Delivering flowers to farmers – Sarah Taylor – Industry Profile

Sarah Taylor has found an untapped flower market in the farming community and in her rural neighbours. If you are interested in getting in touch with Sarah or to order arrangements, you can check out her Facebook Page

By Courtney Denard

16731351_10155222439518814_963073463_oBeef farmer, florist, and DHI customer service representative are just a few of the titles Sarah Taylor can attach her name to. Wife, mother, and completely charming are a few more.

I approached Sarah for an interview for this series after she showed up at my dairy farm a few days before Christmas with a giant bouquet of beautiful fresh flowers.

She was so bubbly and happy and couldn’t wait to deliver the holiday surprise my husband had arranged. I on the other hand was a little confused.

I knew Sarah mainly as one of our DHI reps so I had no idea why she was bouncing up my driveway bouquet in-hand.

Turns out Sarah, who runs Taylor Made Cattle Co. in Kemble with her husband Mark and their children Mitch and Katelyn, recently started Serendipity Florals, a full-service flower shop serving Owen Sound and surrounding area.

Her target clients are farmers and country folk, many of whom she’s gotten to know through her work in the Ontario agriculture sector.

The following is a selection of our interview that I put together just in time for Valentine’s Day, one of the biggest flower delivery days of the year.

Q: Tell me about Serendipity Florals?

16775997_10155222439238814_1294509293_oA: I started the business in August 2015 after a young girl asked me to do her wedding flowers from the varieties I grow here on the farm.

I had a worked in a flower shop on weekends when I was younger so I already had a hand in it and said ‘why not.’

After her wedding, a friend of the bride wanted to use my flowers too so that was the start of it.

When Valentine’s Day rolled around last year I told my dairy farmer guys that I work with that if they were looking for flowers for their wives and girlfriends I could do them.

I kind of had to pound the pavement and talk myself up but now I am doing more and more. I did eight weddings in 2016 and I already have seven booked for this year.

Q: What kind of flowers do you grow on your farm?

A: I have everything from gladiolas to dahlias to roses to carnations. I have lots of greens like boxwood, plus hypericum berries, tulips, daffodils and oriental lilies.

The list goes on but I recently grew mini cabbages, which was a major coup because they’re very expensive at wholesale at $35 a bunch.

I started growing more of my own varieties because I was unhappy with the quality of flowers I was buying in.

Often flowers that are brought in were cut in Holland two weeks prior and been through five different hands and they look like that.

Because my brides can come to the farm and pick their own flowers directly from the garden, they’re guaranteed freshness.

16734841_10155222439578814_1307979881_o-1Q: What are brides looking for in flowers this year?

A: Everybody likes the bohemian look and that’s mostly greens like Australian greens.

I am trying to grow things that look like that here and sell them on it because it’s more affordable. 

Peonies are big time right now too so I am growing a number of different varieties.

Q: What’s it like delivering flowers to farmers?

A: Farmers ask me all the time, ‘can you bring flowers?’ and I say ‘sure’ because I am on the road anyway.

I have been selling out of different locations in the rural community, which works out for them and works out for me.

I’m in my DHI clothes half the time but the recipients are still surprised and they’re still happy!

The best part is the look on their face when I arrive with a bouquet because really, everybody likes to get flowers!

Q: Has there been a particularly special delivery you’d like to share?

A: I’m not sure I can speak about this without crying but I have a friend I went to high school with who had been adopted by a dairy farming couple.

With both of her adoptive parents gone she was living in the U.S. and had been looking for her birth mom for years.

She eventually found her here in Ontario and asked me to deliver a bouquet to her on Mother’s Day.

I called her birth mom and told her I was a florist from Owen Sound and I had a delivery for her. She couldn’t believe that her daughter had found her after all these years.

A few months after the delivery, my friend invited me to join her and her birth mom for a visit and we all cried like babies.

Turns out, her birth mom was a dairy farmer’s daughter too.

Q: Because this is an Ag Women’s Network feature, when did you get involved with the association?

A: I joined AWN right after it started. I thought it was good because we’re all women in the agriculture industry and we all have the same take on things.

It’s nice to have a place to vent or to ask ‘am I the only one?’ or to admit that you’re stone bone tired but you still have to go out and do chores.

16776768_10155222439713814_950009033_o

Sarah and her husband Mark. Together with their children, Mitch and Katelyn, they run Taylor Made Cattle Co. in Kemble

Q: What’s it like being a woman in agriculture?

A: We’re women doing the same things as men and we know just as much as they do but for some reason that doesn’t get counted for sometimes.

We’re out there working along with our husbands but they’re the ones who get the voice and get taken seriously.

I’ll tell farmers what I think they should do with their calves and some of them just look at me and say, ‘oh.’

I’m starting to get more respect now. It took about three to four years but once you show you can actually do something you get taken more seriously.

Q: Is there a special ‘women in ag’ issue that you hold close to your heart?

