Denise Hockaday on tackling ‘firsts’ as a women in Ag-Business

Denise_1Please tell us a bit about yourself and your career path.

I grew up on a dairy farm that was a two-family operation.  As kids we worked on the farm regularly and learned about hard work and responsibility.  The cows still need to get milked if you’re sick!  After high school, I attended the University of Guelph.  Not knowing where it was going to take me, I decided to enroll in Agricultural Business because I knew there would always be agriculture and always be business – I enjoyed both.  After graduating I started working in research with Monsanto on a new corn biotech trait for control of corn rootworm.  Over the years I worked in many different areas across the organization including operations, marketing, management of our seed business and now starting a new business for the company in Canada as Climate Business Lead.  Hard to believe I’m still here after almost 14 years!

 

Tell us about your role and what your “typical day” looks like.

Today, my role is titled Climate Business Lead for Canada.  About three years ago Monsanto acquired the Climate Corporation and it continues to act as a subsidiary of it.  I was asked to set up the business for Canada and bring it to life.  Since I’m always up for a challenge, I’ve taken that on. 

Here’s the more formal description: Denise is responsible for the Canadian launch and growth of the commercial business for The Climate Corporation, a subsidiary of Monsanto, which aims to help farmers increase yields and reduce risk through Climate FieldView™ insights and decision tools.  

As for my typical day, I can tell you there is no typical day in my world…there hasn’t ever seemed to be one.  One day I might be on 8 hours of video conference and the next out traveling to attend or speak at a conference.  My calendar probably has more consistency year to year than day to day.  That being said, my day generally starts before 8:30 and runs until 5 – except on travel days and times when I need to work later with some Pacific coast or other global counterparts.

 

Denise_2

Denise with Husband and two children

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

I personally find satisfaction from achieving goals.  They may be the smallest of goals (like getting through my to-do list or making sure the kids take a healthy lunch to school) or accomplishing larger goals in conjunction with a team (like launching a new business).  For me, it starts with having that goal in the first place and building a plan to get there.  You have to know where you’re going so that even if you have to take twists and turns along the way, you always know which way to point.  The other step I take is to prioritize.  I say “I have” to take them because it would be impossible otherwise.  Life and work demands for me are a constant triage and to prevent myself from going insane and keeping work and life harmony in check I have to prioritize.  Sometimes this means letting things go, being “okay with okay.”

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

I’ve gone through a lot of “firsts” for our company as a woman.  First woman at our ECAN management team, first maternity leave for my boss (who’d been managing for 20 years) and in our commercial organization, first female business lead for a few.  In all those cases, we had to learn as we went.  It was a challenge because there wasn’t any precedence, no laid out path, no one already had the answer. However, it served as an opportunity to shape how it could be in a positive way for other women in our organization.  I did learn along the way though, that as women we all have different desires and priorities and so although some precedence started to be built, it doesn’t mean that works for everyone. 

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

I have been fortunate to have had many positive influencers in my life. My parents and siblings taught me do it right the first time, even if it takes more work, what hard work means, giving hearts and supporting others wherever possible in addition to making sacrifices for others.

Managers and colleagues were folks who gave me confidence in myself when I didn’t, supporting my passion in making the “right” decisions and not always the easy or popular ones.

I did have one manager though that stood out. I would say he encompassed all of the things above and at the root of it all, he cared about people and the people in the organization.  He made the largest impact on my career because he wanted me to take on a new opportunity that didn’t make sense to me – because I was a woman.  His whole team was made up of men, in fact the organization was except for our administrator.  I asked him “why on earth do you want me to be on your team?  I just got married, I’m young (insinuating that I will most likely start a family soon) and I’m a woman?”  His answer to me was, “I want your voice at the table and you can make valuable contributions.”  If he had said anything else to me other than those words at that moment, I can tell you now I would not be doing what I am today…I remember it like it was yesterday even though it was 10 years ago.

 I think the lesson is that sometimes, early in your career you don’t have enough experience to know what you are truly capable of but others see what you have to offer before you see it yourself. Those are times you need to trust that assessment made by someone else and trust yourself to know you can step up to the challenge. 

 

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?

