FOR Wimmera farmer Ben Brooksby, this year has been one to remember.
The St Helens Plains man started The Naked Farmer Instagram page in May 2017, hoping to raise awareness and start conversations about the mental health of farmers.
This year has been a big one for Mr Brooksby, who embarked on a tour of Australia, interacting with farmers from across the country.
“I didn’t expect it would get so big. At the start of the year, I had some plans in place and was talking to some sponsors and luckily they saw the future in it and really supported my plans,” he said.
“As the year went on, it kept going and going. We started the tour in June and it was a big success.
“It was definitely a highlight and we met people from everywhere and worked on the 2019 calendar.”
Mr Brooksby was stripping lentils in 2017 when a friend Emma Cross visited the farm to take photos of harvest in action.
Ms Cross snapped a photo of Mr Brooksby naked in the lentils, with the photo sparking a viral campaign.
Ms Cross joined Mr Brooksby on his tour of Australia this year.
The Naked Farmer also launched an underwear and hat range this year, with $1 from every product sold going to the Royal Flying Doctor’s Service’s mental health programs
“We also had the undies come out and we are working on the next batch now and changing the design a little bit,” Mr Brooksby said.
The Naked Farmer now has more than 88,000 followers on Instagram.
Bianca Mibus, who has lived her whole life at her family’s Green Lake farm, posed naked for The Naked Farmer’s social media pages early on in the journey.
She said it was a daunting experience, but was nothing compared to what farmers who struggle with mental health issues have to deal with on a regular basis.
“It was early in the morning before netball and Ben’s friend Emma approached us to see if we would be brave enough to strip down and obviously it was for a good cause,” she said.
“It was right at the start before it became so big and it was quite daunting at the start but you just laugh with everyone. It takes a lot of courage for people to get your gear off in front of camera but it also takes a lot of guts to talk about mental health, especially around farmers and the older generation.
“I’ve lived on the farm my whole life at Green Lake; we are fifth generation farmers and there are tough times on the farm. You see it first hand and you don’t see that happiness all the time.”
In the plans for next year, Mr Brooksby hopes to be able to release a coffee table-style book to share more stories about people on the land.
“With the photos you see and the photos in the calendar, there is a whole story behind that,” he said.
“I’m really excited people will get to know those people, and the plan for next year is to put more of those into a book.”
More travel is also on the cards for Mr Brooksby and while he expects 2020 to be a big year, he can’t reveal all the details just yet.
“We won’t do a whole Australian tour next year, but I want to focus, hopefully, on South Australia and Tasmania,” he said.
“We didn’t spend a lot of time in South Australia and didn’t go to Tasmania on the tour (this year).
“I have some huge plans for 2020, but we are still getting the logistics sorted for that. I can’t say what it is just yet, but it’s not just the usual driving tour.”
Something Mr Brooksby has had to become accustomed to this year is doing hundreds of interviews with a range of media outlets.
“It’s been the most stressful thing to get used to,” he said.
“I like to give the media something new or different every time. Having time to go down to Melbourne, dealing with traffic and finding car parks … I hate that side of it.
“I just expected a few Instagram people to get around it (and) maybe some people in the agriculture industry. The media has definitely helped spread that awareness.
“There was about a month there I was doing at least 30 interviews a week – and that was for radio, TV, magazines – and it was time consuming. I kept getting sick because I was just running myself down.”
Along with the increased time commitment of The Naked Farmer, Mr Brooksby has had to keep on top of his family farm.
“It’s flat out doing everything, but it’s just all about time management,” he said.
“Trying to harvest and then dedicate time to The Naked Farmer does get difficult. Harvest isn’t going too badly so far. I was expecting it to be bad, but quality has been quite good. Yields haven’t been amazing but we can’t complain.”
Despite the time constraints, Mr Brooksby said he was thankful for the opportunity The Naked Farmer had provided to positively impact the lives of farmers across Australia.
“It’s affecting so many people and that means more to me than anything. Hearing those stories makes it all worth it,” he said.