A: For me it’s about raising kids and running a farm.

We bought our cows when we had just had our daughter Kate. I was trying to do chores, Mark was working on a beef farm and milking for someone else, and I couldn’t do it all at the same time.

Katelyn was really bad because she lost her mind when I stepped out of her line of sight but I still had to get the chores done.

We seem to have help for everything else so why can’t we have help in the barn for the mothers and young kids?

I see it all the time in my job and I believe it’s one of the biggest set backs- moms need some help.

I firmly believe if you can spend it in the barn you can spend it in the home. It never fails that there’s nothing new in the house because all the money is spent on the farm but she needs a dishwasher because she can’t keep up!

Q: So last question. What are your plans for Valentine’s Day?

A: I’ll be delivering flowers of course and then ordering out supper for my three valentines. I’ll probably have a calf or two that day too.

 

Mental health on the farm – trends seen by a social worker turned farm advisor

Michele Van Beers worked as a social worker in rural ontario for 30 years before switching into accounting. AWN writer Maggie McCormick had the opportunity to connect with her regarding mental health trends and concerns in Ontario.

michele_2Please tell us a bit about yourself and your career path.

I grew up in a very large blended family on the outskirts of Strathroy. Both of my parents operated small businesses my father being a home builder and my mother owning a daycare centre, as well as eventually operating a veal calf farm. As with most rural families we were actively involved in all aspects of our own operation, in addition to being employed as farm labour within our community.

My first career path took me into the social service sector. I worked for almost 30 years in this field, beginning as support staff in residential programs for individuals with developmental disabilities, and then transitioning into the mental health sector. I worked front line for many years assisting people who identified as having mental health needs when they faced crisis’s and transitions in their lives. Over the years, I was able to develop my skills, build my education and seize opportunities which enabled me to work in senior management positions in the not-for-profit sector.

I am currently tackling my second tax season with Farm Business Consultants as a Local Tax Consultant (LTC) out of the London office. Being a local tax consultant is about building relationships and assisting people to not only meet their mandatory reporting requirements, but also assist them through foreseen and unforeseen transitions for their businesses and in their lives. All members are at different stages of development, growth, redesign, decline and/ or retirement from their businesses and sometimes life circumstances cause them to have to make hard and sometime exciting decisions. I really thrive on being part of their network of support and a trusted advisor to aide in their decision making.

What’s the biggest professional/personal challenge you’ve had to face? And what did you learn from that experience?

2014 was a significant year of change for me, I was at a major crossroads with my career. I identified and seized an opportunity that had presented itself to me. I decided I was going to move out of the not for profit sector, and find avenues to apply my skills and unique learning experience in the corporate world. Going back to school was a significant undertaking, this at a time that I was also becoming a first time grandmother. I choose Business Administration – Accounting as my focus, as I believed that this program would round out my skill set and be beneficial in my next role. Graduating, I felt ready to apply my life and educational learning to a new role.

michele_1How do you define personal success?

To put it simply, for me being a success means that I am a part of a thriving family, I am an active member of a supportive community and I have a rewarding and respected professional career.

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

I am a big supporter of building a mentorship network and have embraced the opportunity whenever I have been able to. I have found it best for me to have diversity in the people to advise me and it is vital to continue to nurture these relationships. I have had the benefit of some very strong relationships with mentors over the years and as a result the mentorship has become reciprocal, which I have found to be very rewarding. I use these relationships and learnings to build my personal value statements which in turn guides my day to day decision making.

Learning from our mistakes is an important, but sometimes tough, part of life. In the spirit of these profiles helping others, are you willing to share a mistake you made but taught you something important?

For me personally, the mistakes I have learned from the most relate to balancing my responsibilities as an employee, a wife and as a parent, and forgetting at times to place emphasis to my own self-care.  I recall a time when my children were very small, I decided that I would work full-time overnights. My thinking at the time was this way I could engage in my children’s activities and school life, be the mom I wanted to be, I could still be a beneficial member of my work team and a success in my job, as well as financially contributing to my household at an equal level. The piece I didn’t emphasize was when I was going to sleep. I can laugh about it now, but following a year at this pace my house of cards crashed. I was exhausted and picking up the pieces was very difficult. I would like to say I never made that mistake again, but that is not true. What I can say is the challenge of the balance continued but with each new challenge and each decision made, I was better able to recognize when issues were arising and adjust the goal or plan as needed. I never again let things get that far out of balance for my family or for myself.

How can the agriculture industry build more resilient communities, and support those who may have mental health concerns?

I think we need to reframe how we look at the issue of mental health altogether. Society as a whole I believe, thinks of mental health as mental illness. They think of it as a sudden illness which you might be diagnosed with, perhaps receive treatment for and then it is managed and/or you’re better. However, what I believe to be true is that all of us experience our mental health on a continuum that shifts and moves based on what is happening in our lives and how we are equipped to deal with our circumstances. Two people experiencing the exact set of circumstances, but with different tools and support networks in place will manage their circumstances very differently and therefore the effect on their Mental Health will be vastly different. 

