Showing up with Tracy Ahern
Everyone loves a show, and Tracy Ahern is no exception. Metropol editor Lynda Papesch caught up with her ahead of The New Zealand Agricultural Show, for which she is general manager.
Tracy Ahern loves animals and shows, and it is just as well. Tracy spends her mornings, afternoons, and sometimes weekends, planning around numerous farm animals that need to be accommodated during Canterbury’s largest agricultural and pastoral show, held annually in mid-November.
This year’s show is more “farm to plate” than last year’s, say Tracy, part of a deliberate evolution towards sustainability.
While not a “farm girl”, Tracy describes herself as “land-affiliated”. She grew up in Zimbabwe, living on small holdings, and loving animals.
Fast forward to post-Covid-19 and living in Christchurch, the position of general manager for the show presented Tracy with an opportunity to be involved in its change. Everybody has had to change since Covid-19, she explains.
“The economy is different. Business are doing things differently now, and sponsors are more cautious about where their money goes. Relying on sponsorship to deliver the show just doesn’t exist anymore,” says Tracy, adding that part of her role is to sort out how the show can offer more with less financial support, and at the same time create lasting memories.
Children’s attractions, for example the show’s expanded farmyard, play a vital role in such memories; one reason why this year’s event boasts a totally revamped, free and fully interactive farmyard for children.
Children are one of the keys to future shows, says Tracy, and organisers of Christchurch’s big event are evolving it to include new attractions for them. “We want to bring the country to town, and give urban children a taste of the country.”
Helping achieve that is the Kiwi Gaming Foundation, the support of which allows youngsters to attend the show free of charge. In 2021, the foundation paid for all the local schools to visit the show farmyard, last year it funded a generous amount of children, and this year has increased it to include all children aged 16 and under.
“It funds the school buses too,” says Tracy, part of whose mission is also to have all school-age youngsters experience the show.
She is not alone in her passion for the show, with around 500 volunteers involved, alongside a general committee (the heart of the organisation), and a board (the brain/financial arm), Tracy says. She is also helped by four full-time employees, three part-timers, and Department of Corrections workers. “They work on the park all year round, and it would not look as beautiful
without their help and support,” she says of the latter.
More assistance comes in the form of “value in kind”, for example farmers and companies donating straw, animal feed
and sawdust, which would otherwise cost the show a fortune.
“The general committee and the board are also very hands on,” says Tracy.
The show also has its sustainability side, constantly evolving this. Its long-term strategy includes being New Zealand’s first fully sustainable agricultural show by 2025.
By all accounts it is well on the way to achieving that. This year’s show will be selling “Show Stopper Soils”, a garden product produced from manure, straw and old sawdust collected at last year’s show.
This year the show purchased a massive marquee, which will save on hiring costs, and garner income from being hired, or leased out during the year for various commercial rural-related activities. “We have numerous opportunities to capitalise on,” says Tracy. “For instance we are hosting this year’s Santa Parade at the showgrounds.”
Show days for Tracy will be ultra-busy, both working behind the scenes, and getting out and about to meet those attending what is now a “major event” for Christchurch.
“Last year we weren’t clear as to whether the show was deemed a community or major event for the city. From data collected at the 2022 show, it has now been granted major event status, which comes with support from ChristchurchNZ; another aspect we are grateful for,” she adds.
The New Zealand Agricultural Show
runs for 3 days from
15 – 17 November, at the Wigram showgrounds.