Wielding the power of words

By Maggie McCormick

“Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.” J.K. Rowling

I hope you’re not sick of J.K.’s wisdom yet!

At a recent family dinner, we were discussing whether I would change my last name when I get married next year. This of course led to a deep dive into a multi-layered discussion of names. In our blended family, there are three different last names that also represent a mixture of ethnicities. My step-sister, whose last name is hyphenated Scottish and Chinese names, said that growing up it felt critical to her that she shared one of my step-mom’s names because so often people made assumptions that she was adopted based on her appearance. For her that name, that word, held the power of belonging and also deflection of other’s assumptions.

There are a lot of opinions out there about the power of words. To some, a word only holds as much power as you give it. Sticks and stones and all that. For others they are tools that can help or harm depending on how you use them. In my workplace we have lengthy debates about the use of a single word, because our communication roles are about perception – about how our words will be interpreted by the receiver.

Words are given power by the sender, but it’s most important that we consider the receiver first when we set out to build an inclusive environment.

A perfect example are jokes. A friend makes a joke about someone of a different ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual orientation, but you’re sure they would never discriminate or intentionally hurt someone with that background. For the receiver, that doesn’t really matter; nor does it matter if those joked about are present. Careless words, whether there is intended malice or not, can create a toxic environment.

The Meaning and Messages Behind Words

This effect is often referred to as “microaggression”, a term first coined by Prof. Chester M. Pierce of Harvard University in 1970 and has since expanded.

“Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.”Derald Wing Sue Ph.D. (Psychology Today)

A very useful way of illustrating the power of language, and how words might be microaggression, is with this diagram, below (based on this one about covert racism). This triangle reflects words that women might hear. At the top of the triangle are pretty hateful terms but less frequently heard (I hope!). Below the surface are the more common and subvert comments that men and women might hear, read or say everyday.


As women in agriculture, we often discuss the phrases that get on our nerves and undermine our work. “Can I talk to the man in charge?”, “You’re much better looking than the last guy!” “Still waiting on a ring, eh?”. One time is annoyance. Heard regularly, these names, terms, and phrases deliver the message that our industry still lacks respect for women. Even if you’ve never heard them yourself, someone else might dissuade you from certain jobs or spaces because they know the environment that exists.

We can all imagine what other word triangles look like or know them from experience. They can be about anything –  sexual orientation, race, religion, even geographic location. I admit the word “citiot” used to be in my vocabulary and looking back I so embarrassed about that. But even if that particular word isn’t used, the attitude towards city living can be obvious in other word choices. What kind of environment does that create for urbanites who want to join our industry? What does that communicate to our customers, the vast majority of whom live in cities?

What We Can Do

So what do we do to build a more inclusive environment through our words?

It’s important to consider our unconscious biases. Jen and Joan wrote an amazing piece about unconscious bias in September and I suggest revisiting and sharing it. If so much about word choice is unintentional, we all benefit from shining the spotlight on our choices. I shouldn’t have had to move to the city to realize I needed to adjust my attitude and the terms I use.

We can also ask for change. Calling it out when you hear microaggression, whether it’s intentional or not, can create a better environment.

Most important though is to use the power to heal. In the CBC opinion piece “Why ‘they’ matters.”, Julian Paquette discusses pronoun choice and explains why word choice is so powerful to the receiver. It’s not just about the hurt, it’s also about the healing power. “…respecting people’s stated pronouns – though it may seem foreign at first – is a powerful act of respect and inclusion.”

Really thinking about and then choosing words that help and heal can go a long way to building an inclusive environment.

A place for all people in agriculture –Industry Profile: Sonya Fieldmeier

Originally from Northeast Saskatchewan, Sonya Fieldmeier is a research associate for Ag Quest in Saskatoon. Sonya generously agreed to share about her career in agriculture, discovering her lesbian identity, and her perspective on how we can create a more inclusive industry.

awn-sonya3Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

I grew up on a grain farm in Northeast Saskatchewan near a village called Ridgedale. My primary schooling was taken there in a school with 65 kids K-12. Our small school was closed in 1998 and we were sent to Tisdale for high school. I attended the University of Saskatchewan and got my degree in Agronomy with a minor in Agricultural Economics. My father and his brother had grown the farm into a large operation by the time I finished my education, and I came home to work with them for a couple of years.

