Farm girl carves out her own place in agriculture

With no opportunity to transition into the family farm, Janet Chapman chartered her own route

By Courtney Denard

Ag Women’s Network

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Growing up, Janet Chapman, the daughter of a dairy farmer, wasn’t encouraged to go into farming.

As the only girl in a family of four, Janet was in fact never allowed to touch any of the equipment on the farm. She was responsible for completing daily chores like her three brothers though.

“I was always at home as I was the oldest. I worked right alongside the boys in the barn or the boys worked right alongside me, I guess I should say.”

Even so, Janet wasn’t asked if she wanted to farm and like many operations the plan was to eventually transfer the business to the next generation of males.

In 1975, Janet married Tom, also a child of a farmer, and the two set out to build their life together near Alliston.

Tom’s parents did not promote a life in agriculture either. ‘There’s no money in farming,’ they told them so the young couple took heed and chose another direction.

“I think Tom and I would have continued farming if we had any kind of encouragement at all but Tom got into construction and renovation so we went with the path that we did,” Janet says.

Janet found a job with the Baxter Corporation, a company that manufactures and markets medical products, and has worked there for the past 40 years.

She took time off between having her four children, all of whom are adults now and living in different parts of the country. Seven grandchildren have been added along the way.

Five years ago, Janet and Tom made their way back to farming (not that they were ever really far from it) through the development of Maple Lane Heritage Turkeys & Heirloom Vegetables, a community supported agriculture (CSA) they run from home.

“I think deep down we have always wanted to farm so that’s where the idea for the CSA came from,” Janet says.

Maple Lane grows a variety of in-season herbs and vegetables, all without inputs or sprays. Janet labels this as ‘natural’ production and says it’s what CSA customers are looking for.

There are heritage chickens and four breeds of heritage turkeys on-farm that are sold for their meat and eggs.

The CSA’s customer base is mainly families who have the option of buying a half-share or full-share of goods throughout the growing season.

Janet says one of the biggest complaints she’s received so far is that the baskets have too much food in them.

“Gone are the days of the 30-pound turkey and freezers full of food to get you through the winter,” she says about this lesson in modern food demand.

Maple Lane chose to offer a slightly less typical CSA product with their heirloom vegetables and heritage poultry because as Janet says, they wanted to stand out.

Running a CSA may be different than the dairy farm Janet grew up on but it still has many of the same challenges.

Unpredictable weather, growing a product the customer wants, determining a fair and profitable pricing scheme, and finding time to get all the work done in a given day are a few that come to mind.

Dealing with the non-farming public is a new challenge and Janet doesn’t hold back on this topic of conversation.

“A lot of people want something for nothing but I will not sell my product for nothing,” she says. “Why should I not make money? I just don’t understand that and I think the farming industry as a whole faces this dilemma.”

Janet says the consumers themselves are the cause of commercial farming. She says they asked for it when they demanded fast, cheap food. And the fact that there are so many unfounded complaints these days about farmers treating their animals poorly fires her up!

“People don’t like how I put it out there but don’t tell me that farmers are doing something immoral. In the grand scheme, farmers are better to their animals than anyone else.”

That same passion shines through when you ask her about gender inequality in the agriculture sector.

“Gender inequality makes no sense to me,” she says. “The men out there treating farm women differently probably have daughters of their own. Would they want their daughters to be treated any differently than their sons?”

To Janet, farming is a family business, which should include everyone. “I don’t care if you’re a boy or a girl and I find it disturbing that some people do,” she adds.

She also firmly believes that men and women should get paid equally for the same job, which in Canada is still not the case.

“Where in the constitution is it okay to pay a man more than a woman? I just don’t get that. It should be paid by the job not by the gender.”

As a member of the Ag Women’s Network, Janet has had the opportunity to connect with others in the sector that share her beliefs.

She says she joined the organization at first to see if she could promote her CSA but she also wanted to know what other women in the industry were up to.

Janet finds it interesting to read about the other members’ farm family life and says so much has changed over time.

