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Patron Fiona Lady Elworthy

Organic NZ Magazine: November/December 2006
Author: Alvina Murphy

Veteran Campaigner the New Patron of Soil & Health

S&H councillor Alvina Murphy outlines the life and times of Fiona, Lady Elworthy.
Fiona, Lady Elworthy is a well known personality in South Canterbury. Fiona began the Daffodil Day Festival with friends in 1979 and it is now held annually on the spring equinox at the home farm, Craigmore, under the care of the new generation. Here the coming of spring is celebrated with the organic way often a focus. For Fiona the produce of the land and sea must always be safeguarded from both chemical contamination and genetic engineering.

Born in the Hawkes Bay, Fiona McHardy is a descendant of Scottish crofters. Her father was killed in the war when she was three and is buried in Italy. As a child Fiona lived with her three brothers and her mother on an isolated station by the sea, accessible only at low tide. She has always lived on the land and considers herself to have been blessed with a wonderful husband and family and good health. Today Fiona lives in a peaceful home near the family home Craigmore, up a lane and over the little Pareora river: a lovely restful place.

The interest in organics for Fiona began many years ago with a determination to find a way to care for Craigmore roses that did not include chemical spraying – a treatment that also left Fiona physically sick. Discussions on growing roses with Bob Crowder, who was a frequent Daffodil Day visitor to Craigmore with the Tussock Jumpers, soon had Fiona convinced that organic methods would improve the situation. She joined the Soil and Health Association, the Craigmore garden, over two acres, was soon organic, and organics has benefited ever since.

With vegetable growing came an interest in the cooking and serving of organic food. During their tour of the Southern Regions in the 90s, the international delegates from the IFOAM conference at Lincoln University were served a delicious lunch at Craigmore with the help of the local branch of Soil and Health.

The friendship with Bob Crowder led to an interest for both Fiona and her late husband, Sir Peter Elworthy, in the Biological Husbandry Unit at Lincoln University. Peter became the Chairperson of the Board and Fiona a trustee. Ongoing funding, employment, and the relationship with the University all required attention.
Fiona’s interest in the BHU continues and she is always given a warm welcome when ever she calls. On her last visit she picked 30 cases of delicious Sturmer and Granny Smith apples which she then distributed to her neighbours at Maungati who had all had their entire year’s apple crops ruined by a late frost. Fiona has a real interest in the medicinal properties of plants both here and internationally.

With the introduction of genetic engineering in America and Europe and the threat that it brought to New Zealand agriculture, Sir Peter was instrumental in establishing the Sustainability Fund three years before his death. Fiona is now Patron of this organisation. In the year Peter died she organised an art auction to raise money for the Sustainability Fund. Artists, print makers and poets soon offered works for sale, some on commission, some donating their works, including painter Austin Deans and print maker Marilyn Webb.

Fiona’s interest in art developed when she was sent to finishing school in Paris. She had been awarded an AFS scholarship to America on completion of High School, much to her parents’ horror. They had visions of their daughter marrying an American and never seeing her again. The Paris school was their alternative and quickly agreed to by their daughter.

Much later a Sydney Nolan painting she bought was put to very good use. She needed to pay for a $3,000 phone and telegraph bill that had been incurred while Peter was overseas. Fiona had been very busy protesting against the proposed second aluminium smelter that was to be built at Aramoana on the Otago harbour and Peter had refused to pay the phone costs on his return. The proceeds from the sale of the painting saved the day.

Her most recent protest was during South Canterbury’s July snow storm when many country people were without power and any means of communication for almost two weeks. When the road was cleared Fiona finally got a letter out to the local newspaper and National Radio asking for help and compassion from the Government and improvement to the failed communication service at a time of real need for people in the whole region.

Important mentors in Fiona’s life include Vandana Shiva from India, Erihapeti Murchie, long time member of the Soil and Health Association, and Prince Charles with his wonderful organic endeavours in England. With such concerns and foresight the Soil and Health Association has a very good Patron indeed.

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