The Naked Farmer
BEN BROOKSBY, 24, is stripping back the stigma around mental health in rural Australia. His project, founded after a near naked photo in truck full of lentils, isn't exactly a typical story but is definitely something special. Capturing the attention of tens of thousands of people by posting photo's of naked farmers from across Australia, Ben is working to use his following to make a positive impact. 'The Naked Farmer' initiative provides a platform to start a discussion about mental health for those working in our agricultural industry. After all, what starts a conversation more than a nude photo?
Tom Dunn: So who is 'The Naked Farmer' (TNF)? Who is the person behind the page?
Ben Brooksby: G’DAY!! My name is Ben Brooksby a young farmer from Western Victoria. We grow wheat, barley, beans, canola, lentils, vetch and we also run sheep.
TD: Your Instagram feed is pretty unique. For someone who hasn't seen it, how would you describe the content?
BB: The Naked Farmer content is very unique and may shock people in the first look, but they soon see and learn what its all about. It show cases our farmers from around our beautiful country and even the world. Showing us the farmers that produce our food and fibre. The images are artistic, humorous, and of course bearing all.
TD: Since it's origin the page has been widely popular and has grown to an incredible 55k followers! What made it take off so quickly?
BB: Seeing a naked person sure does catch your attention right? Especially when it’s a naked farmer! I believe that the page has gained a lot of followers because we want to support our farmers. The Naked Farmer page gives a light, fun and very unique way to showcase that.
TD: You've used the pages huge following as a platform to promote mental health within the agricultural industry. Was the intention always to use TNF to promote mental health or did that idea come later?
BB: The day I started the Instagram page (12th of May 2017) my plan was to get peoples attention through these images and to get them to read the captions. The goal initially was to help educate those in more non rural areas about where their food and fibre comes from, and the farmers that go through the hardships to provide it for us. A month or so later most of the followers were the farmers themselves and as those followers grew and grew I knew I needed to do something to help within the agriculture industry that I love so much. Having dealt with mental health myself, and seen the effects it has on people in my family and community, it's something I’m so passionate about.
TD: You mention that you've personally been touched by mental health issues and on your website you say that when your family home burnt down it became a turning point for you. What was it about that experience that drove you to where you are now?
BB:Yes that’s right. Growing up, anxiety was something I had always struggled with. It got so bad I couldn’t even walk into shops and stores in my local town. It wasn’t until bit over two years ago when I lost my family farm home that this changed. Really broke me and my family seeing all our history for generations all in ash. We lost everything. The only thing I had was the clothes on my back, my tennis racquet's and my ute. Several months later we decided to rebuild, and my grandparents and my dad gave me the job of being in charge of the build, something I knew I couldn’t do. I knew I couldn’t make phone calls or talk to random people. I didn’t want to let my family down though which pushed me to just do it. I had to talk to builders, I had to go into stores to choose out tiles and carpet, I got pushed wayyyyy out of my comfort zone. This is where things really turned and I became more confident. I surprised myself in what I could do and I was a whole different person. Even my family noticed and were amazed. Something so negative as our home burning down created something positive. I believe there is always a positive in a negative, we just have to find it.
TD: Farmers are known to be the incredibly innovative when they need to be, or even just when they find some spare time. Have you been impressed with some of the lengths people have gone to to get themselves featured on your site?
BB: It surprises me every day they type of photos I get sent it, they can be so creative and hilarious. Some people really put some thinking into their photos. One photo pops in my mind straight away when I think about this; a guy that was turning on a old water pump and he was hanging from the side of it while water was spurting everywhere, it was hilarious! I love the ones that put a smile on peoples faces.
TD: Which type of farmers are most willing to get their kit off?
BB: I don’t think any type of farmer is more willing, but I guess I do get a lot of station photos which run cattle. I get a huge mix which I love, it really shows the different types of farms and farmers there is out there.
TD: There must be moments (eg. looking at an email inbox full of nude farmers applying to be a part of the page) when you sit back and wonder what exactly you're doing?
BB: It was only about a week ago that I thought, if someone went through my emails or my phone and didn’t know what I was doing, they would be seriously concerned as to what I was up to. But now it doesn’t even really register with me, it seems so normal and natural.
TD: Do you worry that some of those new followers in your inbox are there simply to get a shoutout on Instagram, or have a laugh, and are missing the advocacy side of the project?
BB: Not really, I believe most people know what its all about now, 6 months ago though I definitely think people were just doing it to be on the page.
TD: What's been your favourite moment of the 'TNF' experience so far?
BB: My favourite moment so far was the day I ran into a 62 year old local man, he stopped me one day and thanked me for what I was doing and said to him it really meant a lot. He went on to tell me a bit about himself. He had been talking to one of his mates about TNF and what it was all about and it sparked a conversation about themselves. They found they had been going through similar things, they both opened up about it for the first time in their lives. That is what TNF is all about that and that is by far one of my favourite experiences so far.
TD: Do you find there's pressure managing the page?
BB: Not so much managing the page, the hard bit is coming up with a caption each day, that can be very challenging some days!
TD: You're about to set off on an around Australia tour to meet your followers and take some photo's for a second 'TNF' calendar. You've also just released a 'TNF' underwear range and have started a fundraising campaign that aims to raise $5,000 for the RFDS Mental Health Unit. Are you going to be able to find enough time to get your crops in this year?
BB: It has been a huge struggle finding time for everything and has been very challenging at times with huge hours every day, my farm is always my number 1 priority, but crops are all in. Now I'm just preparing for this trip, we leave on the 23rd of June.
TD: Outside of those next few goals, where do you hope to take TNF? Do you have a long term plan for it, or are you taking it as it comes?
BB: Everything to date has just all happened so naturally and I've really just hung on for the ride, but there is always something going on behind the scenes in planning, you’ll just have to wait and see!
TD: You seem pretty skilled at the social media game, would you ever consider giving up the farm life and focusing on TNF (or another social media project) full time?
BB: Not a chance, my farm is my heart and my love, everyone always says do what you love and I love farming. I love what I do, I just have to be good at balancing that with TNF.
TD: If someone had a similar concept as you have with TNF, what advice would you give them to help take their cause to the next level?
BB: My advice would be just give it a crack! Most people, if they have a good idea, are too frightened to do anything about it. Have a go, if it fails it fails, at least you tried and it may be the stepping stone into something else.
TD: Any final thoughts to leave us with?
BB: I believe one of the main ways to get rid of this stigma around talking about mental health is to change peoples mind set. It takes a lot of time and a lot of different aspects to do this, but its possible. For example, you go back in time to when women were seen less then men and woman couldn’t even vote, peoples mindset changed and now look, even the Australian Open prize money is equal for both men and woman.
You go back 40 years ago gay marriage was not even talked about, people were even getting locked up for being gay. Overtime people have been more educated and mindsets have shifted resulting in gay marriage being legalized.
I believe together we can change that mind set, and get these statistics down.
Get in touch with The Naked Farmer:
Instagram - @the.naked.farmer
Website - thenakedfarmerco.com.au
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