In just over a year, fifth generation farmer Ben Brooksby’s popular Instagram page ‘The Naked Farmer’, has become a national phenomenon, all while raising awareness and funds for rural mental health.
Ben has had his own personal experiences with mental health issues and knew he wanted to help others.
It all begun in December 2016 when Ben’s good mate Emma Cross came out to his farm at St Helens Plains, Victoria, to take some snaps of their harvest.
While they originally thought Emma would get a photo of the truck with the Grampians National Park in the background, things didn’t go to plan.
“Emma climbed up the ladder, looked in, then said “Get in and get your kit off” and after three seconds of silence sure enough I stripped off and jumped right in,” Ben said.
In May 2017, Ben was sitting on the tractor putting those same lentils he was once laying in back into the ground for the next season when he had a lightbulb moment.
“Long hours on the tractor means plenty of thinking time and I thought ‘I’ll start an Instagram page dedicated to naked farmers and to educate people in the non rural areas about where their food and fibre comes from’,” he said.
“After a couple of posts, photos started coming in and followers were growing quickly, not what I expected at all from just a bit of fun.”
A few months later Ben noticed even more farmers following the page and sending in photos to be posted.
“I had so many farmers at my finger tips, I really wanted to give back and do something good with The Naked Farmer and that’s when we decided to put together a 2018 calendar to raise funds for the Royal Flying Doctor’s rural mental health services,” he said.
“I am a farmer myself, having dealt with mental health and losing an uncle to suicide it’s something that sits close to me.”
Later that year, he began to gather a collection of photos from farmers who were not only brave enough to get their clothes off for a photoshoot, but willing to tell their own stories of mental health.
The images were made into the 2018 calendar and completely sold out.
Ben and Emma have just completed a 19 day national farm tour across 14,000 kilometres, to capture photos for the 2019 calendar, with profits again going to the RFDS Mental Heath Unit.
They visited 13 properties and photographed 55 farmers.
Ben said the RFDS have such a high reputation and give so much support to the mental health sector, so it was “a no brainer” to support them.
“The RFDS is such a great organisation that helps so many Australians in rural areas every day,” Ben said.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics Causes of Death, Australia, 2016, 2,866 people died from intentional self-harm in Australia that year.
In 2016, suicide was the leading cause of death among all people 15-44 years of age, and the second leading cause of death among those 45-54 years of age.
The median age at death for suicide was 43.3 years.
Spending big days and long nights watering cotton for someone to fly over and kill it is worth the end product. 🌱=👕— The Naked Farmer 🌾 (@The_NakedFarmer) March 29, 2018
"Putting in the hard yards to produce the cotton so you can dress yourself in the morning."
Nevertire, NSW 🇦🇺 pic.twitter.com/0WCCA6HPXe
So far The Naked Farmer has raised more than $5000 for the Flying Doctor.
“Raising funds is really important but more importantly our main aim is to get the awareness out there. The (suicide) statistics are alarming and we need to talk about it,” Ben said.
Because more people are talking about The Naked Farmer, it is helping spark conversations of rural mental health, which could be the key to someone opening up, Ben said.
“It’s the people following the page, sharing, liking and sending in the photos, that are making the difference. They are The Naked Farmers,” he said.
RFDS Victoria Chief Executive Scott Chapman said they were incredibly grateful and pleased by the support from Ben.
“And with the great interest he has generated with his unique approach to discussing mental health, we are sure he will be successful in providing more support throughout the year,” Mr Chapman said.
“With rural Australians 30 per cent more likely to suicide than those in urban areas, encouraging communities to connect is an important step toward overcoming social isolation, and supporting mental health.”
Mr Chapman said Ben’s efforts to create a conversation about mental health go a long way to help overcome stigma surrounding mental wellbeing.
“The funds Ben raises go directly toward increasing access to mental health services for those living in rural and regional communities through the delivery of Flying Doctor mental health services,” Mr Chapman said.
“The Flying Doctor is reliant on the generosity of Australians to help us fill gaps in access to health care for rural and remote communities and to raise awareness of mental health needs of people in the bush.”