“There are so many more outside influences on farming now than there was when I was growing up. There’s a lot for farm families to juggle,” she says.

Janet and Tom are no different. As the couple moves closer to retirement they’re looking at how they want to spend their time.

The plan is to continue with the CSA with the possibility of adding some beef cattle down the road.

“Both of us have been around farming all our lives, growing stuff, and harvesting stuff so this will be our little bit of agriculture, our little bit of farming that we get to keep,” she says.

Building a Better Society – From Generation to Generation

 Because it’s 2016, Canadians are recognizing 100 years of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in Canada.  Canada Post issued a commemorative stamp.  The Canadian Federation of Business and Professional Women will be celebrating this milestone at their upcoming national convention in Calgary.  Equal Voice will mark this anniversary with the unique initiative “Daughters of the Vote” involving young women from every federal riding in Canada. (https://youtu.be/jvs_T-AAU0I) These are just a few examples of an important celebration!  Below is an updated version of a blog that was originally posted in October, 2015 prior to the federal election.  It’s a tribute to the women of the past who worked so hard to build a better society for us.

Voting is a right, a privilege and a responsibility and should not be met with apathy.  For women, it is a right that had to be won.  It was in 1916, only 100 short years ago, when women were first given the right to vote in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.  Other provinces followed but it was a long journey until all women in Canada were eligible to vote.

Five Canadian women, known as the “Famous Five”, are most recognized for their leadership in the women’s suffrage movement in Canadian history.  Nellie McClung, is credited with working to establish women’s right to vote.  She later joined Emily Murphy, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Louise McKinney, and Irene Parlby when they networked together to win the case for women to be recognized as persons and eligible to be appointed to the Senate (1929).  http://www.famou5.ca/the-famous-five-women/ .  While Agnes Macphail was not one of the Famous Five, she is indeed a woman of renown.  She was the first woman elected to the House of Commons (1921). http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/agnes-macphail/

With this look to our past…the words and images of these women remind us of their determination to gain recognition and rights for Canadian women.  Their bios are rich with farm-raised, rural-rooted, community-minded, organization-leading history. They were committed, passionate and even a little fierce in their goals.  They made their actions for the women of that time, but, they also spoke, rallied, performed, wrote and advocated for the generations that have followed.

Each generation has the hope of creating a better society for the next. As women, we share the duty and joy of ensuring ours is a society where all women progress and flourish.  No matter our age, our role or our path, we have opportunities to mentor and develop the generation following us.  These are legacy building privileges and responsibilities…to be greeted positively and not to be met with apathy!

  • Joan Craig

Celebrating Canadian Agriculture at the Calgary Stampede – Erin Stuart

Living in downtown Calgary directly across from Stampede grounds, I look forward to the ten days of Stampede every year – it’s a fantastic kick-off to summer.

This year was no different, I enjoyed corporate events, the rodeo, a pancake breakfast or two, the fireworks and time with friends and family.

image1 (1).jpegTo celebrate the event and the ag women involved in it, I spoke with Erin Stuart, Past Chair of the Beef Cattle Committee, to hear her perspective on Stampede and her advice for others in the industry. Erin’s been a CS volunteer since May 2012. Thanks for your input, Erin!

 1) What’s your favourite part of Stampede/What does Stampede mean to you?

My first stampede memories were of showing my first cutting horse Doctana at the CS Youth Cutting competition in the Big Top when I was nine years old (I’m now 31!!).

When I finished my Masters of Science and moved home from Lincoln, Nebraska I joined the Beef Cattle Committee. It is a relatively small committee but it is made up of such a wonderful group of people. Some of us have Ag backgrounds and some of us don’t- but everyone brings their best. The variety of skill sets and backgrounds the group has creates an excellent experience for our guests and makes being a volunteer a lot of fun. I have made some wonderful friends who share a passion for the organization and giving back to the committee.

