There aren’t too many people telling the stories of rural Australia the way Kate Stark does. As she says, “My focus is on telling the stories of agricultural Australia and I think there is certainly a growing thirst for knowledge … people want to know more about where their food comes from, whether that be for health reasons or simply because they are willing to be more mindful about agricultural impacts on the earth.”
Meet Kate Stark: Freelance agricultural journalist
Here Kate talks about her path to becoming a freelance agricultural journalist and the importance of having good freelance buddies around.
How did you come to be a freelance agricultural journalist, Kate?
I used to write so much – little stories – all made up from the images in my mind. I never thought I would get to express that kind of creativity in a professional sense so, I did what any good country girl should and studied agriculture. I finished my first degree and thought ‘what now?’ After some serious naval gazing and half a day spent looking blindly in the QTAC directory – I settled on an arts degree, majoring in journalism and English literature and I was lucky enough to get my first full time gig before I even finished uni. After four amazing years travelling across the state telling the stories of rural and regional Queensland, it was time to make the leap to freelance.
I was incredibly anxious at the thought of having to chase work instead of just the subject – but I really felt like it was time for a different type of career challenge.
What sorts of stories/articles do you write and who do you predominantly write for?
I began writing predominantly about the Queensland beef market but am now moving more toward smaller, sustainable farming practices.
My focus is on telling the stories of agricultural Australia and I think there is certainly a growing thirst for knowledge surrounding rural industries. People want to know more about where their food comes from, whether that be for health reasons or simply because they are willing to be more mindful about agricultural impacts on the earth. I love finding farmers who have struck out on their own and are willing to try new and different varieties – to enter niche markets. To follow their story through the season and to see their gamble pay off is the greatest reward. I am currently working on a contract basis with regional and community newspapers and continue to work with Queensland Country Life as a contributor.
What do you love about writing about agriculture?
The opportunity to be welcomed into someone’s world, even for the briefest of moments, is always so special. I am lucky enough to be in a position where I can be very specific with who I write about and the work they are doing in the world. Sharing stories, no matter what they are about – should be enough though, shouldn’t it? The simplicity of it is so beautiful…To gift knowledge to another through words alone.
I feel so humbled by the stories I have already shared and so grateful to the people who have entrusted me with their words.
Do you have a favourite story that you’ve written?
I was looking through a cattle sale report one day and saw a low security correctional facility for men had sold some steers. I tracked down the number and was subsequently invited out to do a story. It was amazing to see these men given the opportunity to grow themselves and invest in a positive future simply by being out in the fresh air and working with the environment.
I was warmly welcomed into their temporary confine. Many of the men had made terrible, unforgivable mistakes but the centre was a safe space for them to learn new skills and become confident in the world again. I hoped this opportunity would ultimately lead to self awareness and, mostly importantly, forgiveness.
I have little moments like this, when talking to people, where I feel changed forever. This day was just – whoa.
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What does your freelancing week look like?
Usually the work I do comes through word of mouth and, while I do honour my work as a freelance journalist, I am having to subsidise my career through hands-on agricultural projects which includes working part time on a cattle property. Finishing up my full time job left me a little despondent and I’ve been taking some time off in order to focus on making sure I’m happy and healthy in every aspect of my life.
What advice would you give to a freelance writer wanting to make the leap into full time freelancing?
I think the biggest thing, for me, is the complete and utter shift in lifestyle that going freelance can bring. I used to work extremely long hours and my physical and mental health were beginning to suffer. Working for yourself can bring great freedom but the cost is in the effort you make so you remain in the game – you aren’t going to get work if nobody knows you exist.
I think being confident, capable and having great people skills certainly helps. I have some really wonderful friends who work freelance and they were incredibly helpful and supportive when I came to them with questions.
I think the best advice I could give about being in a competitive industry is to make sure you surround yourself with people who are going to lift you up and ensure your success.
What’s next for you?
Last year gifted me with some much-needed time to stabilise and get into the groove of working freelance. This year, I’m really looking forward to more of the same. I honestly feel like I’m in a great position to just keep doing what I’m doing. Yes, I would like to be challenged – but there is a limit and it’s always good to know what you’re capable of. I don’t feel like I have to be aggressive about seeking out work. I think some of the best jobs I’ve ever been offered were ones that approached me first and, in saying that, I know I am very fortunate.
How can people get in touch with you?
Or, if you’re feeling really keen, you can check out my Instagram adventures at ‘_katestark_’.