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

How can we make the agricultural industry more inclusive?

“Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.” J.K. Rowling

By Maggie McCormick

This week, we asked several people to answer the question, how can we make the agricultural industry more inclusive? Here they’ve shared their ideas from each of their unique perspectives.

“Agriculture has many different meanings and practices across the world and from individual to individual. For First Nations people here in Canada, recognizing traditional knowledge and teachings that exist within communities and respecting the differences that exist between different nations is a place to start when looking at making agriculture more inclusive. Some nations focused on agriculture production, while others have had limited exposure. Listening to the needs and wants of all generations is a key place to start when looking to work with First Nations communities.” – Marlene Paibomesai

“This is such a great question with so many answers. For me personally, inclusivity focuses on physical/mobility challenges. I use a manual wheelchair which requires ramps, wide enough doors and adaptable equipment. Through 4-H I was given the opportunity to show various types of livestock which would not have been possible without the support of others. See how a person can interact with an animal and help make it possible for them.  I’m currently looking into driving, and in the agriculture context, farming equipment would have to be adapted to meet my physical needs. I’m currently not aware whether this is available or not, but if it’s not, it’s something that should be thought of and done. My limits have been all my life, but some may unfortunately come to an accident where life is changed for them and adapted equipment would be important for them to keep doing what they love to do. For the office side of agriculture, make the businesses of agriculture equal opportunity to work behind the scenes in, whether that’s office jobs or even those jobs that go to different events to promote their industry.” Lesleigh Elgie

“The first step is to recognize that the industry is already filled with diverse people. From ethnicity, religions, family structures, genders, and sexual orientations, the ag industry has many people with a different narrative than traditional ones. Recognizing this, and rejecting the notion of a single narrative, is the first step of many needed to create an industry that is inclusive, safe and accessible for those with differing identities.” Martin Straathof, Guelph Pride Committee

“Born and raised a city girl in Toronto, I know how few resources there are for learning about opportunities in agriculture; it is an industry that is rarely presented to urbanites as an option. Careers in marketing, journalism, research, sales, and business management go unnoticed because all we see are farms. If we could showcase how dynamic and expansive the industry is to kids at a young age, specifically in city schools and at downtown fairs and events, and celebrate, not denigrate, their “innocence” in ag, we would go a long way to building inclusivity for urbanites.” Holly McGill

I’ve experienced people creating an environment of “in” vs. “outsiders”. Oddly, this has come from people who likely experienced this from someone else, but are just perpetuating it as a defence. People enjoy being comfortable, but to make change we are going to have to make things uncomfortable and call it out.” M. Wilson-Wong

Can I talk to the man in charge?

True stories about women in agriculture and their experiences with sexism, discrimination and just plain rudeness.

Late in August, our fearless Chair was asked to present to Pioneer regarding the role of women in agriculture and wanted to get some examples of unconscious bias in agriculture. Her reason for starting AWN in 2012 was to create a forum where producers and industry professionals could come together to support each other as we strive for greater gender equality in agriculture. Since this was exactly what the group was created to discuss, she posed a simple questions to the group:

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I anticipate she hoped for a half a dozen stories, examples of basic unconscious bias that women experience everyday, to help highlight the female experience in argiculture. . What I can be certain she did not anticipate, is that this post would received over 120 comments over the next 24hrs and that stories and tales of sexism would continue to roll in over the next weeks from women who have experienced unconscious bias in agriculture (from both men and women).

As a result of this landslide of feedback from our members, AWN decided to deicate our attention to exploring unconscious bias – what it is, how pervasive it is, and how it holding agriculture back. Today, we thought we’d finally share the stories of our colleagues, just in case there are still people who are uncertain as to the extent of it.

TRIGGER WARNING – some of these stories are just plain rude, some may make you nauseous ,while other may shock you with the amount of disrespected directed towards women. And some stories may just make you down right mad.

Many of our primary producer members shared experiences of salesmen and reps coming on farm. It was often stories of  females stereotypes suggesting that men could only be the primary producer.