I believe the key to maintaining balance on the continuum in your mental health is in building your self-awareness and coping skills and to develop your personal network of supports. This is what makes you resilient to the impacts of stressors in your life. A network of resilient individuals who seek and offer support within their community are able to build and maintain a resilient community.

I believe that for the agriculture industry there are three main barriers to this development. First would be the personal isolation that is inherent to many in their roles. Many agriculture roles are remote and isolated, and although this is a part of the draw for pursuing this career it can also be a disadvantage when stressors happen and accessing appropriate supports. The second barrier to overcome is the demands of the roles themselves. People pursuing careers in a lot of traditional agriculture roles don’t work a standard 40 hours a week. They juggle many pressures and may not feel they are in a position to prioritize building their mental health resiliency. The third barrier I would identify would be the issue of stigma and perceptions of mental health in our communities. When we can get to the point that we can openly discuss plans to manage our own anxiety or depression as easily as I can discuss managing my diet because I am diabetic, we will be able to make real progress in this area 

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

I believe one of the most important issues in agriculture right now is the sustainability of it as a family based business. The desire to have an agriculture lifestyle and to raise families this way is becoming unattainable. The family demographics, financial resources required and business management skill requirements are all factors that are rapidly changing, and I wonder if the industry is prepared for assisting individuals to get ahead of this development curve in order to prepare for it. We can see that the large-scale operations are thriving, but when I speak with people individually they are concerned with the entire agriculture industry changing to be corporately run, and many are asking is this really what we want in the long run. 

Industry Profile – Stephanie May

The Ag Women’s Network offers our sincere condolences to the family and friends of Steph May. Steph was a valued member of our team, who most recently connected with many women during our virtual event, which she helped organize and host. She had an especially positive impact on many women with her blog post, “Networking as an Introvert”. Her positive comments and willingness to be open and share her story is a testament to the passion she had for supporting others and for the ag industry. Her vibrant enthusiasm will remain with our team and we feel blessed to have worked with and been inspired by Steph.  

Steph’s profile was originally published on February 25, 2016. 

Stephanie May has been in the workforce for five years and has shown she is not afraid to make career changes. Her experiences showcase the importance of adaption and taking advantage of opportunities (as different and alternative as they may be). Through embracing these opportunities, she has redefined her personal and professional happiness. Stephanie now works with South Central Ontario Region Food Hub project that connects farm products directly with schools, hospitals and nursing homes. Her flexibility has brought her to an exciting and rewarding role that focuses on both producers and consumers.

If you’re interested in connecting with Stephanie, contact her via Twitter @Steph__May.

To start off, please tell the Ag Women’s Network about your background.

steph02-cropI grew up outside Tavistock, Ontario on a dairy farm. When I was 12, I started riding horses competitively. My dad made a major life changing decision when I was 13 to sell our quota and exit the industry. In my teen years, I was fortunate that my dad allowed me to convert our barn from cows to horses. We had a small handful of boarders, and during my University years, I taught riding lessons to neighbourhood kids.

In 2012, we sold the family farm so my dad could enjoy his well-deserved retirement. It was a heartbreaking decision, but ultimately the best for our family. Now, in my spare time, you can find me either riding my horse, at CrossFit, or helping out on my boyfriend’s dairy farm outside Woodstock.

Tell us about your career path so far.

I graduated from the University of Guelph in 2011 where I received a Bachelor of Commerce degree, majoring in accounting. I worked for two years at Agricorp as a Claims Adjudicator on the AgriStability and Risk Management Program. It was here that I learned that what I loved most about my job was interacting with farmers. I was always very curious about their operations, and often got side tracked in conversation with them while on phone calls. I became restless in my job, knowing that I wanted to do more. I just didn’t know what that was. I decided to go back to school and pursue my Certified Management Accountant designation. During this time, I worked for Collins Barrow KMD, a chartered accounting firm in Stratford, Ontario with an agricultural clientele. I had a great experience with the firm, but upon finishing my designation, it was time to move on.

I am currently working for Whitecrest Mushrooms Ltd in Putnam, Ontario. My boss is incredible. He is very progressive in his farming practises and is continually innovating. My main role is to help to manage our US customers and assist with marketing; a role that is very new to me. My boss is a member of a steering committee group for a local food hub initiative with the South Central Ontario Region (SCOR) Economic Development Corporation. Last May, an opportunity arose for me to begin working on the Food Hub project. I am still employed by the mushroom farm, and maintain my duties there, but I contact my services to SCOR full time.

Tell us more about the Food Hub project with SCOR.

