28 March 2024

The Parenting Post

Rakahinonga. Entrepreneur.

writer: Felicity connell
photographer: Gabriel Bertogg

It’s easy to see Dansy and Greg Coppell have a lot going on. As well as being parents to Freddie, 7, Fergus, 5, and Bonnie, 11 months, Dansy and Greg juggle their sheep and beef farm in St Arnaud, a building business in Māpua and Repost – a Marlborough-based recycled fencepost venture. It’s not always smooth sailing, but thanks to her supportive family, Dansy has taken the reins at Repost – and wouldn’t have it any other way.  

 

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Above. “I think there’s something about farming that really instils the value of creating something for the generations to come, because farming’s hard. It’s a beautiful lifestyle but it’s not always financially beneficial. The building business props up the farm and Repost. For now, we are doing Repost for the love of it and for the help it’s providing to other farmers. It washes its face, but we want to make it profitable. It’s making a difference as we’re taking a waste product that would’ve gone to landfill and providing a cost-effective fencing solution for farmers.”

Working together on the land has always been a given for Greg, 39, and Dansy, 36. Dansy grew up on a lifestyle farm in Kent, England – she and Greg began their relationship when he was visiting on an OE. “Every weekend we’d head to my parents’ place and they’d give him jobs like cutting wood, building chook sheds or repairing stock fencing. It helped Greg with his homesickness. As our relationship deepened, he invited me to meet his family in Motueka. I knew after that first visit to New Zealand that if we were going stay together, I’d have to come this way.” 

Basing themselves in Ōtautahi Christchurch, both Greg and Dansy worked in earthquake recovery roles – Greg as a builder and Dansy as a senior communications manager for the Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team. Sadly, Dansy’s beloved dad, Colin, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in 2013. 

“Winning the Beef + Lamb Gallagher Innovative Farming Award at the end of 2023 was a beautiful moment for us,” Dansy says. “After a couple of really tricky years, it was great to get acknowledgement from the agricultural sector that what we’re doing is actually working, it made us feel legitimate and removed any self-doubt we had. We’re now getting interest from researchers as we’re the first circular economy business recycling treated timber on a commercial scale.”
“Winning the Beef + Lamb Gallagher Innovative Farming Award at the end of 2023 was a beautiful moment for us,” Dansy says. “After a couple of really tricky years, it was great to get acknowledgement from the agricultural sector that what we’re doing is actually working, it made us feel legitimate and removed any self-doubt we had. We’re now getting interest from researchers as we’re the first circular economy business recycling treated timber on a commercial scale.”

“When you go through an experience like that it puts life in perspective, and we started thinking about our future and where we wanted to raise a family. We’d always loved going to Māpua when we were visiting Greg’s family. So we moved there and started again.” The next three years were challenging, with Greg and Dansy continuing to visit the UK to see Colin and support her family.  

“When Dad passed in 2017, it was another catalyst for us to focus on our future. Greg’s a fourth-generation farmer, but his family had decided to sell the family farm due to other ventures. He had gone straight into building from school, but had always wanted to return to farming, and we wanted the kids to have a similar rural lifestyle that we both had growing up. Greg was always on Trade Me looking at farms, but they were always out of our price range, or it wasn’t the right time,” Dansy explains.   

“After my dad passed, Greg’s said, ‘Let’s just try.’ Then Springers Block Farm came on the market. Greg visited it a few times with his dad, who we call ‘Pop,’ and said, ‘I think this is it. I think I can make it work.’ Freddie was around two, and I was heavily pregnant with Fergus. The owners wanted to meet us on farm to find out what our plans were. We weren’t the highest bid, but they really liked our vision for the farm. I still didn’t think it was going happen. All I was thinking about was how uncomfortable I was with this huge baby. We completed the deal a week after Fergus was born. It was just a crazy time.” 

Dansy first met Greg at a party in Christchurch during her stopover in New Zealand after a gap year in Sydney. “The banter was epic, but I was returning to the UK. Four years later, our New Zealand friends started arriving in London and they organised a reunion party. I didn’t even know Greg was in the UK, and there he was cooking sausages on the barbecue.”

While their 500 hectare sheep and beef breeding farm is in St Arnaud, the family has kept their home base in Māpua. “We’re not the typical farming story because we don’t live full time on the farm. After Fergus was born, I was on farm a lot, but I struggled with the isolation. I had built a community of friends and support in Māpua, and we made the decision that we wanted the kids to go to school there. We’re lucky that we’ve made it work, not in a traditional way, but in a way that works for our family. Pop is up at the farm most days. He loves it because he gets to be on the farm without the financial stress of ownership.” 

It was also Pop who set Repost in motion. “Repost began because we needed to find a cost-effective way to do a lot of fencing on the farm. Greg’s dad told us how he had repurposed old viticulture posts for fencing. Greg took his eight-wheeler down to a vineyard and spent a whole day with Pop, just filling it up with posts.” 

