Not for sale

City girl becomes ‘Gumboot Girl’ and helps introduce sustainable practices on Northland dairy farm.

For years Jo Wood worked as a beauty therapist in Auckland. She was, in her words, "a city slicker".

But then she "fell into" another job, one about as far removed from the glamour of make-up, manicures and pedicures as it's possible to get.

Working in gumboots and a singlet, these days she walks the pastures of a 350ha dairy farm located on the coast between the Northland towns of Wellsford and Warkworth - and is known to one and all by her alter ego 'Gumboot Girl'.

"I'm not from a farming background," she says. "For 10 years I worked as a beauty therapist and a personal fitness trainer in Auckland but now I virtually live in gumboots; I love it here, it's a piece of paradise."

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Wood is the environmental trouble-shooter at Waitapu Farms where she has worked for four years helping to implement an environment plan aimed at creating long-term sustainable farming practices at the property which has two milking sheds for a herd of around 1000 cows.

Her work is beginning to bear fruit. Extensive riparian planting around the farm's network of waterways and wetlands coupled with an aggressive pest trapping programme is not only helping reduce pasture run-off it is bringing back native birds in greater numbers.

"Bird life is up dramatically," she says. "Pest control is helping by reducing the amount of damage to tree trunks (the farm has 28ha of mature native bush) and as a result we are seeing lots more birds such as Tui, Kereru and Fantails."

Wood says the location of Waitapu Farms (the name means sacred water) is unique in that streams on one side of the property ultimately feed into east coast areas like Pakiri Beach, while on the other flow to the edges of the Kaipara Harbour.

For this reason her work planting around the two major streams running through the farm - the Pohutawa Stream and The Boulder Stream - is significant.

Photo / Supplied.
Photo / Supplied.

Last winter Wood supervised the planting of more than 1000 natives - swamp flaxes, manuka and cabbage trees among them - along the banks of the Pohutawa and a similar number around The Boulder.

"Unfortunately we've lost about 20 per cent of these because of the drought over summer so this winter we are planning to undertake fill-in planting along the banks."

To counter the problem of erosion along the streams Wood has been placing plants 50-70cm apart so the roots intertwine and stabilise the soil while at the same time intermingling rows of flaxes with larger cabbage and manuka trees.

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"We've also put in close to 1000 plants around some of the gullies and smaller feeder waterways," Wood says. "Part of my job is to identify areas like these that can be considered wetlands. They are largely unproductive, but the cows still like to wallow in the mud so we are fencing them off and letting the rushes grow."

She says she is looking at instituting a testing programme at the farm to identify nutrient levels in waterways. "Even though we've had no water with the summer drought, testing is the next thing on my list and at the moment we are seeking advice (on how to do it) from DairyNZ."

Wood has had considerable success in the farm's pest control programme trapping about 550 possums in the last 12 months: "A year ago the boss said he wanted more birds so each month we buy a dozen possum traps and now have 85 around the farm.

"We've also got 17 traps to catch other pests like stoats, weasels and rats," she says. "But they are harder to get and we have only trapped a small number."

Although being "a girl from the city", Woods says she is loving her work at Waitapu Farms. "I find it's so good for your mental health; I believe in 'love, laugh and live' and while we've done a lot so far, there is so much more to do."

"I've always been into gardening; my grandmother on my Dad's side had a huge garden in Takapuna and Mum and Dad were keen veggie gardeners," she says. "I started out as the gardener at Waitapu Farms but over time the environmental work was thrown at me because the others here were busy farming."

To help in her work Wood is studying for a degree in environmental science through Massey University: "I'm a bit of a greenie at heart, although you do need to know what you are talking about and back it up with scientific proof, facts and figures."

And where did 'Gumboot Girl' come from? "We wanted to create a record of the work we are doing and we decided to do it through Instagram," she says. "But we needed a catchy, not too serious name so people would take notice and be inspired to grow a tree of their own.

"We came up with Gumboot Girl. I see it as a bit of fun really. After all I live in gumboots all year round now and love it; it is a real privilege to work here."

Watch Jo's video here.