Getting a haircut isn’t exactly what one expects to be doing while at Fieldays.
But here I am, faced with charmingly named style options including The Mutton Chop, Riparian Plant Pixie Cut and Mitigation Mullet. I choose Conscious Consumer Curls just to be on the safe side.
The makeshift salon, called The Sharing Shed, is the first appearance the Environmental Protection Authority has made at Fieldays.
The organisation’s goal is to get famers to open up about their thoughts and concerns for the environment by offering a free haircut in exchange for a casual yarn on the topic.
Just a trim
The hairdresser is Jason Muir from Wellington, chosen for the job because of his experience with controversial chats and cutting hair.
In the lead up to the 2017 election, Jason set up a pop-up salon called Political Cutz based on the same premise, with the goal of getting people engaged.
He breaks the ice by asking what roast I would cook when having guests over for dinner, with my choice of lamb holding a strong lead in the overall tally.
We cover a lot of topics in the remainder of the 45 minute appointment – what will the world look like in 300 years, the detrimental effects of the rural/urban divide and the consequences of polarising reporting in mainstream media. And, of course, how I would like my hair styled after getting a trim.
Jason says feeling misrepresented in the media is a popular concern of the farmers he’s seen so far, as well as misconceptions about water quality and the incoming levy on new high emitting petrol and diesel vehicles.
The EPA videos each conversation, while a representative jots down notes.
Many who stop to look walk away with an appointment.
Getting insight through conversations, rather than a debates, is the way the EPA want to engage with the rural community, says EPA general manager for engagement, Paula Knaap. It’s an approach the organisation plans to continue.
“My view is that the more challenging the issue is, the more important it is that we get around the table together and try to understand each other's perspective,” says Paula.
“EPI cover a very broad spectrum. When it comes to the agriculture community, our regulation of chemicals and the Emissions Trading Scheme are the key issues. Understanding the impacts of these issues on the farming community and being able to have open dialogue about them is really important for us moving forward.
“While there are some challenging conversations, the nice thing about this is celebrating and sharing the really positive things people in the agriculture sector are doing, like the innovations and the forward thinking.
“The people we get in the chair all care deeply for the land. It’s something we have in common, and is a great place to start the conversation.”