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Lessons From My Right Wing Father | Jodie Bruning

Guest Opinion

Lessons From My Right Wing Father

By Jodie Bruning

It’s an election year and I am pondering my past and my present.

You see, I vote Green, I have for years, yet all my beliefs, I learnt from my right wing farmer father. It’s a bit confusing.

However with my value set, I feel compelled to vote like this. But how did I get here?

I believe it’s a ‘resource’ thing. Money, environment, future. It’s all connected.

My father was a sole parent after my mother placed me in an adoption centre from birth. Back in the seventies it was a pretty risky thing giving a bloke a new baby girl to look after, 40 miles out of town and in the middle of the Australian bush, so it wasn’t until I was 9 months old that he actually got me, along with a nurse who stayed around long enough to teach him how to feed me Carnation Evaporated Milk and burp me.

My dad came from a family that only ever voted Liberal (National in NZ). There wasn’t a choice. It was what you did.

We were on the farm until I was 5, the lanolin of the shearing shed, the howl of the wild dogs at night, and the snake on the veranda that I inched past to run for help - will stay with me forever. Dad inevitably realised we had to move into town, that it was the best decision for his little girl.

Contract farming on his mother’s farm, doing odd jobs for friends and cutting grass for the local council became patchy income for a single father. He became a bricklayer, cementer, painter, welder and preserver.

The vegetable garden took up a large part of our backyard, and in summer we lived off it, with it supplying our greens the rest of the year. I watched him digging weeds into the garden one day and couldn’t understand why he didn’t toss them in the bin. He explained how the weeds feed the soil and build it up. Our house was on red clay. Over the years he had built the soil into a healthy brown humus. As a kid, running scraps out to the compost bin was part of my day.

He rotated his plantings, something obvious to every home gardener today – there is less chance for insect populations and diseases to build up in the soil. He wouldn’t buy chemicals because chemicals cost money. It was cheaper to nourish the soil.

My first environmental lesson.

Today I look at the pressure on farmers to mono-crop, the demands to supply the cheapest product at any cost. How can farmers continue to nourish and replenish the soil on a long term basis and continue to deliver at the prices the supermarket duopoly demands? When will supermarket prices be reflected in farm gate returns (excepting dairy)? How can farmers from a thousand different backgrounds stand their ground against 2 companies?

Is that what makes me a ‘greenie’? Or a communist? Wanting farmers to get properly paid for the fruit and vegetables they produce, encourage local production (and jobs) and ensure local food gets on local supermarket shelves?

Bottles were returned for recycling. Thirty years later I still can’t believe New Zealand doesn’t have a deposit-refund system to help pay for the processing of all the glass and plastic bottles. Wouldn’t funding for such a system help aid new technologies and improve processing plants? It could help employment and even lead to exports of knowledge and tech. Yet today it’s a ‘green’ issue. ‘Left’ on the backburner. Too politically tricky.

More environmental lessons from a right winger.

In order to survive being a farmer in a town, we often ‘went bush’. This was where my dad was happiest. We would four-wheel-drive all over North Eastern Victoria, disappearing for days at a time, often with a local club. Learning to leave camp sites immaculate, to drive so that you didn’t make bog holes bigger, discussion about bushfires and how important it was to maintain roads for the fire brigade (we always had a chainsaw with us, just in case) and simple practical points – like why would you kill a snake if it wasn’t doing you any harm?

The crystal clear rivers. Don’t throw your dirty washing liquid in there, don’t pee in them. Would Dad be dismayed if he knew just how many rivers were unswimmable today? Either from toxic algae from fertiliser (nitrogen) run-off or animal poo? Isn’t it logical that a ‘bottom line’ would be a river that’s healthy enough to swim in?

Isn’t that a long term financially smart decision? Or is it a ‘green’ perspective?

My plastic lunch bags would be washed and rewashed and pegged out on the line to dry. This was in a time before mini bags of chips would be available for every kid to take to school. I just got sandwiches and fruit. And of course we never had money for coke and chips and stuff like that. Snacks were simple. Fruit or do your own baking.

Today my kids get sandwiches, fruit, and home baking from a big lot that lasts a couple of weeks. No plastic. No gladwrap. No rubbish. My dad taught me that.

Are my kids missing out?

The crash came in 1988 and my father lost his savings. Shaken and often profoundly worried about the future, he said to me once he could never retire as he didn’t have the money. (Dying of skin cancer at 64 solved that problem.) But that lesson taught me to regard the finance and investment industry with caution. To consider financial risk for what it really could be. Risk.