“I had a sales guy assume I had to be married to of moved on the farm and be farming with my dad….. I couldn’t just be a single women managing the dairy herd by herself” – Tarah

“After I was married and my husband and I were farming on our own, I had a sales rep from a livestock exporter come in for a transfer for an animal we had sold. My husband wasn’t home, but I said I could get the transfer for him and his response was “can you sign that?” My response was “I can sign the whole damn farm away!” – Maureen


And not just from men. It’s important to remember that women can be bias against our own gender too, without even noticing it.

“When a local company’s new agronomist stopped in this spring to introduce herself SHE said “Hi I’m……and I came to discuss some cropping ideas, is your husband available?”………Can you guess how much business that company gained from our farm? Shockingly, another woman in agriculture made the mistake of assuming that my husband is the only decision maker.” – Christie

Others told stories of blatant sexism and rudeness.

“I was once told I was lucky to be ‘pretty and a girl’ because it helps the industry” – Hanna

“I was 18 when I applied for a job at the local feed store. I was told that they couldn’t hire me because their customers wouldn’t be comfortable dealing with a female at the loading dock. The only female at the company was the bookkeeper, squished into a corner of the office.” – Karen

“I had a guy flat out say he would never hire a woman, unless she was well past her child bearing years ‘because most of them just want to get hired and then sit back and get paid to pump babies out, then leave'” – Katherine

“Men are oftentimes surprised that I sell equipment, and some are just outright jackasses. Since I sit in the corner of the showroom, when they come around the partition and find me – they are shocked to see a woman. One of the ‘highlights’ was ‘If I buy this tractor, will you come wash in it your bikini?'” – Stephanie

While many of these stories are horrifying, many women were quick to highlight how important their involvement in this industry and their capabilities.

“While at work I was pulling blood on a cow and chatting with our veterinarian about next steps for her when I had a male feed rep enter the barn and ask me if I was “playing dress up for the day with Reg (our vet)”. When I replied “no, I work here full time”, he responded with “oh that’s cute! Do you get to play with the baby calves when you’re not cleaning?” Our vet responded that I was the herdsmen. I’ve never seen colour drain quite so quickly from someone’s face.” – Steph

“I work on my family farm and at an Ag retailer and I had a fellow farmer ask me why I was doing a mans job working out in the yard loading seed and chemicals and not in the office behind a desk he said this as I was carrying two boxes of chemicals to his truck while he was carrying one” – Emma

“At a trade show I was talking to an older farmer and he simply said “there’s no way you know anything about farming, you’re just a young female”. (Note I then showed up at his dairy farm in my work clothes to help him milk to prove him wrong. Boy did that knock him off his feet lol)” – Stephanie

It is important to discuss why these comments are wrong. As we all know, sexism and the gender stereotypes don’t just hurt women, they hurt men too. Education among our colleagues and peers and actually letting people know that what they’ve said is sexist.  If we  participate in educating them and encouraging them to see things differently, we can make a positive change for the next generation of farmers.

Read more real women’s stories below and feel free to share your own in the comments!

“You didn’t mention that you were married” – to which I responded “I’m sure I mentioned it” when I really meant ‘why does that matter/does it make a difference?'”- Becky

“A few years ago I was working for a seed company and we went to a seed conference in the US. Out of all 600 attendees, I was 1 of 50 women there. My boss of the time was extremely supportive of me being there, but one night at a banquet dinner where I was the only female I was told by a president of a US seed company that the only reason I was allowed to sit at his table was because he wanted the ‘eye piece'”- Kelsey

“When I went to go and buy my first car I actually had a sales guy, only a few years older than me, block me completely to talk to my boyfriend. He had me sit in the back seat for the test drive and my bf drive and even though my bf kept saying the car was for me and I was buying the car he was a complete jerk and ignored me. I refused to even consider his brand or his car and wrote a “strongly worded letter” to the dealership about the whole mess. I couldn’t even believe it!” – Sara