My Dad, Byron Hussey, was a Stampede Volunteer for a number of years and recently completed his tenth year as a member of the Calgary Stampede Board of Directors. My Mom, Pat Hussey has supported him during all of those years and has a birthday that falls during Stampede. We have a wonderful tradition of going for dinner and watching the Chuckwagon Races and Grandstand Show as a family on her birthday. My younger sister, Kiersten, has worked at the Lazy S for a number of years. That being said, the Stampede has very much been a part of our family for twenty years. We all have our individual Stampede commitments year round and daily activities on park during the ten day festivities but make time to get together as a family and enjoy ourselves.

The family time we get to share on park, the friends I have made, and the opportunity to give back to the community are some of my favourite things about Stampede.

 2) Why do you volunteer with Stampede?

Growing up in rural Alberta and studying science and agriculture in university fostered a passion for agriculture and all of the great things that the industry does to ensure that our food is safe. Farmers and ranchers utilize good production practices that ensure animals are raised humanely, the environment is respected, and resources are used efficiently. The Stampede does an excellent job of sharing this information with park guests year round and during the ten day festivities and I am very proud to be able to contribute my time and knowledge.

3) Advice for other women wanting to get involved in industry events?

Get involved!! We all have knowledge and skills to contribute and it is very rewarding to participate in and contribute to industry events. You’ll meet people and establish friendships with people that you may not have met otherwise.

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Contributed by Krista Goranson
Interview content by Erin Stuart

Krista works in business and agriculture and lives in downtown Calgary. Follow Krista on Twitter @kristagg1.

 

 

 

Finding a place in a male dominated industry – Aubrie Mowat

Aubrie Mowat works for a commodity marketing and handling company, which seems like a good fit considering she grew up in a family that owns and operates a grain elevator. She’s just starting her career and it hasn’t always been easy to find her place in a male dominated industry, but she’s been building the career she wants through personal drive and goal setting.

If you’re interested in connecting with Aubrie, contact her via e-mail at aubriemowat@live.ca

Aubrie Mowat 1Please tell us a bit about yourself and your career path.

I grew up on a small cow/calf operation and was also involved with commodities as our family owns and operates a grain elevator. I graduated University of Guelph – Kemptville Campus in 2012 with an Associate Diploma in Agriculture. In 2014 I graduated Olds College with a Bachelor of Applied Science Degree in Agribusiness. I started with BroadGrain Commodities Inc. while finishing my applied degree and was hired as a Rotational Associate. In this role I moved around our offices throughout Ontario for a year to learn about each division. I then moved on to be a Location Marketing Advisor in Brinston, Ontario, which enables me to be back on the farm! I help my customers create marketing plans for their commoditie, and I am also the team lead of our non-GMO/identity preserved food grade soybean program.

Tell us more about your job and what a typical day looks like.

On a day-to-day basis I keep myself informed with where the futures markets are at and what is happening in our local area in regards to supply and demand. I review my customers’ price targets daily and share the knowledge I have in regards to where the prices are at and reasons supporting those prices. I enjoy helping my customers achieve their goals in regards to marketing their grain and value all of the relationships I have created over the past few years. When the markets aren’t too busy, I also help at the scale, when need be, and enjoy dropping in for farm visits!

Who has been your most significant mentor along the way?

Until I started with BroadGrain, I think it’s safe to say my parents were. They run our family’s grain elevator together and have always been driven to be successful and innovative, and have instilled in me the benefits of hard work from the very beginning. Upon starting with BroadGrain, one of my mentors throughout my rotational program was Sonja. She was in a similar role as I am now but on a much larger scale as she was overseeing different commodities. She is a strong woman with the willpower to push herself past boundaries and continues to set goals. She was also a firm believer in girl power, which I think is VERY important! Although we are in different offices now, she is very supportive and encourages me to grow.

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How do you define professional success?

Professional success is setting goals and pushing yourself to achieve them. It is important to strive for this on a continual basis, as challenges are imperative for our growth and development within our career. All of my current goals have some sort of measurable aspect to them to hold me accountable, but I also like to focus on the skills that obtain those numbers. I am a firm believer that time management and the ability to create and carry out an action plan are two of the most important skills an individual can possess. A person must have “drive” and be willing to work as hard as required to achieve his/her goals time and time again.

