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Community leadership celebrated by Dairy Women’s Network

For immediate release

10 April 2017

Community leadership celebrated by Dairy Women’s Network

Community leadership, a willingness to share knowledge and a passion for rural life are all qualities shared by this year’s Dairy Community Leadership Award finalists.

The Dairy Community Leadership Award is a Dairy Women’s Network (DWN) initiative which recognises the unsung heroes of rural communities. This year’s award will be presented at an awards ceremony during the DWN conference in Queenstown, 11-12 May.

This year’s finalists are dairy farmers Cathy Prendergast, Katrina Thomas and Alison Ferris.

Prendergast lives in the Arohena district in Waikato, south east of Te Awamutu. As well as being a registered nurse, she is involved in most of Arohena’s community initiatives and groups including playcentre, school, church, and has been a member of the Arohena Rural Women Committee for 30 years. She has just completed her first year of a MBA at the University of Waikato.

Thomas worked in the tourism industry for more than 20 years before returning to her farming roots in Southland. In 2012 she became DWN’s regional convenor for Invercargill and in 2016 took on a new role as the Southern Regional Hub leader. She’s involved with several community groups including Takitimu School PTA, Western Southland Tennis, Takitimu District Board Pool, is editor of the Takitumu Community newsletter and much more.

Originally from the UK, Ferris lives on a 500 cow dairy farm outside Te Kuiti, and she and her family also own farms in Waikato and Southland. She is active on several school and community boards and groups and represents DWN’s regional convenors on its board of trustees.

“I have often said that our dairy communities are supported by people just like Cathy, Katrina and Alison,” says DWN Chief Executive Zelda de Villiers.

“In any rural community you have those special people who keep the wheels of groups and initiatives turning, while continuing to milk the cows and raise families. While it may seem effortless from the outside, we know there’s a huge amount of work and dedication there and too often it goes unrecognised.”

The Dairy Community Leadership Award is sponsored by ASB and Tompkins Wake and includes a scholarship prize to attend a leadership programme. The selection panel comprises DWN’s CEO, ASB and Tompkins Wake representatives and a DWN regional convenor.

The award recognises the voluntary role dairy farming women have in leading their communities and sharing their time and skills beyond the farm gate.

Prendergast says the passion she has for her community, and agriculture in general, makes community involvement fun.

“It’s not a job for me at all. I genuinely enjoy giving back to my community. I feel like I’ve gotten so much out of living here – I’ve spent most of my life here and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else,” she says.

Thomas says she gets a lot of satisfaction from seeing newcomers to the rural community “establish themselves” and find enjoyment in a farming lifestyle.

“I wear many hats in my community and as a result I’m constantly meeting new people who have arrived to live in our part of New Zealand. It’s great being able to work with them and help them settle in and see for themselves how great our community is.”

Ferris’ journey to community leadership began at a DWN conference in 2014. “A friend asked me if I wanted to head along, so I went and ended up leaving feeling really inspired,” she says.

“I’ve found the opportunities that have been made available to me as a DWN member have given me fantastic experience and an even bigger love of farming and all things rural.”

Previous Dairy Community Leadership Award winners are: Lisa Hicks from Manawatu (2016), Rachael Nicholson and Jo Sanford from Southland (2015) and Chris Paterson from Rotorua (2014).


About the finalists

Cathy Prendergast has been farming in partnership with her husband Nick for 32 years. Together they milk 550 cows in Arohena, south east of Te Awamutu. She has been involved with the community ever since moving to Arohena more than 30 years ago. She has been president and patroness of Arohena Playcentre, chair of Arohena School’s board of trustees, president of Arohena Rural Women for two years and a member for 30 years. She currently coordinates the Arohena/Ngaroma St John Community First Response group and just completed her first year of a MBA at the University of Waikato.

Katrina Thomas was born and raised on a sheep farm in Tuatapere, Southland and returned back to Southland after spending 21 years in the tourism industry overseas and in New Zealand. She and her husband James converted their Wreys Bush sheep farm to dairy in 2011 and are currently milking 840 cows, with Katrina project managing the conversion while being Branch President of Central Southland Plunket. She became DWN’s Invercargill regional convenor in 2012 and later helped set up a DWN regional hub for Otago and Southland regions. She is the president of Takitimu Primary School’s PTA, the Western Tennis Association, a committee member of the Takitimu District Pool, the Takitimu District Pet Day and each month produces the Takitimu Community Newsletter. She is currently working with Southland Hospice and Winton FarmSource Store to establish a calf rearing scheme for this season.

Alison Ferris was teaching in Cambridge, UK when she met her husband Nick. She followed him back to New Zealand to live on their 500 cow dairy farm outside Te Kuiti. Since then they have had three daughters and built up their farming business alongside family to own farms in Waikato and Southland. She continues to teach one day a week at the primary school while looking after HR and health and safety across their farms. She is on the Rangitoto School board of trustees and is chair of the Rangitoto Hall’s board. She was previously chair of the Te Kuiti Plunket committee and currently sits on the parent support committee for her youngest children’s’ daycare. Alison is a regional convenor for DWN and represents other convenors on DWN’s national board of trustees.

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