Industry profile: Cathy Dibble

Cathy Dibble lives near Drumbo, Ontario on a broiler chicken farm. She is an active volunteer in her community and works part time for the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA). 16 years ago she fell into her career by accident, but has been working with and for Ontario farmers ever since.

If you’re interested in connecting with Cathy after reading her profile, contact her via Twitter (@TVRSCIA ) LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/cathy-dibble-18a38521) or through email (cdibble@ontariosoilcrop.org)

Cathy Dibble 1To start off, please tell the Ag Women’s Network more about yourself.

I wasn’t raised on a farm, but had many farming family members. Then I married a beef farmer, and loved the life. I loved helping in the barn and the fields when I could. I took on the job as secretary/treasurer for our local soil and crop association 16 years ago, just for something to do while still helping on the farm with two small kids. Shortly after that, the opportunity came up for me to assume the regional communication coordinator position for the Thames Valley Soil & Crop region and things just escalated from there. I was invited to become the local OSCIA funding program representative and was nominated as the OSCIA Regional Communication Coordinator Lead by my peers in 2009. Whichever hat I happen to be wearing, I love being able to help others. In 2004, we moved to a broiler chicken operation, downsized the cropping end of things and now have more free time to dedicate to other areas of our life.

What do you do in your current position with the OSCIA?

As Thames Valley Regional Communication Coordinator ‎(RCC), I produce six newsletters for our region’s members each year, manage our regional website, coordinate field projects and grant applications, assist in planning events, and encourage inter-county plot projects, networking and communications. As Lead RCC, I provide IT and HR support for the rest of my team (10 of us in all), represent the group to our provincial board of directors, organize semi-annual training sessions, and other fun stuff such as organizing OSCIA member benefits like our new discount on soil sample analyses. I have had opportunities to work with Ontario Agri-Food Education and Farm and Food Care (Ontario) on different projects. I am also OSCIA’s only dedicated Project Inspector for the funding programs we deliver, so I have the great opportunity to travel all over most of southwestern Ontario. I visit producers from all commodities to see the great projects they are completing through Growing Forward 2, the Species at Risk Farm Incentive Program and others. I also tweet on behalf of all my hats on any given day.

Professionally we are often seeking success. How do you define personal success?

I think personal success is being satisfied with what you do. It’s about enjoying your work and even the challenges it presents. In my mind knowing you did your best at the end of the day, even if the results were not exactly what you wanted, is one of the most important aspects of success.

What’s the biggest professional challenge you’ve had to face?Cathy Dibble 2

Not getting a position I really wanted. It made me face my weaknesses and realize I need to try harder to overcome these stumbling blocks. It’s something I keep working at, but still find very challenging. Maybe I can’t do everything, but I’m not going to stop trying.

Who is your biggest influencer/mentor?

A former colleague who always encouraged me to keep going, push my limits, never give up, try new things and supported me in every way. I gained more confidence and knowledge, and became a stronger person.

You spend a lot of time volunteering. How do you manage all of this with your work and farm commitments?

I assist with planning the Oxford Federation of Agriculture’s Excellence Awards, sit on the SouthWest Ag Conference steering committee, volunteer with our saddle club and other local initiatives. Since I work from home, it is probably easier to manage my volunteering around work, farming and family schedules. With our operation, we can be fairly flexible on chore times and can usually count on our kids to help with chores if needed, even though they both work full time off the farm as well. I think the most important part of volunteering is to not extend yourself beyond your time and commitment capabilities. Even just playing a small but dedicated part of an organization is helpful, so don’t sign up to do it all!

How do you define agriculture?

The science of producing (primarily) food for others – humans and animals alike – by using science and technology to do so as efficiently and economically as possible.

What do you think is the most important topic in agriculture right now?
Agvocacy. It is so important for the general public to know what we do and why we do it, whether it is crop or livestock related. We care about the food we produce. The products we use are safe and effective and allow us to do the best job we can for everyone’s benefit. Decisions need to be based on science, and since public persuasion appears to determine so many decisions, it is important the public knows the real facts about agriculture. It is a huge task, and I think we all need to keep working at it.