“I work in ag business while my husband is on the farm. My job requires me to be away from home a few times throughout the year and as part of the current AALP class, I am away a fair bit with that as well. The question that I get all the time (and it is usually innocent in intention) is “who has the kids while you gone?” People are usually taken aback when my answer is that they are at home with my husband. Yes people, my children have a farming father who is perfectly capable of looking after them in my absence. I think the question and reaction to my response bother me so much because a) it’s sexist to both me AND my husband; and b) people don’t even realize they are perpetuating the stereotypes” – Jenn

“When I managed a local small ag retail, our fert blender broke down in the middle of seeding and an older farmer looked me in the eye and in all seriousness said ‘I knew this place would go to shit with a woman running it.'” – Adrienne

“I had a neighbour ask me in front of my husband if I actually drove the tractors. Hubby spoke up and listed all the equipment I ran on the farm.” – Barb



Western Canadian Women – Erika Baron

This post is the first in a series of 3 member profile highlighting Western Canadian Women. Thank you to Jesse Williams for putting this beautiful series together highlighting ranching women in western Canada. If you liked these posts, please check out Jesse’s personal blog

By: Jesse Williams

I am beyond excited to introduce you to my amazing sister-in-law Erika. I have known Erika for the majority of my life and even before she was part of the family, I always admired her way with horses and cattle. She is a true blue, born and bred cowgirl with a heart of gold, has the biggest smile and is one heck of a mom to her two beautiful kids. She can swing a rope, tame a horse, doctor a cow and the list goes on and on. I know she has taught my brother a thing or two and I hope I can learn a lot more from her in the future. Meet Erika….

PS. THANK YOU Erika for finally mentioning the ‘flaring’ of emotions that can be felt when a husband and wife work cows together. All the other ladies I interviewed ‘forgot’ to mention this part of ranching, even though we ALL know its true! 😉

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Erika show the boys a thing or two in the branding corral when it comes to roping calves!

Ranching Lady: Erika Baron -Baron Ranching, Oyen, AB

Her Operation: a small commercial cow/calf operation nestled in the eastern part of Alberta.

How long has she been at it?
I have been ranching since I can remember, but my husband and I just started our own operation three years ago, renting in the south east part of Alberta near Jenner and now we have a place a hundred kilometers northeast near Oyen. I grew up on the family farm/ranch in Jenner. Ranching has been my way of life and passion for a long time and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

I am a 4th generation rancher. My family has been in the ranching business for almost 105 years. My great grandparents homesteaded in Jenner where my parents and sister still operate. Cody and I branched off and moved to Oyen where we now run our cows. I am proud to be a fourth generation rancher and am excited to bring up another generation into the ranching community.

Any off farm careers?
I have had a few jobs off the farm, be it with my parents or our operation, but since we expanded our family I have been a stay at home mom/ranch hand. Helping when and where I’m needed. My husband Cody does work off the farm as a farrier (horse shoeing and cattle trimming) so when he is travelling it falls to me and the kids to keep things going, and we really enjoy it.

What is your favorite thing about living in a rural community?
My favorite thing about living in the rural community is the honest lessons and values it teaches our youth. Rural life gives the youth great building blocks for the future like responsibility, accountability and basic life skills. They begin with the chores that ranching offers. Also having the cats, dogs, ponies, calves, chickens, pigs, goats, sheep, whatever it may be. They learn lessons in empathy, responsibility, love and letting go. They get firsthand knowledge and understanding of life and death. And somehow being in a rural environment it teaches most everyone to have respect and be humble.

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If you could change one thing about your rural community what would it be?
Johnny won’t be far behind his mom in ranch skills. This cowboy is tough! I honestly can’t think of anything I would want to change.

What’s one piece of advice you would give other ranching women?
I don’t really have advice. I feel like I’m still learning. But I can share what I have learned so far. Know that when you step out of the house you move your status from “wife” to “hired hand”, using hired hand loosely. You may not be hired but you’re his best hand. Even if its only because you are the only help he has. Don’t take things seriously. If tempers flair in the sorting alley, don’t take it personal and try to go with the flow. I have heard it takes a strong couple to work cows together and end the job successfully. But it surely can be done.