The SCOR Food Hub project (link: http://www.scorfoodhub.com) was designed to assist small to medium sized producers in getting their products to local markets, particularly broader public sector institutions. This is achieved by providing a connection between local producers and customers through an online marketplace. Producers are able to sign up on the site and list their products. Customers order online and each producer gets an email detailing what they need to deliver that week. The orders are aggregated at one of our Hub sites, then delivered to the customer.

We focus on distributing local products through the Ontario Student Nutrition Program, University dining halls, hospitals and long term care facilities. I am responsible for sales and helping to expand the Food Hub network. Part of my duty is to make connections, and provide support in building the local food economy. We also provide educational material on the products that go through the Food Hub.

My job is constantly evolving and every day is different. To me, the local food movement is about supporting Ontario farmers, producers, rural communities, and building a brighter healthier future for all consumers. I love being able to support farmers to grow their businesses and acting a resource for them.

You’re a Certified Management Accountant, what does that mean?

People hear the word “accountant” in Certified Management Accountant and that is all they think of. Being a CMA to me means so much more than being an “accountant”. It means being a member of an esteemed group of professionals, and having the skills, knowledge and analytical ability to make informed decisions. It has given me the tools to make informed decisions to propel businesses forward while taking into account the operational, financial and sustainable integrity of an organization and its people. I love the way the program challenges me to think outside the box and push the limitation of the business world to allow for adaptation and growth.

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

Not knowing what I wanted for my career. I was never that kid that you could ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and get a consistent answer. Even through university, I felt like a wanderer. I took business because that’s where I excelled in high school. Business concepts came fairly easy to me, but I never really thought about what would happened when I was finished. I had no set career in mind. When I graduated and was in my first job, I felt myself searching for more. I wanted to find that job that I was truly passionate about. I was looking to find my fit. I had no idea what that meant, I just knew I wanted it.

What did you learn from that experience?

In the past two years, my personal and professional life have transformed so much. As I neared the end of the CMA program, I knew the accounting profession wasn’t exactly where I wanted to be and I needed to make a change. I left my job at the accounting firm to work for a family friend who owns a mushroom farm. People thought I was crazy when I told them what I was doing.

It was the most liberating thing I have done. For the first time in my life, I stepped outside my plan and stepped into the unknown. I took the time to do some personal development. I stopped constantly living for the future and learned to live in the present. I can confidently say that this has led to be the happiest I have ever been. If I could share one piece of advice with people from this experience, it’s that it is okay to be lost for a bit, because the journey finding yourself is the most amazing thing to experience.

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

Farm and food education. There is a significant gap between agriculture and urban communities. I cannot believe some of the misconceptions about food and farming that I have encountered this past year through my job. Many people are misinformed, or genuinely do not know about common agricultural practices. At the same time, people are starting to question where their food comes from and how it is grown. We are facing a shift in our food economy, and now is a critical time to get people educated on farming, and where their food comes from.

Recognizing an Invisible Illness and Finding Help on the Farm

farming-couple-tackles-mental-wellness-togetherJoe and Mary Ann have been together for 17 years, they met when they were 18 and 16 respectively.  Six years ago they joined Mary Ann’s brother Graham and her parents partnership and moved the cows to a new location after building a dairy barn.  This is their recollection of what it has been like for them dealing with anxiety, depression and mood disorder.      

Joe:

I’ve always been this way. For as long as I can remember I’ve been easy to please but quick to anger. I’ve been aware of my talents but quick to deflate and take the blame. I can work hours on end without sleep some days but others I can’t seem to gather up enough energy to get off the couch.

In high school, a fiery temper is maybe a necessary evil when you’re as small as I was. Going off at the slightest little thing could just be considered typical teenage behavior. I never worried about it much.

In college I was surrounded by like-minded people and those years were fantastic. The stress was always fun, my physical health was good and the support structure of friends and family was plentiful and strong. I met Mary Ann in these years and although we lived far apart, our relationship was strong and provided another source of stability and comfort.

Shortly after college, our family suffered a big shock. My aunt passed away at the age of 38 after a lifetime battle with Crohn’s disease and Colitis, her mother (my step-grandmother) passed away during a brain tumor biopsy the very next day. As she had been preparing to go under the knife, my step-father (her son and the brother of my aunt) suffered a massive intestinal hemorrhage and was rushed to the ICU: the same ICU his mum was in after the unsuccessful biopsy.

This series of events was the trigger for my first ever “panic attack”. Around lunch time on the second day, our family was reeling with the loss of my aunt the day before, nervous about my grandmother’s upcoming biopsy and completely in the dark regarding my step-father’s condition as he was still being stabilized at the time. A phone call – one that seemed to take an eternity – confirmed that my grandmother had passed away during the biopsy. Unfortunately, there was no news regarding my step-father. The news hit everyone like a punch to the chest and the added uncertainty about my step-dad was making the whole thing worse. I remember realizing that I had not eaten in at least a day and decided I should make some sandwiches for everyone while we still had a chance to eat before heading to the hospital again. I opened the fridge, grabbed the jar of mayonnaise and suddenly lost my grip. The jar fell to the tiled floor and shattered a hundred different ways. I lost all my senses. I fell to the ground, I couldn’t breathe, I cried and gasped for air, I balled up on the floor and I couldn’t move. I remember losing part of my vision – almost like fainting but never going completely “out”. After that, I don’t remember much until being in the car, heading back to the hospital. This was the first time, to my knowledge, that my mind had real, measurable and observable physical effects on my body. At the time, I simply chalked it up to the crazy stressful time we were going through and carried on, never thinking much about it afterward. My step-dad recovered, we celebrated the lives of my aunt and grandmother and life went on.