Economic lessons too.

Would we hop in the car every time we wanted something from town? ‘Course not. We would make lists and plan so that we saved fuel. Today I live 20 kilometres out of town and try to go only once a week. I spend less money that way too. And like my dad, I drive a diesel car. They last longer.

His decisions were financial, mine are more environmental, yet we end up in exactly the same spot – spending less energy. Being kinder on our wallets and on the planet. Resource focussed.

Careful has become mindful.

Back in the seventies we had pear trees, our family grew plum and peach trees and we all grew tonnes of tomatoes. So during certain periods of the year our kitchen became busy as we set to cutting, de-stoning fruit and chopping tomatoes with sticky syrup trickling down our arms. Dessert for most of the year was preserved fruits with cream. Tomato sauce was only ever home-made. And my father made the signature family raspberry jam.

Did he have the time? Most likely he did. But fruit is ready for harvest whether you are or not, so there were many times when we would be preserving at night in order to have the fruit bottled before it went bad. Forget TV. Mother Nature calls the shots there.

Here in New Zealand, my husband’s grandfather tended the vegetable garden for the family on their dairy farm north of Tauranga. All three boys ended up over 6 foot. Times were financially tough and the home grown vegetables helped tremendously. And again, the family voted blue.

But today 95% of the people I know who grow fruit and vegetables on a significant scale vote left or green. It seems to be almost a political comment.

What my father did intuitively – processing fruit - has become something considered a little loopy. But I will eat my stunning $3 per kilogram spray-free harawera plums in mid-winter that I Bottled at night when I had time and know that it makes financial sense.

Yes, it’s a choice.

Today most mothers I know who go to the effort to buy spray free or organic don’t do so because of supposedly better nutrients in the food. They do it to avoid chemicals. It’s as simple as that. Do you think they are ‘a bit alternative’?

And when people look at me because I sound a little too ‘Green’ I explain to them that I want my children to eat as simply, as healthily as their grandparents who grew up on farms. And summer fruit is cheap, so I save money by bottling.

Buying local fruit and vegetables in season is the cheapest and tastiest way to eat. I try to buy locally, just like my father would have. It would have shocked my father to buy expensive, out of season imported lemons from America. I also don’t buy processed stuff. Just like him. There are friends who consider me a bit strange. But I am OK with that.

He did what was sensible. But of course today being a ‘locavore’ seems to be a mindful environmentally conscious decision. It’s a bigger political act today, only buying locally and campaigning on behalf of small producers. People have looked at me as if I was mad when I acted to prevent prohibitive legislative changes that make it harder for small producers to set up and sell produce on a small scale. ‘Why should I bother?’ Does that make me a Greenie?

So how did I end up being a Green voter? I really feel I have simply maintained the same values as my father. I don’t feel my beliefs are any different from his.

But I get the feeling that today these things I do are ‘far left’ or ‘hippy’. It’s all a bit confusing.

Which is when it struck me.

Have I have stayed in the middle? Has the right moved more right? I believe I am a ‘conservative’ – I want to conserve this world – not add to its problems with carelessness, pollution, chemical runoff and oil dependency. I want toxicity studies for pesticides to be independent from the corporations that sell the stuff. I want to eat locally and cheaply, I want to see food grown in my own country lining supermarket shelves, and farmers able to farm in such a way that their soil is healthy, generation after generation. I want technology to innovate into the future, create clever, clean jobs and guard this earth.

When did these ideas become far left and divergent, or some would say, eccentric?

In these last thirty years medical and technological breakthroughs have redefined our lives. We have so much to be grateful for. But we also live in a world where I believe the cost-benefit ratio doesn’t take into account long term environmental effects. And this is starting to trip us up. Our children have so many more expenses built into their future, it scares me.

When their grandparents were born the idea that the earth had finite resources and could be bogged up with pollution, wasn’t a concern.

My children’s world is radically different. Yet it is the same cautious and thoughtful values, redefined, that guide me every day.

Therefore critically, I will do everything I can to give my children every chance their grandparents had.

Their clever, innovative, practical, thrifty grandparents.

I will vote for my children’s environment. I will tread gently.

As Sir Richard Branson says: ‘Protecting natural resources and reducing carbon emissions are the greatest entrepreneurial opportunity in history...’

It’s still a resource issue.

And I believe there’s money in it.


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