Man of the community – and the land

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Lorraine and Kevin Geddes in their Tinwald garden.

By Maureen Bishop

Working for non-profit organisations is hugely rewarding because of the enthusiastic people they attract, says Kevin Geddes.

And he should know. Much of his life has been spent working for non-profit groups, many of them in the agricultural sector.

Mr Geddes received a Queen’s Service Medal in the New Year’s Honours list for service to agriculture and the community.

“Enthusiastic people want to do things,” he said, “and that enthusiasm is infectious and inspiring.”

For 26 years he has worked for Federated Farmers, now spending three days a week as a policy analyst in the Mid Canterbury office.

Mr Geddes and his wife, Lorraine, both grew up in the Maniatoto and ran a sheep and beef farm before moving to Mid Canterbury for fresh challenges in 1973.

In 1972 he had spent several months overseas as a Nuffield scholar and came home with a desire to try cropping.

The move to Carew, gave the couple the opportunity to combine cropping with sheep and beef and by 1984 they had established a dairy unit on another property.

“The decade of the 60s were the golden years for sheep farmers, while the ’80s were desperate years for sheep farmers,” Mr Geddes said.

At the end of those desperate years the New Zealand Rural Support Trust was established, and the hunt was on for the first co-ordinator. He was junior vice-president of Mid Canterbury Federated Farmers at the time and involved in the search.

With no success, Mr Geddes said that with a “rush of blood to the head” he offered to fill the roll fulltime for 12 months.

“It was the hardest 18 months of my life. It opened my eyes to a lot of things. The biggest thing job was mediating between farmers and their creditors.

“It was hard but the nobility of the human spirit was inspiring.”

At the end of the contract he became provincial chief executive for Federated Farmers.

He has also been a member of the emergency relief committee.

In the early days these organisations were mainly involved in helping farmers through adverse events but now the Ministry for Primary Industries is keen to see them become involved with farmers’ wellness, encouraging farmers to build resilience and manage stress.

Mr Geddes is a trustee of the Mid Canterbury Farmers’ Charitable Trust and executive director of the New Zealand Groundspread Fertiliser Association, encouraging farmers and the ancillary industry group in good practices.

His service to the community goes much wider.

He spent 10 years on the national board of the Royal Federation of Justices’ Association, the national body for Justices of the Peace.

During his two years as national president major changes were made to the role of justices – not an easy thing to achieve for a conservative organisation. He also spent a year as president of the Australasian association and has spent 20 years on the bench.

A former trustee of the Advance Ashburton Community Trust, he is pleased to see the trust attracting financial backing from the community and being able to fund such things as a rural academic health centre.

The trust will help fund for a pilot of three years, three part time academic rural hospital positions, all based at Ashburton Hospital – a senior lecturer in rural hospital medicine, a lecturer in senior nursing and a senior research analyst – for teaching under and post graduate students. Mr Geddes is on the vestry of the St Stephen’s Anglican Church and a trustee of the trust which operates church housing.

For the past 15 years the couple have lived in Ashburton and while Mr Geddes has spent around 35 years commuting to Wellington on farming business he has never had the desire to live there.

“You can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy.”