At the time, I simply chalked it up to the crazy stressful time we were going through and carried on, never thinking much about it afterward.

In university, I was my usual self. I would work hard, have mostly great days and feel relatively normal. I lived with my uncle and aunt for 2 years, then with Mary Ann for 2 years. I don’t remember ever being in a funk during those years. I do remember smashing some tools after being robbed once. I remember lifting our couch in rage after our cat did something stupid. I remember lots of typical “Doré behavior” as my family likes to call it. Never really thought there was anything wrong at the time. Looking back on it now, it feels a little different.

Fast-forward a few years and Mary Ann and I have joined the family dairy business. With 4 years of dairy equipment installation and barn layout experience under my belt, we decide that I will be the general contractor for the construction of our new dairy barn. The project is a tough winter build that moves along very smoothly. With Mary Ann and me onsite 7 days a week and able to work nights while her family continues to manage the dairy herd at the home farm, we tackle prep-work and clean up in the evenings, we work alongside the various crews all day long and we do all our own welding from end to end. The cows move in to their new home on schedule and we begin the process of learning the ropes in the new barn.

I received a phone call from the township office one day which triggered my second mental/physical attack. As far as they were concerned, no plumbing fixtures of any kind should be in the barn unless they drain to an approved septic system. This was news to me – as far as we were told, everything in a dairy barn, except a toilet (which we never had) was to drain to the manure pit. When I explained that the cows were in and the barn had long been completed, I vaguely remember something along the lines of “well, let’s hope you don’t have to change much”. With the threat of tearing apart everything with a drain on the horizon, I quickly fell into a depression where I blamed only myself for not having this sorted out and letting it get beyond the point of no return. I tried to tell myself that it was no big deal and that everything would work out. Mary Ann and her family all did their best to ease my worries but my mind was stronger than any of that and I wasn’t able to get out of bed for two days. I shook, I didn’t eat, I slept for hours on end and when I did get up I couldn’t be bothered to do anything productive. This was the first time I realized that something wasn’t right. As we expected, everything worked out in the end and life went on. The attack was just another blip in the past.

A few years into being in the new barn, things were not going great. Cows were getting sick more than we’d hoped, our bedding system was breaking down more than we’d planned on and gutters were constantly plugged. We were spending hours and hours each day, trying to keep the barn operating, all the while struggling with sick cows. As things got tough, Mary Ann and Graham would always find the positive in the situation, put their heads down and keep working and tackling problems. In the meantime, I would get more aggravated, slam more doors, throw more stuff and generally break more inanimate objects than anyone ever should.

When I asked what she meant, since I wasn’t sick or upset about anything, she said “you seem sad”.

Within a few days, there were two events that led me to take the first steps to getting help. The first was my daughter, who was only two years old at the time, when she and I walked hand-in-hand to the house one evening and she simply said, “Papa, what’s wrong?” When I asked what she meant, since I wasn’t sick or upset about anything, she said “you seem sad”. A day or two later, we ended up with another sick cow at the barn and I couldn’t take it anymore. I slammed some doors, swore a blue streak and left the barn yelling at whoever was nearby. By the time I got to the house I realized that I needed help before I hurt someone.

Mary Ann and I tried to find phone numbers and couldn’t really figure out who to call. We decided that calling the doctor was probably a good first step. After all, if I had pneumonia we wouldn’t think twice about calling them.

We are incredibly fortunate to belong to a fantastic Family Health Team. I first met with our family doctor who did an initial assessment with me. He and the nurses supported my decision to call in and make the appointment. The doctor quickly diagnosed me with mood disorder, anxiety and depression and suggested daily Omega-3 to help suppress depression and improve cognitive function while he went through the referral process and found me a psychiatrist to confirm his diagnosis, which was expected to take several months. The Family Health Team offers complimentary counselling sessions with an in-house counsellor so I was able to access counselling within just a few weeks of my initial assessment. Those sessions helped me find ways to alleviate anxiety, concentrate and curb my mood swings.

Three months after my first visit with the family doctor, I had my first appointment with the psychiatrist. He was located 100km away in Toronto and our appointment took place via OTN, Ontario’s telemedicine network. Via teleconference, we were able to meet and he was able to confirm our family doctor’s diagnosis and prescribe a set of medications that he thought would be a good fit.