Tell us a bit about your career path and your current role.

I decided to leave the farm due to my aversion to risk. My wife and I then moved to Saskatoon and I started off as a retail agronomist. I found that sales are not my strong suit and quickly began looking for a more hands-on career. I found a position covering a parental leave with an independent research company called Ag Quest and have been there for 7.5 years now.

When did you identify you were a lesbian, and when did you share this with your community (or family)?

I always knew I was different from my friends, but there were no openly LGBT folks in my community, so I didn’t even realize that it was a thing until Ellen came out on TV. There were a couple of teachers in my school everyone knew were gay, but refused to acknowledge it. This made me think it was something shameful that should be hidden. So I thought, “surely that’s not me, I’m a good person.” It took a while for me to accept that it wasn’t a bad thing, just different. I came out while in university. I told a few close friends and my family who were all very supportive. The rumour mill took care of making sure everyone else knew.

Have you found your community to be accepting and supportive?

Ridgedale is a wonderful community.  My wife and I were married there in the town hall. The Co-op put out a donation box, same as they do for any local event, and we received a lovely gift of cash and a card signed by everyone in town. When we moved to the city, they had cake at Coffee Rowe to wish us luck. We hope to move back there in the near future.

awn-sonya1Has your LGBTQ+ identity influenced where you’ve chosen to live and work?

Its hard to say whether this is just due to my personality, but I’ve always been really nervous doing cold calls to farms. My appearance is quite androgynous so there is often an awkward moment when I’m mistaken for a man. I’ve become used to it and it doesn’t bother me much anymore, but that may have influenced my choice to work in a career that limits the amount of interaction I have with new people.

 In your opinion, how could the agricultural industry (or any industry) be more supportive of LGBTQ+ individuals?

Company’s need to ensure that all employees are aware of their human resources policy and also ensure that it is enforced should any discrimination occur. It is important for LGBTQ people to know that their employer will protect them from hate.

In your opinion, how could the agricultural industry encourage more diversity and be more inclusive?

I would like to see employers ignoring the name at the top of a resume, and instead focus on the education and experience of the candidates only.  I also believe that media has a big role to play in shaping public opinion. Seeing more diversity in coverage of agricultural events or farm focused advertising in magazines, TV and online will help everyone realize that there is a place for all people in this industry.

What solutions, tools, or processes do you think could be put in place to help advance Canadian women and specifically Canadian women in agriculture? 

I think the agriculture industry has been doing very well in this regard. Enrolment at the U of S College of Agriculture and Bioresources is majority female now, and it seems that a nearly equal number of men and women are employed by many ag companies. Of course we all know about companies or organizations that are still the “old boys club”, but hopefully we can see them opening their doors a bit more soon.

Do you have a piece of advice for young women starting their career in agriculture?

Lead with your knowledge. The most successful women I know are always able to impress when they reveal their expertise up front and refuse to let anyone undermine their strengths.

Who is (or has been) your biggest influencer/mentor? What have you learned from them?

My dad, he taught me the value of patience. He raised me to appreciate the magnificent diversity of nature and how each plant and animal has a role in the ecosystem. I’ve chosen to make my career in the agriculture industry because of my dad’s influence. As a kid, I spent as much time as possible out with him on the farm and he encouraged me to get my degree in agriculture.

What do you think is the most important topic in agriculture right now? Or what should be?

Misinformation and education regarding science, agricultural technology and food safety.


By Maggie McCormick

Diversity and Inclusion Week

By Maggie McCormick

“We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.” J.K. Rowling

Diversity_&_Inclusion_Image.pngDiversity and inclusion. When I offered to organize a week on this topic, I knew that the words carried so much weight, so much responsibility, that the rest of the words to accompany them would not come easily.