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Erika and her husband Cody work hand in hand to get things done on their ranch. Here she holds a cow with her rope while Cody treats the animal.

How do you relax? Any activities you enjoy off farm?
If I want to relax I usually get on my horse and go for a ride, or if the kids won’t let me, even just brushing the horses works. I find a strange calming feeling watching a horse eat. I can get swallowed into a trance almost.

Nowadays ranching and kids take up most of my time, so activities off the farm usually include rodeos, jackpots, cow sales, bull sales and visiting with friends.

Why ranching?
I would say I chose ranching because its where I came from and its truly what I love doing. Its who I am and who I always will be. It helps that I found a person as passionate as me to share it with!



ASK AWN – How AWN Uses the “Em” Words


AGWN_Logo_FINAL_RGBA collaborative post by
the members of AWN

Embark, embrace, empathy, empower!  Those are definitely words that represent the Ag Women’s Network.  In the fall of 2013, a group of young women interested in agriculture met around a dinner table and discussed their futures and how they saw the future of agriculture.  They embarked on a path to form the Ag Women’s Network.  Over a short period of time, more than 1000 women have embraced this idea and the networking and personal development opportunities within the AWN.  These women are of different ages, stages, interests, hometowns, hopes and dreams. With empathy these women have shared their opinions, personal stories, career paths, concerns, family life and farm involvements.  Empowering is a word that easily comes to mind when reflecting on the past, present and future of the Ag Women’s Network.

Empowerment was the theme word for the 2016 celebration of International Women’s Day.  AWN decided to share in this celebration by producing a unique blog post created through collaboration.  So, an invitation to collaborate went out and the resulting feedback further exemplified what AWN is all about.  Thanks to MaryAnn, Courtney, Denise, Melissa, Christine, Marilyn, Leslie, Andrea, Kate, Janet, Sophie, Krista, Jen, Maureen and Joan for your thoughts. 


Empowerment means recognizing your self-worth and believing in the value of your unique skill set to accomplish your dreams. Whether you are bringing out the right skill sets to excel, or learning to be true to yourself, or accomplishing a task, or reaching a success once thought unachievable, or understanding that information is power – YOU are a shining example of empowerment.

Empowerment is about learning.  Learning it is okay to say no to certain projects or events.  Learning to fully embrace mistakes.  Learning that you can do things when faced with a challenge. Learning lessons from experiences and from missteps.  Learning to look beyond limitations and truly believe that with hard work and dedication anything is possible.


Empowerment can be as simple as the word ‘encouragement’ to a younger generation of women

Empowering others is like a pebble dropped into water.  It means building others up while not tearing down others around you.  It happens when we exchange knowledge with those immediately around us or more broadly as with social media.  Information is power so sharing information is empowerment. Empowering others happens when we genuinely want others to succeed without our own agenda or ulterior motive.  It’s the recognition and genuine appreciation we give to others. That water keeps rippling with keen interest in helping others to improve.

Empowerment is action – inspiring, dancing, singing, knowing, thinking, feeling, accomplishing, rocking a project, delegating, educating one’s self on topics of interest or career enhancement, taking on challenges, and facing the terrifying gut reaction as you take on those challenges.  It’s realizing the confidence you need to step forward or overcome what’s holding you back. We often feel empowerment through external motivation as we find out about the accomplishments and successes of other women. These actions give us the confidence to work toward goals.

Empowerment has synonyms in the words –  women; skills & support; confidence; a “we can” attitude; be yourself; inspire; find and do your passions; an acknowledgement of “I can make a difference”; having the means to accomplish what you want to do; knowing your rights; knowing the truth; having the facts; freedom to progress.  Empowerment can be as simple as the word “encouragement” to a younger generation of women in Agriculture.

How can we summarize the value of empowerment?  Melissa’s words say it well, “As a Canadian woman, my take on empowerment comes from a place of gratitude, first of all.  I have never had to fight for my basic human rights, access to any level of education or the right to vote.”

Reflect on these words about empowerment.  You will recognize embark, embrace and empathy within them as well.