because there’s no doubt, they’re all good runners. 

It’s one week until Christmas and today Russell Currie has been out testing his mower and getting prepared for the upcoming grass seed harvest. He’s been weighing cattle and had to draft up a line of mixed breed two-year-old Primes who will get picked up tomorrow. Karen has been in organising mode, with children and grandchildren rolling in the door all day, and everyone home for Christmas.

 

Cattle are about one-third of the Currie’s farming business. As well as the home farm, which is 300ha the Curries have a block at Pudding Hill where they finish cattle on grass. Russell buys and sells cattle all year round and is not breed specific. He is a long-time, loyal supplier to Silver Fern Farms as the processor for his animals and says, “I’m a supporter of co-operatives, I just stick with one and believe in the supply or buying power for the farmer.”

Russell chases the Prime market buying 400-500kg liveweight stock and taking them through to finishing weight at Prime. Over winter the cattle come back to the home block and are transitioned onto fodder beet. Russell has used fodder beet for the past five years and he is pleased with the great yields he gets per ha of land. “It’s very efficient land use and with careful management, we’ve had good success with the cattle, and we have used it for some winter lambs.” 

 

Having been at Kimberley Farm for 60 years, bringing his wife Karen there and raising their children, Russell has no doubts it was the right thing to do. “I was on my OE, travelling through Europe and Africa – well I worked so I could travel, and then I travelled until I had to work” he laughs “and my parents told me to come home or the farm would be for sale. I have no regrets in coming home, but I would never put that kind of pressure on the children. We want our children to follow what they want to do and if they want to come home and farm then that’ll be up to them.”

Russell’s parents Tom and Natalie Currie moved to Kimberley Farm in 1960 from Highbank. Russell attended primary school in Methven then went onto St Andrews College in Christchurch. At 18 he went travelling and by 21 he’d had the call to come home. Russell and Karen met when they were each the groomsman and bridesmaid at a mutual friend’s wedding, and one year after that wedding, they were married.

 

Karen Currie grew up in Dunedin. She trained as a kindergarten teacher and after training college had gone to the North Island for a job. Having been there a while a friend encouraged her to take a job at Thomas Street Kindy in Ashburton and this led to different opportunities in Early Childhood education.

Taking over Kimberley Farm, Russell and Karen were initially in partnership with brother Russell’s brother Campbell and his wife Thirza. Eventually, Russell and Karen bought Campbell and Thirza out and they bought a farm across the Rakaia river.

 

Irrigation has been a big change and has created opportunities for new farming practices for the Currie’s. Although the farm is situated in a reasonably high rainfall area – it also gets the nor west rain – the addition of irrigation, even a limited amount, has enabled a changed land use from sheep and main stream crops to a focus on cattle and high quality, niche and specialist seeds. Five years ago, the Curries made the decision to sell the sheep and just focus on cattle and high value crop, and for Russell there is no looking back as change, he proclaims is the only way forward.

“It was a significant day. We stopped at Sheffield sold all the capital ewes then, jumped in the car and carried on to the West Coast to watch the kids competing in the Coast to Coast. Little did we know that this change for us was also signalling a change for all our children, as this race has helped influence the direction of their lives” Russell said.

 

Like many farmers the Currie’s have also been immersed in the local community, following their children’s interests. Karen was on Board of Trustees, involved with Plunket mothers, floral festivals and A & P shows and Russell is very proud of his 46-year service to Search and Rescue. 

For Anna, Glen and Braden, growing up on Kimberley Farm meant jobs in the summer holidays. “I would keep the shearing, tailing and rouging for school holidays, Anna didn’t like the woolshed much, the boys never minded, however they were all pretty keen when they needed money” Russell laughs.

On family Russell is quick to point out “my parents always encouraged us to get off the farm for a decent break. In the summer holidays every year we went to Wanaka for a week, then later for two weeks in the Sounds. This was important for us as farming is not a five day a week job, so when we were away, we really got time to be together as a family. Camping, tramping and water skiing.”

 

One of the very special things about the Currie family is their mental strength and the ability to recognise that you need a relentlessly positive mind set to take on big challenges and thrive. Through the downturn of the 80s and in tough times Russell said “you have to get your mind centred on the positive as soon as you can. Get to work and focus on what you need to do, and it all starts to work out.”

Russell and Karen’s daughter Anna Johnson, has had a journey which inspires many locals to change their lifestyle, join the gym, set a goal and get out there and do it. Her bubbly attitude and infectious nature motivate people to believe in themselves. Through her role as a gym trainer and instructor she has inspired hundreds of people to take on their bucket list challenges.

Anna lives in Methven and is married to Jeremy. They have two children Tilly (11) and Pat (8). After Mount Hutt College, Anna trained at the College of Education in Dunedin, completing a Bachelor of Education. She played netball at school, “it was an era when rugby, netball and cricket were pretty much your only choices for sport, not like our kids have today.” After having children Anna joined the gym and decided to become a LES MILLS Body Balance Instructor. From there she added the RPM programme, then took on Challenge Wanaka, went from managing a small studio fitness business to the role of EA Networks Gym Manager when the facility first opened in Ashburton. From there it was on to competing in the Coast to Coast and a full ironman distance race at Challenge Wanaka.

 

Anna’s dream has been to be able to do what she loves in the community she loves. In November 2019 she took a leap of faith and opened Garage Gym in the Methven township. The gym employs one other full timer and operates group fit classes. Anna’s emphasis has changed “my focus now is not so much on being fit to race but on being fit for life. I have no need for an end goal right now. If it’s a walk day, great, or a five-hour run then, cool. For right now it’s about maintaining my fitness, so I have a good quality of life, rather than having a point in time fixed in my mind. It’s nice to have the pressure off.”