Every time I thought about writing posts for this week, the first thing that came to mind was how unqualified I felt for the topic. In our society, I know I am privileged: a white, Anglo-Saxon, protestant… you know the acronym. I’ve benefitted in a society organized by people with those same attributes. But, of course, this week isn’t about me. It’s about all the great voices who have stepped up to share their stories, their struggles, and their ideas. And of course, it’s about the voices we don’t hear in our industry.

The Ag Women’s Network is quite clearly hard at work trying to encourage inclusion of women in the barn and the boardroom. This week, let’s explore diversity both with and beyond gender. We’ll talk about diversity and inclusion in all kinds of capacities.

So let’s begin at the beginning. What does diversity mean?

Diversity: “the condition of having or being composed of differing elements:  the inclusion of different types of people (as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization”. (Merriam Webster)

This is a difference in religion, race, appearance, citizenship, sexual orientation and identity, age, gender, mental health, and residence, to name only a few.

Include: “to take in or comprise as a part of a whole or group.” (Merriam Webster)

I don’t think we need to dance around the fact that our industry is not very diverse. How we got here isn’t a tough question. We can look at colonization, immigration, law and other factors of world history to explain how Canadian agriculture ended up in its current composition. Technology has also played a role. At a certain point machinery and breeding advances meant farming was sending people out of the industry to work elsewhere and taking in only a few. Traditions also create barriers for those on the outside.

We’re at a new point in history: our industry is growing and the advances and opportunities mean we need more people in the industry. It’s a time when the industry needs to better understand our customers, so we must get to know them, what they value, and how they speak, socialize, perceive, and, most vitally, eat. We need to build positive relationships with all people in a time when the world is filled with division. It’s more than time to bring in new ideas. It’s time to heal where the exclusion has hurt, even when it was unintentional. It’s time to create an industry that everyone wants to join.

So what to do about it? I believe we are already making some progress but it’s important to examine a problem, and then take action. I’ve asked several people to give their insights this week, and maybe as the week comes to a close we’ll have a clearer picture of what we should do as a group and individually to be more inclusive. This a big, difficult topic, so I ask for your understanding and patience as we begin the conversation this week. Mutual respect and understanding are vital to the topic, but also to the conversation. We may not always get it right, but it’s a start.

BC hops producer paves the way for women in ag – Producer Profile Diane Stewart

Diane Stewart is one of the few female hops farmers in BC and she’s looking to connect

By Courtney Denard
Ag Women’s Network

15302279_10154964107833814_1581094137_oDiane Stewart is the owner of BC Hop Company, a 35-acre hops farm in Abbottsford, about 100 kilometres southeast of Vancouver.

The company, which got its start just two short years ago, is a family operation.

Diane works alongside her husband Dwane, her children Cam and Sarah, Dwane’s cousin Brian Zaporozan, plus a small team of employees.

Diane says both she and her husband grew up on farms but they never imagined they’d ever be in the business of beer.

It was succession-planning decisions around Dwane’s family dairy farm that propelled the couple into the burgeoning sector.

“These days you have to be milking 600 head to make anything viable out this end of the world and that wasn’t going to work for us,” she said.

So when a local craft brewer approached the Stewarts, an idea was formed.

There was also something personal going on.

In 2013, Diane was diagnosed with a brain tumour that ultimately had to be removed. It was the size of an orange, she says -luckily it was benign.

The tumour and the surgery left a lasting impact on Diane.

She has recurring issues like memory loss and has been told her personality is different since the extraction. “The tumour changed our lives. We looked back on everything and decided life is too short to do things that don’t bring you joy,” she says.

Diane was a stay-at-home mom until that point and Dwane had been running his own construction company for 22 years but the couple agreed it was time for something different.

Learning about an entirely new production system and market wasn’t easy.15271406_10154964109883814_271255020_o

Fortunately, Diane says the craft brewers were extremely welcoming and supportive so that made the journey a little smoother.

BC Hop Co. brought in the best equipment from Wolf in Germany; in fact, the company’s harvester is the first of its kind in Canada.

All of the fresh hops grown on the farm are sold to local l craft brewers and home brew suppliers.

The farm is active on the festival scene, as well, hosting two major events each year-BeerBq in July and the BC Hop Fest in the fall.