The first few weeks were tough. Medication was introduced slowly and as the dosage increased I began to notice significant changes. My mood became far more stable but I became so drowsy that I couldn’t function. I could almost fall asleep standing up, I couldn’t drive and I certainly couldn’t operate farm equipment in that state. I discontinued the medication that I believed at fault, continued with the other medication, confirmed the changes with the psychiatrist via email and the improvements were quick.

I was able to focus, concentrate, work without losing my cool, be a better co-worker, be a better dad, and be a better husband.

I’ve now been on the same medication for 18 months and I feel fantastic. The barn challenged us with more sick cows last winter and while always feeling like myself, I was able to focus, concentrate, work without losing my cool, be a better co-worker, be a better dad, and be a better husband. The medication is a tool that has worked for me and with regular follow-ups it continues to be a safe and effective way of maintaining a healthy mind.

I am eternally grateful for Mary Ann’s understanding and willingness to help me, for the friends and family that support us in all that we do and for the doctors who treated me with dignity and compassion for an invisible illness.

Mary Ann:

Everyone was frustrated and angry about the cows being sick, frustrated about losing money, frustrated that we were failing, but my husband seemed to take the full weight of our troubles onto his shoulders.  If he was in a bad mood, nothing I could say would be able to cheer him up.  He was never angry towards me or the rest of the family, but would just be so mad some days.  I would worry when something else bad happened, fearing how he would react.  I would put a lot of effort into trying to hide as many problems from him as I could.  I was beginning to feel that I had to constantly be ‘up’ to balance him being so down.  Many days, I wanted to rant and be angry too but I bottled it up not wanting to add to his worry.  The morning I finally reached for my phone to look for help for Joe was when he went to take a breather and didn’t come back for an hour made me realize we couldn’t continue to live like this.

Her saying to him “you have anxiety, and it will be okay” did wonders for him, having a professional opinion relieved worries that I was unable to soothe.

Making that first step to call the Doctors was huge for Joe; I noticed a huge difference in him after he came back from his first session with a counselor.  Her saying to him “you have anxiety, and it will be okay” did wonders for him, having a professional opinion relieved worries that I was unable to soothe.  I am so thankful for our Doctor’s office, to our families, and our friends for being so comforting and understanding.  I also really appreciated the support of family and friends who would ask me how I am doing, knowing how stressful it can be in a supportive role.

Watching someone so close to me go through this is an eye opener.  Joe was open to me about his feelings throughout, but I could not begin to understand what he experiencing; this was not a problem that we were able to solve on our own.  

I am filled with such hope and love reading stories of people sharing their mental health struggles, letting those suffering in silence know that they are not alone.  There is so much more information available now compared to just three years ago, initiatives like the study at the University of Guelph reaching out to the farming community, and #BellLetsTalk are working; keep sharing, someone who needs it is listening.     

 

Mental Health Week – Jan 24th – 28th

Mental Health is perhaps one of the most misunderstood streams of healthcare. For years it was brushed aside as a non-issue. Over the last half of the 20th and into the 21st century, healthcare providers and mental health advocates have brought the overall dangers of mental illness and the positive impact of maintaining mental wellness. At AWN, we are strong advocates for mental wellness. We believe that helping women achive mental health and reducing stigma around mental illness help to promote not only women but all of agriculture. Over the course of the next week, we will be exploring what defines mental health, some tip and tricks for achieving mental wellness as well as hear stories of women and their experience with mental health. We welcome all members to share their experiences and we encourage positive discussion on this topic.

We will kick off the week by joining in the conversation with #Bellletstalk on Wednesday January 25th.

The Bell Let’s Talk initiative is powerful in two ways

    Firstly, for every text, tweet, video share, snapchat, call, and instagram using the #bellletstalk hastag Bell will donate 5cents towards mental health initiatives. Bell created the Bell Let’s Talk Community fund which is the largest corporate mental health initiative in Canada and funds go directly into communities for mental health promotion and mental illness treatment programs. If you want to learn more about Bell Let’s Talk Community Fund or how you can get involved please visit their website.
    The second way Bell Let’s talk help is by reducing the stigma around mental illness and helps to promote awareness around not only mental illness but also mental health. Bell has partner with serveral celebrities and athletes who have experience mental health crisis or illness who have shared their story. The stigma around mental illness can be the main hurdle for` someone experiencing mental illness and getting help
    AWN will be posting and tweeting throughout the day sharing stories from women. We hope that you will join in and please feel welcome and safe to share your own experience with mental health.
    HELP US END THE STIGMA!

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AWN Chair Jen Christie on creating a network for the development of all women

In 2013 Jen Christie realized there was a gap in the Canadian agriculture sector for women’s professional growth and decided to do something about it by helping found the Ag Women’s Network. Jen shares about her own career path and lessons she has learned, as well as her hopes for AWN in the future. You can connect with Jen via her blog savvyfarmgirl.com or follow her on twitter @savvyfarmgirl

jen_cPlease tell us a bit about yourself and your career path.