Russell and Karen’s son, Glen Currie, is the current Race Director for New Zealand’s most prestigious multi-sport event, the Kathmandu Coast to Coast. He considers himself fortunate to have grown up in Methven as it allowed him, Anna and Braden to be exposed to both a traditional rural upbringing as well as the influence that tourism has on the area. “I was never really very good at traditional sports; they didn’t come naturally to me due to a lack of genetic speed and size! However, I discovered a passion for snowboarding in my early teen years and would be up the mountain whenever I could. This was probably where I developed a real passion for the outdoors which later stemmed to multisport.”

 

 

Glen studied and taught Physical Education, Geography and Outdoor Education, taking up multi-sport when he was at University. In the ensuing years Glen became a competitive multi-sport athlete – twice coming third place in the Longest Day Coast to Coast and with Team NZ Adventure, winning all four stages in the world’s most prestigious multisport event, the Wulong Challenge in China. 

Glen’s time is now split between the Coast to Coast, a role that is all about people – including five people working on the event all year, over 250 staff and volunteers on race day, sponsors and over 1000 competitors – and farming with father Russell.  Glen said “at times the farm is the perfect place to troubleshoot challenges in terms of the Coast to Coast. I find shifting break fences on frosty mornings the perfect way to unravel the challenges of the event and clear my head.”

Glen met wife Bronwyn at University and they both travelled to Colorado to teach skiing. Bronwyn continued work as a ski instructor for the next eight years until Glen finally convinced her to come home permanently. They have three sons, Mackenzie (10), Tom (8) and Nixon (5). “My family and I are really fortunate to have so many options and opportunities both working for Coast to Coast and with the farm. Dad has taught me, in my short time working on the farm, that you need to be able to adapt, and often when things in farming are looking all doom and gloom, there are other opportunities just around the corner. After two years I would be embarrassed to call myself a farmer. However, I think the ability to adapt is going to be critical in agriculture in the future, especially as we face the challenge of society continually voicing how they want their food produced” Glen said.

 

In the world of triathlon, adventure racing or multisport Braden Currie is a household name. He’s also quite understated “growing up we were sporty, but we weren’t into endurance base sports. I was the smart alec younger brother and Glen could beat me up if he wanted to, but I’d always give him a run for his money.”

Running seemed to be a natural thing for Braden to do, and he was fast. As a teenager at Mount Hutt College, a teacher saw potential in Braden and encouraged him to run. His speed plus seeing what Glen was doing lead Braden to have a go at the Coast to Coast, a race he’s now won three times. Braden says “I’m a great believer in luck. And I find the harder I work the more I have of it”. The hard work has paid off and from success in multisport, then adventure racing and onto Xterra (off road triathlon), Braden has found his way to triathlon and has set himself the goal of doing what no other Kiwi has done, win the World Ironman Champs in Kona, Hawaii. In 2018 Braden placed 5th and in 2019, after a tough bike leg where he’d come off 23rd, he went on to run the marathon in the 3rd fastest time that day to give himself an overall 7th placing. But nearly, for Braden, is not enough. 

Now a fully professional athlete Braden, wife Sally and their children Tarn (11) and Bella (6) are all fully immersed in the way of life it takes to win. Sally is no stranger to sport, having grown up in Methven, she and Braden met on the OPC course, where she was an instructor. She had completed a degree in Physical Education at Otago. Furthering her studies, Sally also has a Bachelor of Naturopathy giving her a holistic approach in supporting Braden.

For now, it’s all eyes on training with the next goal of qualification to Kona through the New Zealand Ironman in February 2020. Wanaka is home for Braden and Sally and they appreciate the support of the community there. “Tarn and Bella are lucky to be able to travel the world with us. They are thriving with the mix of home school and classroom based. Wanaka is a unique place as there are other families who have semi/professional sportsmen and women, and the school and teachers have respect for what we are doing” said Sally.

 

With three successful children and their families all chasing big dreams, Russell and Karen are very proud of their children and excited for the future ahead. “I still want to physically farm every day, but nowadays I do seem to have a game of golf on the days when the lambs need dagging” Russell jokes. “I get asked when I’m going to hand over and stop driving the header, but I’ve realised if I do that, then I’m going to end up driving the trailers carting the grain and I’d still rather be in the header. I’m not ready to let go yet.”

“Farming has been good to me. To make money in farming you need longevity. My Mum said, ‘don’t keep all your eggs in one basket’ and over the years when one thing was down, then another was up. When people speak badly about farming, I always say, well they’re going to need food. Yes, there is more administration and more auditing. But if we have hungry people that’s when we really have trouble. I foresee there will be changes in the types of food we eat and therefore in what we grow. Some people are worried about the move to synthetic meats, but I think world is well entrenched in natural meats. What concerns me most is the amount of plastic agriculture is now using, it has changed so much and I’m pleased China stopped taking our rubbish… now New Zealand must face up and find solutions to our own environmental problems” Russell said. 

 

As in agriculture the Currie family are determined to keep growing and getting better at what they do. Twelve months ago, the family purchased a block near the Methven Golf Course and this year are undergoing consent to subdivide 20 blocks. With races around the world to follow, events to win, a race to direct and a new business to run, there is no doubt each of them will be working hard at making their own luck.

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