“It’s a lot of work and it’s a tonne of fun,” the farmer says.

As a woman in agriculture, Diane faces her fair share of discrimination.

For example, when BC Hop Co. is seeking new farming partners Diane is often ignored.

“They [male farmers] only want to speak to my husband. I have the exact same knowledge so I try to interject and I am literally shooed out of the room with the farmer’s wife,” she says.

“I end up speaking to the wife about the exact same thing because she doesn’t need to be ushered out of the room either.”

Working with equipment dealers is a more positive experience but Diane has to stand her ground. “As long as I am sure of myself, it’s okay. As soon as I show any kind of weakness or mention a man’s name, that’s it,” she explains.

Diane says the prejudice is hard to overcome and hurts the most when she’s feeling particularly vulnerable.

15303784_10154964109873814_843583046_oShe also says that BC does not have a lot of support networks for women in farming.

This is what led her to join the Ag Women’s Network (AWN).

Diane was looking for a space to connect with other females in the industry and a hash tag search on Instagram directed her to the group in a roundabout way.

She soon realized that AWN was formed in Ontario but decided to join anyway, hoping that one day the network would have a stronger presence on the West Coast.

Diane appreciates the conversation on the Facebook page, which includes motivational articles, book suggestions, and things you would talk to you friends about if you’re friends weren’t all from the city.

She sees a strong need for in person meetings too, especially in her area, which “is still run by the old boys club ” in her opinion.

“We as women need to build each other up more and not just on Facebook. Perhaps there is a place for regional AWN chapters,” she says.

For now, Diane plans on continuing her industry advancing work on the farm and supporting new entrants who want to join the sector.

She is open to connecting with other women in ag and says she can be found online and on social media.

Want to connect with Diane – you can check out their website http://www.bchop.ca/ or follow them on facebook or twitter @bchopco

So what is public health- how can it help?


So, what is public health? 

After working in public health for over 5 years in various front line positions, and now management, I can truly use the phrase – If I had a dollar, or even a dime, for every time one of my friends or family members asked me “what is public health” I’d be rich! I’ll do my best to answer by asking (and answering) three key questions.

  1. Immunizations… Smoking cessation… Prenatal classes… Breastfeeding support… Free dental care… Safe food handling… Seniors fall prevention… what do all of these have in common?

Yes, hopefully you made the connection, they are all services offered by public health units, but they are also all examples of health promotion and disease prevention. This is one of the main differences between a public health practitioner, and a primary care practitioner, such as a clinical nurse or doctor. While clinical nurses/doctors focus on treating conditions, in public health we are interested in working with communities and populations to promote health and prevent disease and injury. For example, rather than prescribing medication for high blood pressure, we look at the evidence, identify the causes, and use this information to influence changes in our community! There are many other things that go unnoticed that public health professionals work on behind the scenes.

  1. With the information overload that we experience on a daily basis, how do we know that we can trust the information offered by public health professionals?

With google and Wikipedia at our fingertips we are able to find an answer to any question pretty easily in today’s society, but this also causes complications when interpreting the information. The Ontario Public Health Standards dictate the expectations for how public health units operate in Ontario. These standards are evidence-based and therefore ensure that the information, programs and services offered by public health professionals are based on the most up-to-date research, data and evidence.

  1. How do people access public health services in their community?

In Ontario there are 36 public health units, each covering a distinct geographical region. By visiting the Ministry of Health and Long-term care’s “Public Health Unit Locator,” individuals can identify their health unit easily by typing in their postal code. Every health unit will have a website that explains the programs, services and information available to improve the overall health and well-being of their local community.

Now that you have a basic understanding of public health, I encourage you all to be your own health advocate. Take a few minutes to visit your local public health unit’s website and do your research. There will be something relevant to you, your family and/or your friends. Spread the word and contribute to improving your health and the health of those in your community, we can all play a role.

By Jillian Gumbley- Health Promotion Manager 


My journey as a first time bikini competitor

By Erin Calhoun

I started my fitness journey many years ago, when I decided to start jogging. This eventually led me into the weight room, where I have always thoroughly enjoyed working out. Generally speaking, I would work out 5 or so days a week, plus taking my dog for long walks every day – I am an active person, but have always liked to eat a LOT and whatever I want. (Body type – likes working out, but definitely likes eating pizza. I was happy with myself – mentally and physically).