What is the biggest professional or personal challenge that you’ve had to face?

The biggest challenge that I’ve had to face is ongoing. Being a female in this industry is a small battle that requires me to prove myself to new customers that aren’t used to female professionals in a position like mine. As time goes on it doesn’t seem as frustrating; now it is just another hurdle to jump over and a chance to improve my skills and competencies. Slowly but surely I know women in the industry will change opinions and views; after all, we are all in this together!

It is important to stay open minded. We never know what is around the corner.

Learning from our mistakes is an important, but sometimes tough, part of life. Are you willing to share a mistake you made but taught you something important?

While I was going through college I really disliked my sales classes as they were focused on selling a specific product and I decided that I never wanted a career involved in sales. I quickly changed my opinion after an interview when I was asked what I thought of sales and almost immediately said I disliked the whole concept and never wanted a job involved in it. Without even thinking, I almost closed the door to a great opportunity. “Sales” isn’t always about selling an object. Every day I sell our company’s services to our customers. It is important to stay open minded. We never know what is around the corner.

What’s the most burning question for you right now in your career?

The most burning question that people ask me is: “Why aren’t you working at home?” I get asked this question almost every week; I can understand this considering our family has been heavily involved in this industry for more than 50 years, however it still bothers me. I chose to pursue an education related to agriculture in order to secure a challenging career in this industry. I am young, just starting my journey and my main focus is on my own personal development. I am thankful that BroadGrain is such a progressive company and the opportunities within this company are truly endless!

How do you define agriculture?

Agriculture is the most important thing in this world; there is absolutely no doubt about it. It is an industry that is filled with science, compassion and relentlessness, an industry that is at the mercy of Mother Nature, an industry that literally feeds and clothes the world.

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Aubrie with sister Alysa

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

I think the biggest issue in agriculture right now is how uninformed consumers are as more and more of our population is removed from the farm. It is important that we share our stories. We need to inform these consumers of what we do and why we do it. We need to encourage our consumers to ask questions, invite them to our farms and expose them to a day in our lives. Let’s focus on sharing our story and facts to help our consumers make informed decisions. Let’s be approachable and inviting. Let’s do our job in promoting the industry that has provided us with connections, a chance to be responsible for our animals and crops, the strength to deal with the cycle of life, an opportunity to be stewards of the land and the chance to be a part of an amazing industry!

Jessica Kelly on balancing work, farm and family

Jessica Kelly is the Direct Farm Marketing Program Lead with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and owns a sow operation with her husband in Perth County. She readjusting to life because she recently went on maternity leave with her first child, but took some time to share her experiences with us.

If you are interested in connecting with Jessica, contact her via email at jessmkelly@gmail.com

Please tell us about yourself and your career path.

I grew up on a hog farm near Drayton, so agriculture has weaved in and out of my life since the beginning. I studied business at the University of Western Ontario (forgive me, aggie friends!), but summers were spent in ag-related jobs and volunteer work: Farm and Food Care, Farms.com, and a probiotic yogurt project in Tanzania. There were certainly times at Western that I didn’t feel as though I was with “my people”, however I don’t regret it. With only two “farm kids” in my class of 350, I was a novelty and had many opportunities to teach my classmates about farming.

After undergrad, I taught at Western for three years and then landed at the University of Guelph to complete a Master’s in Food, Agriculture and Resource Economics (and international development) where my thesis looked at the farmers’ share of the food dollar in Canada. After my master’s I was fortunate to dive right into my current job with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA).

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Jessica with Leslie Forsythe(middle) and Cathy Bartolic(right) at the Queen’s Park Farmers’ Market to celebrate Local Food Week in June 2015

 

What do you do with OMAFRA? What does your “typical” day look like?

