Robyn Verrall’s shift to a career in farming started as a love story, but it’s turned into a fierce passion for increasing food affordability in rural Australia with sustainable agriculture.
Before moving to the South Australian farm where she now lives and works, Verrall was living in Adelaide as a single mum and nurse. She married a farmer after connecting with him at a high school 20th reunion and thus began the beginning of her journey towards agriculture.
“It took me two years after we got married to do it [move from Adelaide to the farm]. I said I’d give it a go. A fish out of water,” she says. “I would be like the sterilised bull trying to make my presence felt. It was overwhelming.”
Now Verrall’s work is being recognised as the South Australian winner of the AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award, and one of the seven finalists for the national award.
In her early farming days, Verrall got right to work learning how to use all the equipment, drive the tractors, feed out hay– everything. She even made long journeys to an abattoir in the town of Casino to ensure her animals received a humane slaughter.
Originally, Verrall and her husband had been exporting their farm’s meat overseas to China. In 2017, a meat ban hit Australia and the two of them began to look for other markets and rebranded their business from Bully’s Beef to Bully’s Meats. That’s about the time when they found Kere to Country, an Aboriginal owned-and-operated food supply company.
The passionate team behind Kere to Country had founded the social enterprise after questioning why it was so much less expensive to transport food to China than it was for rural Australians to access fresh food.
As the Director of Bully’s Meats, Verrall wanted to partner with the Kere to Country team to help reduce food insecurity and increase food affordability in rural, regional and First Nations communities in Australia.
“Having had food insecurity myself as a single mother, I was very aware of the privileged position I was in having this meat all the time,” she says.
Kere to Country, with Bully’s Meats, specialises in bulk beef and lamb packs that have been created in consultation with communities and that are tailored to feed a family of 4-6. They even offer an interest-free payment plan for bulk-buying to decrease the initial financial strain on families.
It’s shocking to Verrall how we live in such a wealthy country and still have community members who can’t afford to have extra food in their homes. Through her work with Kere to Country, she’s had some especially impactful experiences with rural, community members.
One such experience was around six years ago when Bully’s Meats had a surplus of lamb and she decided to put a call out for anyone who needed it for free.
“I got a call from a lady and offered to pack it for her,” says Verrall. “She was excited that her son was coming with his partner and three children– that would be the Christmas lamb. I put a roast lamb on her plate and she looked at the rest of the food and asked, ‘What’s that, what’s with all the extra food?’ It still affects me.”
Verrall’s altruistic efforts to do good in rural Australian communities haven’t gone unnoticed. She was recently named South Australia’s winner for the 2022 Agrifutures Rural Women’s Award. It’s the leading award empowering and celebrating the inclusive and courageous leadership of women across Australia, and Verrall feels honoured to have been named one of the finalists.
Each of the seven awardees are given a $15,000 Westpac grant to help boost, expand or elevate their work. Verrall says her prize money will go towards further supporting Kere to Country’s endeavours.
Since moving to a farm and getting involved with Kere to Country, Verrall feels she’s been able to do what she loves– help her community.
“I am absolutely stunned at the breadth of rural women,” she says. “I never really considered myself a rural woman. I didn’t think I was just because I married a farmer. I thought, ‘Hang on, I can do all of this too.’ It was a real mental mindshift. I can still do the corporate. I can still do the nursing. I actually really love what I’m doing. I really feel I’ve found myself here.”
Women’s Agenda is profiling all seven of the finalists of the 2022 AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award and promoting the work of women in agriculture, as part of our partnership with AgriFutures Australia.
You can see more on our profile series here.
The 2022 AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award Gala Dinner & National Announcement will be held at Parliament House, Canberra on Tuesday, 6 September 2022. Ticket sales open on Monday, 2 May 2022. See here for more information.