The idea of competing in a bodybuilding competition came to me gradually. I had a friend that competed and I always looked at photos of her at shows and think two things: 1. Holy crap she looks amazing and 2. I could never look like that. This thought stuck with me for a few months, and being the stubborn person I am, I eventually decided to really find out if I could do it – the training, the diet, and have the discipline needed to get stage ready.

I hired a coach to work with me to do my diet and training plan. Initially we worked off macros – my coach would assign a certain number for protein, fat, and carbs I would meet throughout the day. I had already been loosely tracking these for a couple months, but became much more strict – I had a big goal, after all. I enjoyed my workouts and the resulting changes in my body. Eventually, I switched to a meal plan, where my coach would give me a plan of what I would eat every day.

My competition prep lasted 18 weeks. During these 18 weeks, I spent countless hours in the gym lifting weights and doing cardio, took approximately 4 total rest days, monitored what I ate very closely, drank infinite liters of water, ate what seemed like infinite egg whites and asparagus, and didn’t have a single cheat meal. I did slip up a couple times – but was always quick to rectify that by cutting back the next day.

I became a machine. All that mattered to me was my show prep. I couldn’t wait for my next meal. I became lethargic, hangry, and it’s all I talked about. I discovered I am a very, very goal-oriented person, and I was driven like I had never had been before. I had my eye on the prize (not literally – my only goal when I set out on this path was to not stick out in a bad way on stage) and nothing could stop me.

My show day eventually came, and the experience the day-of was surreal. I wasn’t nervous to step on stage (even in a tiny bikini!)– I had put in the time in my workouts and posing, and there wasn’t anything else I could do at that point. I ended up placing first in my category out of 8 girls – I wasn’t expecting this and was blown away.

I will admit, there’s a certain high associated with being on stage – I loved it, don’t get me wrong, but the road to get there wasn’t an easy one. It was physically and mentally exhausting, very hard on my relationships, and was difficult to stay focused at work. However, a great deal of personal growth also happened, unintentionally. This was by far the most difficult thing I have ever done, and I killed it. To this day, when I look back on my stage photos, I am still shocked.

My whole prep was an amazing learning experience. I learned so much about exercise and my body, and myself as a person. Here’s the Coles Notes version:

  1. I can do anything. Like seriously anything. If I can eat like a disciplined monk for months on end – I can seriously do anything. If I can never miss a cardio workout or a workout and push as hard as I can during both – I can do anything.
  2. You cannot, I repeat – CANNOT out-exercise a bad diet. It can’t be done. Trust me. You can’t.
  3. There’s nothing like being SO excited to have two whole eggs added into your diet to show that your mentality can change if you want it to. I never in a million years thought this would excite me so much. But it did. I had gone without egg yolks for about a month, and to have them back – amazing.
  4. This is a lifestyle, but not a life. This has two parts. Don’t decide to compete on a whim. It is very very hard, and a great deal of money. Don’t do it to inspire yourself to lose weight. And don’t forget to accept yourself no matter what – ripped on stage or fluffier. You need to find a balance where you eat well most of the time, but enjoy treats. That extra 5 or 10 pounds you have? That’s life. That’s birthday cake, dinner out with friends, lazy days with Netflix. That’s the fun part of life. I struggle with this part every day, as do many competitors. You don’t look at yourself the same way.

Now, almost 1.5 months post show, it’s all a mental game. In theory- I am supposed to be on a reverse diet to slowly increase caloric intake and decrease cardio, to make sure I don’t go off the rails and balloon up in weight. My reverse diet has been a total failure, but I am oddly somewhat OK with it. I have plans to step on stage again in 2018, much to my family’s dismay – so we will see what happens. In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy eating a cinnamon bun for breakfast.


Reading between the mythical lines of health and fitness

We see things. Read things. And people tell us things. But when it comes to health and fitness information, how do we tell what’s truth and what’s a myth?