Dansy with Fergus and baby Bonnie. “Within three hours of Bonnie being born, I was doing Repost invoices and trying to work out the logistics for freighting posts to nine different farmers in Southland. All of the Zoom meetings I’ve done in the last eleven months, I’ve have always had Bonnie with me. I’ll have the camera slightly angled so they don’t see my boob and then she’ll suddenly pop her head up!”
Dansy with Fergus and baby Bonnie. “Within three hours of Bonnie being born, I was doing Repost invoices and trying to work out the logistics for freighting posts to nine different farmers in Southland. All of the Zoom meetings I’ve done in the last eleven months, I’ve have always had Bonnie with me. I’ll have the camera slightly angled so they don’t see my boob and then she’ll suddenly pop her head up!”

In viticulture, posts are strung with multiple wires to hold up the vines. During harvest, lots of posts are damaged and are then unusable as grape trellis but the posts are perfectly good for fence posts. To repurpose posts for farming, fourteen nails and clips per post must be removed. “Greg went through three grinders and a lot of blisters getting the nails and clips out of that first lot. Greg and Pop drew up the first concept for the hydraulic nail puller on the back of a newspaper, and that led to the next machine, which led to the next machine. We call the nail puller our champion – we couldn’t do Repost without it. At first, we were just doing it for our farm, then a few family friends, and then word just got out. Farming businesses often start with something that fixes a problem for you, then you realise your idea could help a lot more people and then you kind of leap, hoping it’ll work out,” Dansy says.  

So far, they’ve repurposed 514,000 posts, saved 5,232 tonnes of chemically treated wood from landfill and helped build over 4,240 kilometres of fencing from their bases in Marlborough, Hawke’s Bay and Pahīatua, where Greg’s older brother and his wife, Nick and Lesley Coppell, farm. “We didn’t fully understand the waste solution for viticulture at the start. We were just trying to get affordable posts out there to more farming families. We’re grateful Stu Dudley, our business partner, came on board, because he was our connection into the wine industry. He was working for Villa Maria at the time, and they took a chance on us. We needed that first vineyard to work out how it was going to work. Now we are scaling up as quickly as we can to meet demand.”  

Fergus off on an adventure. The farm has become a hub for the extended family. “Greg’s the youngest of five, so we’ve got a lot of nieces and nephews. They’re up at the farm all the time and they’ve learned practical skills and confidence with some going on to do farm cadetships. I think what really makes us love the farm and feel so grounded is that it’s helping shape a lot of other people, not just us, it’s a ripple effect.” 

I told Greg, ‘I really want to get more involved – I’ve got some ideas that I think can make a difference.’

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Dansy and her mum (far left) are very close. “My mum, Suzanne – or Susu – is from a multi-generational agri-background. Mum always joked that if she hadn’t married my father, she would’ve married a farmer. After my father passed away, my mum moved to Māpua. Her being here gave me the space to breathe a bit more and also helped both of us heal from losing Dad. She’s the most amazing mother and now the most amazing grandmother. Having her support was one of the reasons I’ve been able to focus on Repost. She’s there for our successes and there for our lows, cheering us on. And there’s a real beauty in that,” Dansy says.

In the past year, with Greg and Stu putting their focus more on their other ventures, Dansy has taken the lead with Repost. “I was busy raising two kids, helping keep the farm running, as well as doing the books and other bits and pieces for the building business. Then in September 2022, Greg and I went out for a date – which is quite rare for us. Greg started telling me all the things he was worried about with Repost. It triggered me like a spark. I told Greg, ‘I really want to get more involved – I’ve got some ideas that I think can make a difference.’” 

Dansy got to work, capitalising on skills she’d honed earlier in her career, by streamlining their paperwork, health and safety systems, online ordering process and roping in her sister, Gabby, to support with PR and marketing. She updated the Repost website, and put a greater emphasis on social media, reaching out to farming communities and generating sales through booking spots at Fielddays and applying for grants and awards to grow Repost’s profile. “I simply had a momentum pushing me forward. It reignited the career I had before Dad got sick and before we started our family. It’s almost been quite fun to get that brain capacity working again. It’s a labour of love and that’s why it doesn’t feel like work. Even if you get tired, there’s an energy that’s instilled in you to just keep going. I’ve really honed my efficiency skills – while Bonnie is having her lunch nap or Greg gets back from the farm and the kids are in bed – to make decisions and debrief.” 

Through all the hard work and heartache, Dansy knows she and Greg have landed in the right place. “For us as a family, spending time at the farm is our happy place. It’s hard work running a farm, but we treasure the time just being together, having picnics, making bonfires, building forts or helping out on the farm. We’re creating amazing memories for our kids. As parents you want to give your kids the beautiful parts of your own childhood. Greg and I love that we can do that. It’s nice to take stock and know that I’m really happy and Greg’s really happy and the kids are thriving. It’s a lovely time in our life.” 

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Top image. “If you’ve got a really good team out there, if you’re driven and have the same goals, you can make it work,” Dansy says. “And I thank God we’ve had ten years of marriage already. I think if it was in our first year or two of being married, it might have broken us. Through our hardest times, or our hardest conversations, we’ve learned a new skill set or we’ve learned more about ourselves and each other. I don’t think I truly grasped the value of our vows until the last couple of years! Greg’s old-school – he doesn’t openly say ‘I love you’ all the time, but he shows it through actions. He just builds me stuff. He made the circular swing chair from fence battens and an old cattle feeder he found. He lined it, and that’s our hammock. All our visitors love it. Greg says it’s as rough as guts, but it’ll do the job.”

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