Why are you interested in being a part of the Ag Women’s Network (AWN)?

I enjoy helping others. If some of my experiences can help other women in some small way, that’s great! And, I’m always keen to learn from others too. We all face challenges and sharing experiences and insights is a benefit to everyone.


If you know of a woman whom you think would be a great person to profile, please send your suggestions to Stephanie Craig via email (contact.scraig@gmail.com).

 

Striking a balance between farming and caregiving

This article is the first in a monthly series that will highlight members of the Ag Women’s Network. AWN is an online group dedicated to connecting and empowering women in agriculture through sharing, learning and personal development.

 

How one farmwoman is juggling the responsibility of caring for loved ones on the farm and off

By Courtney Denard

Ontario Farmer

CD_Deb KnaptonDeb Knapton is a dairy farmer from Eastern Ontario but like most women in agriculture she’s a lot more than that.

A loving wife and a mother of two adult children, Deb didn’t grow up on a farm but by the time she was a teenager she knew that’s exactly where she wanted to be.

Deb had always been into horses. She started riding when she was just eight years old. At 17 she made the life changing decision to stop riding competitively and take work on a neighbour’s dairy farm.

That decision would go on to change her life in ways young Deb couldn’t even imagine at the time.

“I loved working with the cows so much that it steered my decision to study agricultural business at Centralia College,” Deb says.

Deb calls her two and a half years at college “awesome.” She was involved in student council, sports, and Junior Farmers. It was the latter organization, in fact, that introduced her to her husband Merlin, a dairy farmer from St. Mary’s.

With a similar dream of becoming a farm owner, Deb and Merlin started out by renting a farm in Shakespeare and eventually bought an operation in Almonte in 1989.

“We began by milking 15 cows and shipping cream,” Deb explains. “But it wasn’t enough.”

Sadly, Deb and Merlin were left with no choice but to eventually sell the cows and quota and continue their off-farm work.

It wasn’t the happy ending they had envisioned but the couple kept the farm, a few of the livestock, and the hope that the dairy would be operational once again.

Ten years ago that hope became a reality. Thanks to a lot of hard work and determination Deb and her husband purchased new quota in 2005 and started milking 20 Holsteins.

Today, Deb divides her time between running the farm in a full partnership with Merlin, continuing to work full-time off the farm, and taking care of her family.

She is also the secretary-treasurer for the Lanark County Dairy Producers Committee and has been a dedicated volunteer with 4-H Ontario for the past 15 years.

Like so many farmwomen, a typical day for Deb is never typical.

She has no set schedule and has responsibilities coming at her from every angle. This summer when her 90-year-old father took seriously ill, her load got even bigger.

“It’s really tough,” Deb says. “Until this summer both of my parents were in good health so I had no appreciation. It takes over your whole life.”

“Not that you’re not glad to do it,” adds Deb. “It was just a real wake up call.”

Many farmwomen are facing the same struggle. As aging parents are living longer, it’s not uncommon for women to transition almost overnight from mother to parental caregiver.

Deb says seeking support from other family members and taking it one day at a time helps. Staying connected to the things she loves, like agriculture and farming, is beneficial as well.

This was one of the reasons Deb joined the online Ag Women’s Network (AWN). Coming from a family that doesn’t farm and working from home makes it challenging to reach others in the agriculture community.

“It’s nice to have people who understand where you’re coming from,” says Deb.

Joining the AWN also gave Deb the push she needed to seek a full-time position in the agriculture industry.

After working for years as an accountant and owning her own business, Deb wanted to make the move back to agriculture so when she saw a job opening with the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) she went for it.

“I thought no one would hire a 49 year old woman who hadn’t been in the industry for such a long time,” Deb admits, but that wasn’t the case.

Deb has been working as an OFA member services representative since January and loves it. “It’s the best thing ever!” she says about her job and it allows her to work from home, which is a critical part of managing the juggling act she calls life.

“I don’t have all the answers but I’ve got a supportive husband and I love what I do so that’s half the battle.”