I grew up as the 6th generation on our family’s dairy and grain farm in beautiful Bruce County. My 2 brothers operate the farm alongside my parents now and I spend spare time there when I’m not traveling. We were involved in 4-H growing up, and I studied Agricultural Business at the University of Guelph, where I had ambitions to do “ag marketing” and work in the dairy industry. 

After graduation and several summer gigs at AI companies, I started at John Deere Canada ULC as a Marketing Rep. My only real responsibility was to learn. I worked for John Deere for 10 years in a variety of sales, marketing and most recently, dealer development roles. I traveled across Canada attending events on behalf of the company and realized I really liked industry relations and communications. I also learned a lot about brand management.

During that time, I was also still involved with 4-H at the national level as a Director for six years before taking on the volunteer role of Global 4-H Network Summit Chair. In October, I joined the 4-H Canada team to focus only on the Summit.

My role at 4-H is to oversee the Global 4-H Network Summit and also manage and deliver all the marketing and communications related to it. For the communications, I work with our agency but I am mostly on my own creating the plans, writing, editing images, coding emails, updating the website and posting on social media.

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Jen (far right) along with parents, brothers, and grandmother

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

My family has always been a big influence on me. My parents worked hard to build the farm we have today and I may only be starting to really appreciate how much work that was. They are all a sounding board to me and my brothers regularly inspire me with their innovative thinking and work ethic. Although our communication styles might not be textbook, we do communicate and watch out for one another.

My Oma & Opa came to Canada after the war and they frequently remind us how lucky we are to 1) have food and 2) be farmers who can produce our own food. My Grandma is yet another strong woman in my life, who has taught me to love unconditionally.

I also have a couple mentors in the industry, who I have turned to when there are big questions I want to talk through, about my career or an opportunity. Both are informal relationships, but I’ve come to really value their perspective and appreciate their willingness to entertain my ideas, no matter how crazy they might seem. 

Learning from our mistakes is an important, but sometimes tough, part of life. In the spirit of these profiles helping others, are you willing to share a mistake you made but taught you something important?

I had an opportunity to lead a very neat project. It was based on an idea that was still pretty new and I was honoured to be hand-picked to lead it by an upper-level manager. Unfortunately, I believed so strongly in the idea I missed getting proper buy-in from the rest of the management team.

When upper management changed, no one was able to explain the project goals or intent, and it appeared the project was unsupported. Despite having stuck to the original, approved plan, I took for granted how much everyone else needed to fully understand the project. I learned how important it is to make sure everyone is “on the bus”, especially when you are trying something new, because you never know when you will need that vote of support.

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AWN panel event at the Canadian Outdoor Farm Show office in April 2015

What’s the most burning question for you right now in your career (that you think AWN members might be able to provide answers to or advice on)?

What do I do next? I’m on contract until the fall at 4-H. I am interested in so many different areas of agriculture – dairy, sustainability, marketing and communications, the role of women and food security. Deciding what path I will choose next is exciting but a little daunting! I’m planning to approach it the same way I did with my switch to 4-H. Evaluating the experience(s) I’d like to have and choosing this way.

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’m a big believer that technology can give people a leg up, as long as they can access it. Affordable, high-speed internet in rural areas can give not only women but everyone in rural Canada, including northern Canada, access to better tools, like video-conferencing, webinars and online courses. I’m hopeful since the CRTC has deemed it an essential service that plans to extend coverage will be expedited.

As a founder of AWN, tell us a bit about what encouraged you to start the network?

The idea for AWN started when I was thinking about female mentorship outside my company. I didn’t know a lot of women in leadership in Canadian agriculture and those I knew of I didn’t feel comfortable reaching out too. At industry events, often a few of us would end up chatting about the opportunities and concerns we saw in our careers. The idea formed that we could connect solely for this purpose to share and learn from one another and at the Youth Ag Summit in 2013 I committed to holding an event.

That fall the first event was held in Guelph and the Facebook group was formed soon after. Initially, the audience was women in agri-business. As the group grew though, it became very apparent producers were interested in participating, and the opportunities for women in ag industry leadership was equally great.

The rest, as they say, is history!

What’s one of the biggest hurdles to overcome in helping build AWN?

We’re literally building from nothing so some days it feels like there are so many! Being volunteer-led we are constantly struggling to balance all the great ideas and the fast-paced growth with the time of our volunteers.

I’m super proud of our volunteers, especially our leadership team. As we grow and evolve, I think we’re getting our groove. We are all very proud of the AWN community and we have the members to thank for that. The support women have for one another is outstanding and we try very hard to encourage that even if we don’t always get it right all the time.

What is you vision for the future of AWN?

When we launched our new logo last year, we also defined our mission and vision. This was really important because it’s become our guideposts for what we will do going forward. We believe diversity in leadership is crucial for our industry’s future.

