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Diversity, passion drives ongoing farming legacy

Diversity, passion drives ongoing farming legacy
John Milsome Jury was the first European ancestor at Glendower around 1854 and married a local Maori woman, Te Aitu-o-te-rangi; mustering with horses and dogs at Glen Eden Farm.

At this year’s Century Farm and Station Awards, forty families will be recognised for farming the same land for one hundred years or more. But for Mark and Susannah Guscott of Glen Eden Farm near Carterton, their family’s proud legacy extends even further back.

“My first European ancestor arrived here in 1854, but he married a local Maori woman and they were living on this land too, even if they weren’t farming it in the conventional European sense. So even though it’s a big deal to say we’ve farmed it for six generations, I say we’ve actually been on this land for 500 years.”

In order to receive a Century Farm Award, families must supply the organising committee with documentary evidence of their farm’s history.

For the Guscott’s, this came in the form of “a family bible” compiled by Mark’s great-grandmother. “She wrote down lots of stories about the history and collected all the family photographs, going right back.”

Copies of the photographs and memorabilia supplied by Century Farm winners will be passed on to the Alexander Turnbull Library, adding to a significant archive of New Zealand farming history.

While Mark and Susannah are hopeful that one or more of their three children will continue their family legacy, Mark says they won’t pressure them, as they believe farming requires personal passion.

It’s a passion the Guscott’s certainly have, despite growing up at a time when economic conditions forced many farmers to sell up.

“A lot of my generation got a pretty negative view of farming because of how tough it was. But it can be a great lifestyle if you choose it, like we have. We’re really passionate about producing high quality food for people.”

Since taking over the running of the farm in 2005, Mark and Susannah have diversified their operation substantially.

While they continue to farm the sheep and beef that were the farm’s mainstays, around a third of their income now comes from mixed cropping of wheat, barley, maize, grass and clover.

And the Guscott’s are soon to add even more variety when they open a 60 square-metre boutique accommodation venture at the top of the farm, to allow tourists and locals to share some of the farm’s magic.

“There’s a great view from the site over the Southern Wairarapa valley, all the way to the South Island on a good day.”

A large section of native bush borders this offgrid dwelling, further evidence of the changes that have taken place across the farm’s history.

Where logging of native bush was once the norm, Mark’s great-grandfather chose to protect areas of bush for his descendants. The Guscott’s are continuing this work, and believe the majority of farmers now see value in working with the land in this way.

“To us, good environmental management is good farm management. And we’ll have to answer to the ancestors one day, so we need to make sure we cared for this place.”

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