In truth, it’s hard to keep up with the endless flow of information that is constantly being shared. Not to mention one day eggs will kills you and cause all kinds of high cholesterol and the next they are the best super food and you should eat them every day.

In an effort to help us all, we’ve shared some common health myths throughout today to bring light to these false truths you may or may not have heard.

Now I’m no doctor, health professional or otherwise. So these answers have been pulled from various reputable sources to help us bust the myths we are so often lead to believe.

Myth. I can spot reduce fat on my body. Goodbye love handles. “I am sorry, but spot reduction does not work,” says Wiedenbach. It all comes down to that pesky layer of fat obscuring those perfectly toned muscles. No matter how many crunches they do, someone with 20% body fat will never have abs like someone with 8% body fat, he says. To lose weight quickly, you’ll need to burn as much fuel as you can with intense exercises like squats, dips, pull downs, dead lifts and shoulder presses while following a strict diet.

Myth. Want to see results? You’ve got to workout every day. Rest should be part of your workout, not an alternative to your workout, says Barbara Bushman, Ph.D., a professor of kinesiology at Missouri State University.

Myth. Sweating means you’re out of shape. “It sounds counterintuitive, but the fitter you are, the sooner your body begins to sweat, so a person who’s in extremely good shape will produce more sweat than somebody who isn’t,” says Beth Stover, M.S., C.S.C.S., a senior scientist at the Gatorade Sports Science Institute in Barrington, Illinois. “With each workout, you become a more and more efficient sweating machine.”

Myth. You can eat whatever you want as long as you workout. Working out on a regular basis has many health benefits, but it can’t erase the overwhelmingly harmful effects of unhealthy foods. The most dangerous are trans fats (aka hydrogenated oils), which are found in deep-fried fast foods and certain processed foods made with margarine or partially-hydrogenated vegetable oils.

Trans fats increase the risk of heart attacks, heart disease and strokes, plus they contribute to increased inflammation, diabetes and other health problems. Steer clear of margarine, chips, crackers, baked goods and most fast foods.

Myth. Cardio. Cardio. Cardio. Lifting weights will make you look like a man. Lifting weights can actually slim you down. Women who lift a challenging weight for eight reps burn nearly twice as many calories as women who do 15 reps with lighter dumbbells, according to a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

Myth. ALL protein all the time. Cut the carbs and don’t ever eat bread. If you want to gain muscle, you’re going to need carbs. If you take them out completely, you’ll burn more body fat during training perhaps, but you can’t keep it up for long. Carbs are fuel for intense workouts, fats are not. Choose a macro plan that suits your athletic goals. If you’re an athlete, you’re going to need more than protein to make it through a game.

On a more serious note, you need a minimum amount of carbs to ensure that your brain functions properly. The brain needs glucose to work. Your body can be ketonic and use fatty acids to fuel your muscles, but your brain can’t.

Myth. No pain no gain. Working out is supposed to hurt while you’re doing it. Of all the fitness rumors ever to have surfaced, experts agree that the “no pain-no gain” holds the most potential for harm.

While you should expect to have some degree of soreness a day or two after working out, Schlifstein says, that’s very different from feeling pain while you are working out.

“A fitness activity should not hurt while you are doing it, and if it does, then either you are doing it wrong, or you already have an injury,” he says.

As for “working through the pain,” experts don’t advise it. They say that if it hurts, stop, rest, and see if the pain goes away. If it doesn’t go away, or if it begins again or increases after you start to work out, Schlifstein says, see a doctor.

That’s a wrap.

And there is more where all this comes from. Unfortunately the myths and misinformation, continue to flood our sources. So just like we preach when combatting misinformation in the industry we love (farming for those of you paying attention) do your homework. Check your sources and speak up when someone’s info is not on point. Nicely of course!

Health is a connection point for all of us as women, but in our passions and work in agriculture. We too have a link to what people are nourishing and fuelling their bodies with. Let’s continue to support each other in all areas of health, food and wellness.

Back to the myths. What others myths do you continue to hear?


Written by: Kristen Kelderman


Sources (not APA or MLA or whatever they’re using these days!)