AWN Profile: Stephanie Lee Berger

Stephanie Lee BergerStephanie Lee Berger is a woman with an interesting past. Before joining Green Tractors John Deere in Nobleton, Ontario she had a unique career in film. She followed her father’s footsteps after completing her degree at Seneca College in Business and Marketing and became an armourer showing film stars how to use firearms. In both careers she has faced opportunities and challenging situations. Together these experiences have made her the woman she is today. Stephanie now lives with her boyfriend on his family’s dairy and cash-crop operation in Loretto, Ontario. If you’re interested in connecting with Stephanie after reading her profile, contact her via Twitter (@stephanieleeb) Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/StephanieLeeBerger) or through email (stephanieleeberger@gmail.com)

To start off, please tell the Ag Women’s Network more about yourself.

I grew up in a unique and inspired household. I am the third generation of women born in Nobleton, Ontario. I have two incredible people that I am very proud to call “Mom and Dad”. My father is from the South of France – so that is where I get my love of good cheese, wine, art and fashion. I am bilingual, as a result, and am of both Canadian and French citizenship. His career was in the film and television industry, which I’ll explain more later. My mother has been totally blind since I was four years old. She’s incredible. She has taken a massive inconvenience, and turned it into an avenue to help others. She currently walks alongside her fifth Dog Guides of Canada Canine Vision Dog Guide, Lotus. Together they travel the continent spreading awareness about the importance, and gift, that a dog guide is for people with disabilities and ailments. She also has raised my younger brother (who is also legally blind) and I to be strong individuals and to be brave.

My closest friends would tell you that I take too many pictures, bring too much food to parties, bake too often and have too much mascara. But they may also tell you that I have a creative, craft-nerd soul, a big heart, go for long drives to clear my head, and love the roar of a diesel engine. And that it’s rare to find me wearing any footwear other than cowboy boots. I have nineteen pairs!Stephanie's Boot Collection

I am a dairy-woman in training, and have certainly embraced the work, the dedication and the passion. I’ve finally found where I need to be.

Before working in agriculture you had a career in film. Please tell us more about that.

My father has been a very influential player in the Canadian film and television community since 1955. He started as a horse-wrangler and cowboy for films, then became an actor and stuntman (Canada’s FIRST!), then moved on to work as a property master, special effects, and eventually foresaw the trend of the use of firearms in productions. From this our family business, “Shooting with the Stars” was born.

As an Armourer, our job was to provide safe training to actors and actresses to properly (or improperly – whatever their role may call for) use a firearm on film, and provide the equipment as required on-set.

This was my first taste of being a female in a very male-dominated workplace. My knowledge and expertise, and young age, were questioned from time to time, but I learned very quickly to take it in stride. In retrospect, I feel that being a woman made the actors feel more at ease and open to learning. It was my job to make sure they felt comfortable and of course, look natural.

I’ve been so fortunate to work with the likes of Sofia Loren, Mark Wahlberg, Robin Williams, Bruce Willis, Al Pacino, Danny DeVito, Jackie Chan, Diane Lane, Colin Farrell, Mickey Rourke, 50 Cent, Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Love Hewitt… to name a few.

My truest honour was to work alongside my father. When Dad was in his 73rd year he had some serious health issues, and I had to make the decision for him to slow down. As long as I stayed in the business, he would too, and I wanted him to bow down gracefully and enjoy his life, since he had given us so much. This was a heartbreaking decision for me and one of the hardest I’ve ever had to make. But, just months later, he had a stroke and a seizure, so it was a blessing in disguise that I left. At 83, he is now in great health, and is enjoying retirement with Mom and the dogs.

What was the transition like between your career in the film industry to agriculture?

The transition was a challenge, I felt like I had no direction. I worked for an incentive marketing company in the city, but felt that the corporate environment wasn’t exactly what I wanted, especially after my experience in film as a freelancer. One day, on a whim, I decided to visit our local Green Tractors John Deere dealer in Nobleton. The Davis family had been friends of ours for many years and I ask if they needed anyone “to wash tractors”… That is literally what I asked. A few days later, I started at our Brampton location in sales. I will admit I had no idea what I was doing. I had always been a bit of a gearhead, but I had to prove myself, especially since I was a woman. I learned about the parts department while I was there, which was one of the most beneficial things I have ever done; I learned the equipment, inside out. I worked there, selling small stuff for about a year. Little did I know, that I was being groomed to do marketing, advertising, and sales for our (then) three stores. I moved to our head office in Nobleton, and just celebrated nine years with the company.

