From the boardroom to the barn

How one workingwoman said goodbye to the office and hello to the family farm

10412058_10154100611463814_1282908551_o.jpgBy Courtney Denard

“I wasn’t laughing anymore,” Barb Keith says when asked why she left a 13-year position with the government to work full-time on the family farm.

Barb, like many women in the farming sector, held a job in the city while her husband Donald Badour was responsible for the daily operation of their cow-calf and cash crop farm in Lanark County.

For more than a decade, Barb would spend three hours of her day commuting to and from Ottawa where she worked as an analyst for Statistics Canada.

Barb took the position with the government in 2001 after moving to Perth with Donald. The pair had met in 1998 when Barb was working in Guelph for the Ontario Farm Animal Council, her first job after graduating from the University of Guelph.

“We sat across the table from each other at a board meeting,” she says.

Three years later, the couple decided it was time to move back to Donald’s family beef farm and officially begin their life together. They were married in June 2003 just a month after BSE was declared.

Barb says starting her career with the government was an exciting time. She met some great friends that were at the same stage of life and found the work interesting.

Over time as priorities shifted though working off-farm didn’t seem quite as appealing. Barb and Donald became parents to two sons and the farm was expanding so responsibilities at home were bigger than ever.

Barb began having health issues too. Even though she was still young Barb was suffering from high blood pressure and asthma; and emotionally she was filled with stress.

“The government is not the nicest place to work since all the cutbacks occurred. There is a lot of stress with people doing a lot more work with less resources.”

When Barb realized she was coming home in tears on a regular basis she knew something had to change. So between her and Donald it was decided she would leave her position in Ottawa to work full-time on the farm.

That was in December 2014.

Fast-forward to a year later and Barb will tell you that transitioning from an office worker to a full-time farmer was “strange” even though she had been involved in farming her entire life.

“Working for the government and running a farm are two totally different things. This time the BS is the real stuff,” she jokes.

Barb’s schedule is now “extremely flexible” and no two days are the same. She says she can get up in the morning and go to bed at night and in between could be anywhere doing anything.

Finding her role on the farm took Barb a little time, and patience from both herself and Donald, but she’s now found her place.

Barb’s daily to-do list includes feeding cattle, running equipment, fencing, drawing gravity boxes, checking frozen water bowels, cutting firewood, and so much more.

These are all tasks Donald used to have to do on his own but now the workload is split and that’s allowing their business to go even farther.

When it comes to leaving her 13-year government career behind, Barb says it’s one of the best decisions she’s ever made. “We are all just a lot happier now,” she says.

The farmer is much healthier too. Barb’s blood pressure dropped six points in two months after quitting her job and her asthma has significantly improved.

She has much more time to be with her children as well and is now volunteering regularly for her boys’ elementary school.

“When you’re six year old says ‘mommy, I am really happy you’re home all the time’ that’s good.”

Becoming a member of the Ag Women’s Network has allowed Barb to continue networking within the agriculture industry, something she says is very important to her especially now that she’s working on the farm full-time.

It’s an opportunity to find contacts, get advice on how to deal with situations, and hear more about what’s happening with women on the farm side, she explains.

“The more people you have around you the more help you can get,” says Barb. “It doesn’t matter if it’s something as simple as a recipe for cookies or how to deal with your kids or the farm, anything that increases your network is beneficial.”

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