by Jenny Campbell

Changing hearts and minds takes a long time but continuing the conversations with different audiences can bring surprises.

I live in Mossburn township in Northern Southland, and I went to the new monthly Mossburn Sunday Market recently to gather signatures for the petition against the proposed Te Kuha coal mine near Westport.

Because I was not sure what kind of reception I might receive, I softened my approach by taking organic vegetables and organic plums from my garden to sell for a good cause. The two tables sat alongside each other with the produce being the reason for people to stop and engage in conversations – usually initiated by me, even though I am quite well known in the area.

I took the large signs I usually have attached to my front fence such as ‘Fonterra Quit Coal’, the Forest & Bird sign ‘Our Oceans need a bold climate target’ as well as a genuine ‘Lock the Gate’ sign from Australia. I live on the main highway to Te Anau and Milford Sound so lots of people see my signs, know about why they are there and what I stand for.

The signs are always conversation starters as they were at the Market Day. In fact I had some very interesting and even surprising conversations.

Two local sheep and deer farmers, one retired and the other a young man, were fully in support of Fonterra! That intrigued me as I had thought, mistakenly obviously, that they would have been quite upset by the huge irrigators on their neighbour’s property, the removal of trees, the smell of cow manure, the big tankers on the roads, our rivers being polluted by the nitrates and run- off. Not so from these two. After some strong discussion we agreed to differ.

I tried for signatures to stop the Te Kuha proposal on the Buller Plateau. I had to tell the story of that issue to everyone. It resulted in some of them confessing they still use coal…. but some of them realise it is not good practice! There seemed to be no realisation about resulting health issues, let alone its impact on climate change.

Some wouldn’t sign as ‘the Coast has been doing coal for a long time and they need to keep doing it’! Several said they couldn’t sign because their relatives live on the Coast.

It seems that very basic education still needs to be done!

The best thing was a lovely young guy with a partner and three boys who told me they have moved to Lumsden from the rat race in Queenstown. They have bought a house as opposed to having to pay exorbitant rent and he continues with his IT business from Lumsden! His partner is into permaculture so they are loving the possibilities of extending their knowledge across the community.

He tried to help me explain to farmers about what Fonterra is doing to rivers and the effect of fossil fuels, but he realised it was all in vain with the farmers having closed minds about the capacity of the environment and very open minds to making money at any cost, or so it seemed.

My learning from this is that I need to be at this kind of activity in my local community to have these conversations so I hear what people whom I don’t meet often are thinking. I can plant seeds, have discussions, start them thinking and maybe even ‘Change some hearts and minds’. I might even find some allies / like-minded people so I realise I am not alone.

Also, there are people who will listen and sign up once the situation is explained to them. I did get 15 to sign – mainly from the stall holders – so that was a mini success.  What seems to make the difference is the personal touch,  and taking time to get alongside people.

I realise I need to go back to the next Sunday Market and keep interacting. Being an activist takes many forms – and to get active on coal takes many different actions, no matter how small, and happens in many places!