We want to lead this conversation in agriculture by continuing to provide opportunities for women, and men, to gain the skills and knowledge they need to take that “next leadership step”, whatever it is. It could be pursuing a promotion or running for a commodity board or maybe it’s just changing their farm business. If we can connect people to help make that happen, we are providing value. 

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

Take pride in what you do. Even if you’re not passionate about the work, when you take pride in your role and what you’re doing, you will be motivated to do the best job you can do. That is how you can prove yourself and earn the opportunity to ask for opportunities better suited to your passion. It also is a good way to check whether your values are aligned to your organization. If you find yourself unable to be proud of what you’re doing, then it could be a sign something is wrong and you need to speak up or move onto a new organization that is a better fit for you.

‘You have to do and try and fail, often, to really learn and develop from the experience’ – Jen Christie

What professional development resources have you found most helpful?

I’m a fan of the 4-H motto, “Learn to do by Doing”, because while there are so many awesome conferences and resources out there, you have to do and try and fail, often, to really learn and develop from the experience.  That’s why the MBA was such a good experience for me too. Using case studies and applied projects we tried to apply what we learned, and I took a lot away from that.

2 tools I found very good to better understand my natural strengths are Strengths Finder 2.0 and Kolbe A assessment.

As a marketing & communications professional working in digital a lot, there are a few other resources I use regularly: Unmarketing Podcast and Book by Scott Stratten & Alison Kramer; Everybody Writes by Ann Handley; Marketing Profs conference; Hubspot Blog

By Maggie McCormick

Perspectives on learning

AWNWinter WarmUp 2017 has provided a great deal of food for thought on Personal & Professional Development.  There has been a dynamic flow of conversation around the experiences of “learning”.  One cannot help but notice the abundance of support people have expressed for each other.  We asked several AWN members to share unique perspectives on learning opportunities and we thank them for their reflections.  We all have a different journey in how, when and why we take on learning opportunities.  We encourage you to keep learning in whatever way has meaning for you.

‘Motherhood has been my greatest journey in self-discovery. It’s taken me far beyond any training programs I’ve done throughout my career, where I’ve learned so much more about myself and how I interact with others. Managing (and/or surviving) the behaviours of a toddler makes me feel like I can actually accomplish anything in my professional career.

Through social media and blogs, there is so much support for families trying to figure out how to be their best selves and the best parents. As with most online content, you have to sift through some extremist information, but I don’t feel like I’m alone when looking for help, ideas, or even some people to vent my struggles to. I’ve joined some Facebook groups with moms that have similarly-aged kids as mine, and they’ve been great resources for the past two years’ –  Kate

‘Going back to school was mostly a necessity for our family if we were to survive. The 80’s with high interest rates and very depressed prices, as well as ruthless banks, hurt us financially, emotionally, physically and socially. While my university classes were my night out, it was very, very tough juggling the four kids and all of their activities, along with the directions our farm had taken-growing fresh market vegetables & berries and Ag entertainment. Quite honestly, I do not know how I got through, guess I just tried to do what had to be done’- Diane                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

‘January is the middle of what we call conference season on our farm. From mid-November to the end of March there seems to be one meeting or another, a conference here and a conference there. For me it means hitting the road and heading to Michigan and Montreal, Toronto and Connecticut. Attending these meetings takes time away from my day–to-day work, making things a little harder to get done and puts many miles on my truck, but I feel the trade-off is worth it. Seeking to find out what’s new and exciting is not only interesting, but important. In an industry as dynamic and diverse as ours, it is essential to continue engaging and learning from those around you. In the words of my dad “we go to these events to ‘learn what we don’t know’”. To grow as an individual and as a business, new ideas and discussions are key. For me this means taking the time to attend and learn from the wide variety of workshops, meetings and conferences available across the region. From farm management events like FarmSmart, or Dairy Sen$e to personal development like Advancing Women there is something for everyone. In November, I had the opportunity to attend the Ontario Young Farmers Forum in Toronto. The two day event showcases a wide array of topics for young farmers from across the province to discuss, debate and learn from. Being able to spend two days in a room filled with young people passionate about agriculture instils in me a sense of positivity and optimism.

At an event such as this we have the opportunity to learn from each other, as well as the experts. We can learn from each other’s success and, just as importantly, from the missteps and mistakes made along the way. By doing this we collectively move forward. Discussion and collaboration are invaluable tools, and I would encourage everyone to take advantage of any opportunity to present itself, as often as possible. There are many ways to do the same thing; the trick is finding what will work for you. Learning doesn’t stop when we leave the classroom. Learning is an ongoing experience that we can all embrace’   – Kara

‘When individuals take the leap of faith to try something completely new, such as the performing arts, the results can be amazing.  The ability to handle new situations with an extra boost of confidence can be carried with you your whole life through.  Watching people grow and take on a new challenge is also motivating to others’ – Robyn