What do you do in your current position?

We now have seven locations all over Ontario. I do all of our market forecasting and planning, budgeting, advertising campaigns, promotions, events and clinics, sponsorships, customer experience and about a million other things. And I still sell equipment. It’s quite a task to balance, but I like the challenge.

Professionally we are often seeking success. How do you define personal success?

Personal success is finding something you love to do every day – and loving it so much that it doesn’t feel like an obligation. I feel that success comes to everyone in different ways – whether it be professional or personal. Important steps for me are: 1. Know who you are; 2. Learn what you want from life (it takes time!); 3. Find unconventional ways to get there! 4. Make time for yourself. Not your family or spouse or children – just YOU; 5. Celebrate the little hills, as much as the big mountains; 6. Constantly create new goals, whether it be mastering a new recipe, a yoga pose or the perfect solution to handling emails. And celebrate them!

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

The biggest professional challenge I’ve had to deal with would definitely be making the choice to leave the family business. I’ve also dealt with a lot of adversity in both of my careers since I am a woman who chose “non-traditional” roles. There were times that I would get defensive and angry or sad, or feel defeated, because I was being treated differently or questioned because I am a woman. But each time that would happen, I used that energy to learn from it. Rather than lash out and use the “girl card”, it tasted so much better to simply “prove ‘em wrong” by doing an amazing job. As time went by, in film, I created a name for myself and I went to work, did my job gracefully, and always got called back. Just like the guys did.

Stephanie Lee BergerSelling equipment, as a woman, is a different story altogether; that would take days to summarize, but I will say this: There are some people that question my knowledge, because I am a woman, not because I am me. But once they feel my firm handshake and let me help them find solutions – those misconceptions tend to melt away. A talented, good person is a talented, good person… regardless of their gender.

Who is your biggest influencer/mentor?

My mother, Beverley, and my grandmother, Lillian. Before she lost her sight, Mom sold vehicles for the Ford Motor Company. In the 1970’s, it was rare to see a female salesperson at a dealership. She faced a lot more judgment than I ever will, and she always approached it with grace and a smile. I also admire my Mom for raising two kids that she could not see. She likes to say that we “challenged” her. I take that as a compliment, because we gave her the drive to get up and to move past her disability and carry on with life.

My Grandmother sold industrial steel in the 1960’s through the 1980’s, which I can imagine being nothing short of a challenge. She worked hard, kept great business relationships, and was efficient and organized. She retired as a well-respected and successful lady. When I feel frustrated by that guy who said, “Oh, you can’t know anything about tractors…”, I remind myself of what Mom and Gram had to plow through to pave the way for us all today, and I smile, and respond with “How can I help?”.

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

I am at the point in my life that I will soon be ready to think about starting a family and I often ask myself how I plan to deal with that. Will I continue on or will I be on the farm full-time to raise a family? It’s a huge decision.

How do you define agriculture?

Agriculture is the art, science and business of tending to the earth, cultivating crops and raising livestock, for food and other products. I also define it as a labour of love and a series of constant, ever-changing experiments.

Why are you interested in being a part of the Ag Women’s Network (AWN)?

I enjoy the idea of being in a group of women who are tied to agriculture in so many different ways. We all have a story to tell, and so much experience and knowledge to share. It is very empowering to see lenders, reps from seed companies, writers, a lawyer, mill marketers, livestock association staff, researchers, communicators, Nuffield Scholars, primary producers, vets, an architect, equipment marketing managers, salespeople, retired schoolteachers and Aggie students alike, all in one room – coming together thanks to one common thread: agriculture. I like that when I leave an “AWN” meeting, I feel energized, and my brain is rolling for days with ideas and inspiration. I am happy to MAKE time for these events.

If you know of a woman whom you think would be a great person to profile, please send your suggestions to Stephanie Craig via email (contact.scraig@gmail.com).