I am the Direct Farm Marketing Program Lead within OMAFRA’s Agriculture Development Branch. In this job, my aim is to help direct marketers (farmers’ markets, on-farm markets, agri-tourism, etc.) and food entrepreneurs access the information and build the skills they need to strengthen their businesses. There is a lot of variability in what I do throughout the year!  Conferences and training workshops fill my calendar in fall-winter; reports and administration are a main focus in the spring; and summer-fall is my time to hit the road and visit farm businesses.

Please tell us more about your farm. How do you balance roles to make the farm business run smoothly?

My husband, Stewart, and I own about 350 sows in Perth County and our farm business works very closely with my in-laws’ farm. We are also undertaking an expansion to capitalize on a business opportunity to raised pigs under a humane certification program. Our roles on the farm are primarily dictated by the fact that Stewart and I are, in many ways, total opposites! He’s amazing at building connections, seeing new opportunities and dreaming big. Without him, I might be too timid to try new things. I’m the detail person who loves to-do lists and asks the tough questions as a “reality check” when new ideas come up. Without me, he might be on to dream #3 before dream #1 is done. Since I work off the farm, my role is primarily bookkeeping in the evenings and weekend chores when an extra hand is needed.

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A family affair at the Ag Women;s Network Speed Mentoring event with her husband Stewart Skinner and son Bryce. This was Bryce’s first official AWN event! 

How do you define personal success? What steps do you take to get there?

For me, personal success is all about using your talents to make a contribution, no matter how big or small, and constantly striving to learn new things. I keep a journal of inspirational quotes; one favourite is from Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” To me this is a reminder that success is more than what you do, but how you do it.

Who would say is your biggest influencer/mentor? What have you learned from them?

One of just many important things I learned from my parents is the importance of being a lifelong learner – asking questions and learning no matter what age and stage you’re at.  When I was in grade 4, my Mom went back to school to complete the agribusiness MBA from the University of Guelph, while working more-than-full-time managing two farm businesses. My Dad was a city kid turned pig farmer, who learned from asking questions and soaking it all in.

In the spirit of these profiles helping others, are you willing to share a mistake you made but taught you something important?

Regret may be a better term, but I sometimes wish that I had pursued a designation (such as accounting) when I was at Western. At the time I decided against the specialized accounting courses because I (unreasonably, in hindsight) worried that I would be confined to be a career accountant doing audits day after day, which didn’t interest me. Lesson learned: opportunities are a chance to add an experience to your toolbox. They do not dictate your career path or close other doors.

What’s the most burning question for you right now in your career?

I’m currently on maternity leave, so the career questions on my mind are looking more to the future…childcare, balancing farm/off-farm/family, etc. I know many members of the AWN are amazing, active parents, so I’ll be paying closer attention to their perspectives!

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Jessica with her mom Joanne Selves and son Bryce before for the Hog Jog at the Ontario Pork Congress in June 2016

 

Speaking of maternity leave, do you have any professional advice for women who are preparing to do the same?

I’ve only been on maternity leave for a few months, so I’m going to recycle some advice given to me! The leader of our local Early Years centre always tells us to “leave our capes at the door.”  When we have superhero notions about parenthood and maternity leave we set ourselves up for disappointment. I’m someone who loves to-do lists and calendars, so for me, “taking off my cape” means recognizing that each day is different. One day a victory can be a day where I went grocery shopping, did farm books and made supper. Then another day is a victory because I got out of my pyjamas and took a shower, and that’s okay too.

How do you define agriculture? What do you think is the most important topic in agriculture right now?

I’ll answer these two together! My definition of agriculture is very broad – encompassing those involved in all links of the food production system and the supporting services. In my position with OMAFRA, I am fortunate to work with an amazing, eclectic, and entrepreneurial group of farmers ranging from on-farm cideries and butcher shops to pick-your-own farms and agri-tourism destinations.  This has been a great reminder about the diversity of the agriculture industry!

I think one of the most important topics in agriculture right now is the importance of unity when communicating with the public or working to improve our industry. Since agriculture’s so diverse it’s easy to draw artificial lines – direct marketing vs. commodity marketing, organic vs. conventional, supply-managed vs. not supply managed — but there are too few of us involved in the industry to not play on the same team.