Many years ago, I was at my wits end, work and life harmony was completely out of sync and I didn’t speak up.  I let it continue, communicating in a not so blunt way that I needed help and things needed to change.  Problem was, I kept finding a way to deliver and make things work.  Until one day, something else came to me and I erupted inside.  I took a day to compose my thoughts and had a very intentional, blunt conversation about my issue.  Thankfully it was heard, but I learned that I needed to be more blunt and intentional in topics that were important either for business or personal and not wait for an eruption point.

 

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

I often ask myself do I work to live or live to work?  I enjoy work and a good challenge.  At the same time my family is my number one priority.  I still have runway left in my working life and I wonder if the answer to my question changes depending on where you’re at in your career, age or just different for everyone?  I’d love to hear how others put that into perspective for themselves.

 

How do you define agriculture?

Wow, this is a tough one.  I think of agriculture as a foundational building block for the world.  It plays a critically important role for all of us to exist, sustain the earth and continue to evolve.

 

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

I think one of the most important topics that everyone in agriculture is facing right now is the disconnect we have with folks not engaged in agriculture.  Generally speaking, these folks don’t have a good handle of where their food comes from or what it takes to produce, nurture, process and deliver to the grocery store.  The same folks are also influenced by small groups that work to discredit what farmers do or communicate inaccuracies and the challenge is that those not engaged in agriculture don’t know when the info is right and when it’s wrong, or do not have the energy to dig further to find the truth.  As an industry, collaboratively, we are doing good things to have our voice heard, but this isn’t a small mountain to move.

 

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

I think networking groups like AWN are important to help folks feel connected, share thoughts and ideas and help women not feel as though they’re on an island.  I find similar networks within organizations can also be helpful – many times other women are trying to answer the same questions as you!

 

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

I would say believe in yourself and be willing to try.  It’s okay not to know everything, but if you’re willing to try, learn or take risks, you haven’t left anything on the table. 

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Using Canadian AG background to foster international trade – Nicole Rogers on staring her own business in the UAE

Nicole Rogers story begins the way many of ours do. Raised on a farm in Ayr, Ontario, her family was very involved in the agriculture industry, as generations of their family had been before them. Nicole’s career path, however, would take her far afield from Southwestern Ontario before connecting back to her agriculture roots.

0f7a4867-exposureWhen Nicole first began her career she wasn’t interested in working in agriculture. She sought different experiences through internships and travelling to Latin America.  When her husband was interested in moving to the United Arab Emirates, Nicole decided to use her history in agriculture to help forge her next step.

In Dubai, Nicole began working for the Canadian Embassy and became Canada’s Trade Commissioner for Agriculture in the United Arab Emirates. While she was serving in that role she heard a similar dilemma again and again: food processors wanted consistent and specific commodities from Canadian farmers.

There are many large flour mills in the Arabian Gulf and they were looking for regular supplies of uniform quality grain. Disconnected from the mills by distance and the usual trade process, she knew that Canadian farmers could meet these needs. Nicole saw a gap and decided to fill it.

In 2013, Nicole established Agriprocity. As the name suggests, she wanted to foster reciprocal relationships between Canadian farmers and international food processors.  She planned to use her network in both regions to benefit her customers.

Nicole visited the prairies to do research with Canadian farmers, and used her maternity leave to develop the business model through a very academic model, she said. Nicole and her team asked farmers to pitch for a pilot project. They selected a farm in Manitoba, and the farmer grew the varieties the UAE mill was looking for. The success of that pilot grew into the model Agricpocity operates today: creating contracts between farmers and mills globally for their mutual benefit.

So what’s it like to be a Canadian female entrepreneur in the UAE? Nicole says in her experience it affords a lot of opportunity. “There is a lot of respect, and no one wastes your time,” Nicole says. She says sees more evidence of the “old boys club” in Canada than in Dubai.

Nicole loves living in Dubai. “It feels like New York with Arabian influence,” she says.  She doesn’t need to miss any Canadian standbys either: the city has Tim Hortons.

Nicole says she has integrated her work and life to compliment each other. Her son, who was born in Dubai, travels with her when her work requires a plane ride. She also loves that he is growing up with unique experiences, and says at the school he attends nearly every student is a different nationality.

Asked for her advice for women starting their careers in agriculture, Nicole says “Use your agricultural background to travel and apply to international jobs. Don’t just look for opportunities in your own backyard.”

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.

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

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

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

By Courtney Denard
Ag Women’s Network

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was also something personal going on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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