Six-year-old Archie Foley has changed not only the way his family eats, but also how they farm.

It's a journey that started four years ago when his father, Hawke's Bay Regional Councillor Will Foley, was president of Federated Farmers Hawke's Bay.

"He was born a normal, healthy baby," Will said. "He was always right at the top for weight and height. Healthy."

Mum Abbie Foley said he started talking very early.


"And then by two he'd lost nearly all his words," she said. "His behaviour was autistic, so he lost eye contact, he lost his social skills."

While doctors had a diagnosis for Archie they didn't have a cure, suggesting a "wait and see" approach.

Will said it came to a head on his third birthday party.

"He just wasn't interested. He wasn't interested in presents, family and friends, and basically shut himself in the room."

His parents researched autism, and made the decision to try changes to Archie's diet.

"We started with the gluten and within three days he got his eye contact back," said Abbie.

Testing showed sensitivities to other foods, so more changes were made. Four years later, he's an entirely different kid.

"He's just very fast at learning with a photographic memory and, yeah, things are going well," Abbie said.


Making a link between Archie's gut health and brain health reinforced the responsibility of farmers to produce quality foods.

"I've changed my mindset quite dramatically," said Will.

The Foley's are trialling a regenerative farming system on their home farm, focusing on soil health and biodiversity.

The system requires changes including a different fertiliser type, longer grass covers and longer grazing rotations.

"I'm not jumping to conclusions these are all methods that are much better or more successful.

"It is just an experimental phase on the farm, but I believe we do have to look at some of the ways we farm - whether it is through consumer pressure or the regulators, there is change being forced upon us.

"I see some of the things I'm looking at as a win-win for the environment and for the consumer, and farm economics."

Abbie noticed their cattle appeared to be "happier" and there was no longer the fear of being attacked when yarding.

"On a traditional sheep and beef farm, the animals can be angry and attack you," she said.

"Now that we are regenerative the cattle are like pets. They're just so happy."

Will is no longer the Hawke's Bay president of Federated Farmers, but has recently become a Hawke's Bay Regional Councillor.

"Archie was a big reason why I said no for a long time, when people approached me about it. And then he turned out to be a motivating reason - just that whole change in mindset as a farmer, and the responsibility I have to produce food and in turn look after the environment."

The Foleys say they are not organic, but would probably comply with that label. And depending on results, their other farming properties could also turn away from mainstream farming conventions.

Meanwhile Archie has gone back to the mainstream. He's back at school, part time, steadily building up his hours, and loving it.

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