Krista Hulshof on finding her niche in ‘Agritecture’

Krista Hulshof has turned a niche into her career. She’s a self-described “agritect” serving rural and agricultural businesses in designing beautiful and sustainable buildings. As well as running her own architecture business, she and her husband are busy raising two young children. Krista shares with us about developing her business, being a mom and working to make our world more sustainable.

If you’re interested in connecting with Krista, contact her via email (krista@veldarchitect.com) or Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/VeldArchitect/)

Tell us a bit about yourself and your career path.

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I am an architect who specializes in rural, and agritourism design. I grew up on a dairy/poultry farm and went to the University of Waterloo for architecture. In third year I found a book called “Barns”, which included numerous projects that renovated old barns into homes. I realized I missed the farm life and culture, but I also loved architecture. So I set out to figure out how to bring architecture and agriculture together. I spent my thesis year studying sustainable farming practices and designing a 150-acre farm (land and buildings). I specialized in sustainable farm design through my master’s thesis, and now call myself an agritect! So what does an architect, or agritect do? An architect helps facilitate and guide clients through the millions of decisions required to prepare a building for construction (from colours to insulation), and document these decisions in the form of drawings for permits and construction. Using their training, expertise, and experience they assist in creating an efficient, flexible, and beautiful building for the long term of your major investment.

Tell us more about your work as an agritect.

 After university I worked for another firm while I tried to figure out how to break into this niche market of ‘agritecture’. This was a big challenge because farmers don’t traditionally hire architects. But a new industry of agritourism (on-farm, value added services like wineries, on-farm stores, farm tours, wedding venues, etc.) was emerging. This emerging industry often required architects and there was real value in helping farmers through the red tape of zoning and building codes required; this is where I targeted my skills. In 2012 I started VELD Architect. I am the only architect that I know of working specifically in this niche market.

I assist farmers and farm owners with the planning of their agritourism or farm projects from the master planning stages, through the hoops of regulations, building designs, permits, and the construction stages. You can see examples of my work on my website at www.veldarchitect.com. I have worked on wineries, distilleries, kennels, event venues, farm stores, equestrian facilities, barn conversions, as well as farmhouse and residential design.

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Do you have a favourite project you’ve worked on?

My firm is young, so the portfolio is small, but my favorite project so far is my first barn conversion to a house. It also happens to be my house so I might be biased, but I’ve learned so much, and I very proud to say we saved a bank barn that would have been torn down (http://www.veldarchitect.com/?projects=wartburg-residence). My second favorite project was for a not-for-profit group called My Farm in Waterloo (http://www.veldarchitect.com/?projects=sample-project-2). They hired me early on to help them plan a 10-acre sustainable farm with a gathering and working “barn”. The project is still in its early stages of site grading and tree planting using “restoration agriculture” methods (Here’s a video to explain: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kb_t-sVVzF0) There is no building yet, but I hope they have continued success and we can slowly fulfill the vision we had for the property.

You have two very young children. How do you balance your time as a mom and an entrepreneur? 

I have lots of help! My 2-year-old goes to a babysitter three days a week (daycare one day, Nana’s one day, and Oma’s another day). My 6-month-old stays with me and I work as fast as I can when he is happy or sleeping! I have had to sacrifice both in my career and in mothering. I have learned to say ‘no’ to potential clients that don’t enhance my portfolio in the direction I want my firm to go. I have also hired a co-op student to assist me during busy times to ensure my clients are satisfied.

As a mother I sometimes feel that by sending my kids to daycare I miss out on so much of their learning and development, but I know they also learn a more varied amount of skills through the experience. It also helps that their babysitters are their grandparents and I hope this develops a special bond between them, as they grow older. I also try to keep my housework lower and realistic, so that I don’t get overwhelmed or upset with myself. My husband is a pig farmer, and he does his best to pitch in and share the responsibility of household chores. I also work flexible hours (nap times, slower response times, evenings, etc.) and share my life situation with clients and only work with those who ‘get it’.

How do you define success? What steps do you take to get you there?

I used to want to be a famous architect! There are only a few who get to be that, but I hope that I can be published and recognized not only by the architecture community but also by the agriculture community for providing value and enhancing rural culture. I work toward this slowly with each project, giving my clients efficient, inspiring spaces, and making the building process as painless as possible.

What is the biggest professional/personal challenge that you’ve had to face?

Balancing being a mom and an entrepreneur has been my biggest challenge. I didn’t have time to get good at either without being busy with the other. So I’m learning to be a mom while also learning to be an entrepreneur. Not an east task!

Krista Hulshof.jpgIn the spirit of these profiles helping others, are you willing to share a mistake you made but taught you something important?

I took on a very large project that with another architect. The design process was long and a very big undertaking. I made a lot of mistakes and embarrassed myself and the other architect. I was pregnant, had severe morning sickness and was busy with my 8-month-old. And that is no excuse, but I realized I bit off way more than I could chew. I often think I can do more than I can. I learned two lessons: 1) Say no when you need too, and 2) Review your work and take care in everything you do. When I make mistakes, it costs people money.

What’s the most burning career question for you right now?

What will my firm look like in the future? Do I want to grow and at what cost to time with my kids? Should I be looking for a partner or an employee to take on more projects? Will they be as invested as I am?

How do you define agriculture?

Agriculture is a community of people engaged in the production of food. It’s more than just farming; it’s a way of life.

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

Moving toward less fossil fuel intense farming and looking at alternative more sustainable practices (restoration agriculture, keyline farming, urban gardens, CSAs, local food, increasing soil organic matter, enhancing natural ecosystems with farming, etc.). I know it’s controversial and change is hard in rural communities, but I think there are ways to address the challenges. The consumer is demanding alternative methods, more transparency, and farms are businesses trying to meet customer demands. There is no business model in the world that can survive ignoring the market trends and consumer needs. Farming is not an exception and will NEED to adapt.

Happy Canada Day AWN!

 Imagine if we all gathered together in a big backyard somewhere.  We would have quite the celebration! It is exciting to realize that by including everyone who has engaged with the Ag Women’s Network, whether online or in-person, it would be an across-Canada celebration!

While on recent flights, west to Edmonton and then home from Saskatoon, I gazed out the airplane window as we flew below the clouds.  In a surprising way I felt a kinship to the realities of the rural life below. Thanks to my involvement in AWN, I have grown so much in my understanding of the women of Canadian agriculture.  I looked at the natural beauty of our country and the farm land stretching out below. I thought about the people running the farms, providing services and support to those farms, raising families, being stewards to Canada’s resources, upholding rural life and producing the food that feeds, fuels and brings together the people of Canada.

I have been fortunate to travel to many parts of Canada and, more often than not, the trip has had something to do with farming.  Visiting so many farms has been a wonderful opportunity. I’ve come to realize that the people of Canadian agriculture are a diverse group and our industry’s strength comes from that diversity. There are geographical issues that often rally us into regional viewpoints and historical and cultural backgrounds that can tangle up our understandings.  Our political views are varied.  The commodities we produce can sometimes be competitive. However, we have so much in common. Our differences must not overwhelm who we are and what unites us.  We have common understandings of dedication, resilience, passion, determination, succession and stewardship.  We have common sources of pride in our families, animals, crops, products, land, communities and farms.  Together we are Canadian agriculture.

On those farm visits, there is almost always time for standing in a yard and having a conversation.  It is during those conversations when common understandings and sources of pride are most evident. Farmers are yard people.  People who like to gather- near a barn, around a campfire, in a pasture field, at a picnic table, after a crop tour, beside a tailgate, helping a neighbor, close to an animal’s breath at sunrise or surveying a field at sunset.  We are people who like to be together.

This Canada Day, as you celebrate in your backyard, front yard, farm yard, courtyard, neighbour’s yard or under a yard light, be sure to share your pride in our country and in Canadian agriculture. And then, give an extra wave of the flag for the women of Ag.

  • Joan Craig