Canadian Young Speaker, Katelyn Ayers talks women in Ag – Read the whole speech.

Earlier this week, an article appeared on CBC about women in agriculture, featuring a fellow enthusiastic women in agriculture and Ag Women Network member, Amanda Brodhagen. The piece couldn’t have come at a more opportune time with the focus we are trying to highlight about the important role women play in our industry. The article itself has generated thousands of views and created such positive social media buzz. 

The work that Amanda is doing to be a spokesperson for our industry and for AWN, and the work that EVERY member of Ag Women’s Network is doing to champion women in agriculture is truly amazing. This conversation recently sparked a young woman by the name of Katelyn Ayers, to focus her attention on it when she competed this past fall in the 2016 Canadian Young Speakers for Agriculture Competition (CYSA).

The CYSA competition is held annually, each November at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair (RAWF) to provide a platform for Canadian youth in agriculture, aged 18-24 to share their views and opinions on pertinent topics in the industry. This year, one of the five topics that competitors could choose to speak too was “Old MacDonald had a farm…But what about Mrs. MacDonald?.”

Katelyn, hailing from the University of Guelph, Guelph, ON spoke to this timely topic and for her efforts, was named one of the top six finalists at the 2016 competition among a field of 30 competitors!

With the topic of discussion this coming holidays surely to be the role of women in agriculture and how we can continue to foster this movement for the betterment of agriculture in Canada, enjoy reading Katelyn’s speech from the 2016 competition to hear her valuable perspective. 

Congratulations Katelyn on a job well done and to YOU, our AWN readers and members who continue to keep the conversation alive and well on the vitally important role we a play as women in agriculture. Happy holidays (10 days to go!)

You can also watch Katelyn’s speech here on the CYSA youtube account.

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Have you have heard the song “Amarillo Sky” by Jason Aldean?

He says, “Lord, I never complain, I never ask why
Please don’t let my dreams run dry
Underneath, underneath this Amarillo sky.”

It’s a song about a third generation Texan farmer who is struggling to make ends meet, battling high fuel and low commodity prices. He works hard in the field every day. Driving his tractor another round to provide for his family.

But why isn’t the song written about his mother, aunt, sister, daughter or wife? I’m not criticizing Jason’s song. He’s not the only one who neglects the female farmer’s story. In almost every country song the farmer described is male. Turn on the radio and I can almost guarantee there will be a song playing about some guy in his truck or tractor.

Honourable judges, fellow competitors, ladies and gentlemen of the audience, my name is Katelyn Ayers. I am a young woman with aspirations of working in agriculture in the near future, and gender equality in agriculture is a topic that hits close to home.

I myself was raised on a farm, my dad is a third generation farmer. He does the majority of the manual labour on his own. Seldom does he ask for help when changing the oil in equipment or unloading a gravity bin of grain. I have always looked up to my dad as the hardworking fulcrum who keeps the farm operations running smoothly. My mom, on the other hand, deals with the farm financials and files the taxes every year. They exemplify the stereotypical roles of a married couple managing a farm. This was my norm. I helped with occasional barn chores and drove equipment but usually only when an extra hand was needed. Dad could do most things easier and faster.

When he took over the family farm in the early 90’s, 74% of farmers were male. Now, 20 years later 30% of farmers in Canada are women. That’s 80, 500 Canadians with numbers continuing to grow! This number is even bigger in organic agriculture. According to the Certified Organic Associations of BC, 40% of organic operators are female.

It was not until I started my degree in agriculture at the University of Guelph that I really considered the possibility of women taking on the central role on the farm. In fact, many of my female friends are going through succession planning right now to one day take over the farm! This was (at first) mind blowing to me! It was not how my family worked. Now, in fourth year, my perspective has totally changed! My example, my model, my norm, has shifted.

Now, I am going to give you some historical context of gender equality in the workforce within Canada. Females have been viewed as inferior to men for thousands of years. It wasn’t until 1916 when women first received the right to vote in Canada. This was a huge step towards gender equality. However, perceptions were only changed slightly. The man was still considered the breadwinner while the wife stayed home to cook meals and raise the children.

Fortunately, women gained momentum as the 20th century progressed, through establishing clubs and organizations like the Federated Women’s Institute of Canada, Women’s Labour Leagues and the Canadian Federation of University Women, just to name a few. Women’s Institute has played a significant role in enhancing female leadership in agriculture. The focus of this group is recognizing the importance of organizing rural Canadian women so they might speak as one voice on important issues. Today, it continues its long tradition of giving a voice to rural women.

Now, in the 21st century, women have come a long way from being just “housewife” material. We are taking on prominent roles in the workplace and making major contributions to society. More modern examples of women’s equality movements include the creation of the Ag Women’s Network and the Women in Ag Conference. The Ag Women’s network is about cultivating and connecting agricultural leaders. This 1500-member network provides a forum for women to share their experiences and learn from one another, fostering relationships and empowering women to push themselves further. Also, this past April, 600 women attended the Advancing Women in Agriculture Conference in Calgary. Various hot topics were covered including “understanding how men view us and how to build a bridge in the workplace.” Despite these leaps and bounds made by women, there is still a ways to go before men and women will be considered on par around the globe. According to Catalyst Canada, Canadian women earn $0.82 to every $1 earned by men. Approximately 10-15% of this wage gap is due to discrimination.

The equality gap is especially evident in agriculture. A lack of work-life balance has been an ongoing issue for working women. According to Statistics Canada, on top of their jobs, women farmers are spending twice as much time as their husbands doing housework and three times as much time on childcare. This is likely due to the nature of the business. It is a heavily male dominated sector with the vast majority of those involved being men aged over 55, often with old-fashioned ideologies. Farmers need to evolve and realize that women engaged in agriculture is in fact normal. The close-mindedness passed from generation to generation of male farmers needs to come to a squealing halt. However, men are not the only perpetrators in this situation. There are also incidences of unconscious bias coming from women against their own gender.

Evidently, women haven’t exactly been welcomed into the ag industry with open arms. I’ve heard people make jokes like, if a family is without a son, the farm is destined for sale. Surnames will be forgotten and the farm will be lost. It is never considered that the daughter may want to keep her name and be interested in taking over the operation.

Women have a lot to offer the agriculture industry. The Harvard Business Review claims that companies with women directors deal more effectively with risk. Not only do they better address the concerns of customers, employees, shareholders, and the local community, but also, they tend to focus on long-term priorities. Women are breaking through the glass ceiling in agriculture.

Old Macdonald has owned the farm for years but I think it may finally be time to start succession planning so his keen daughter or granddaughter, Ms. Macdonald can continue the family tradition of farming. She’s ready to take over the tractor wheel and be the star of Jason Aldean’s next country billboard hit.

Win-win: Inclusivity for a growing industry

By Maggie McCormick

Agriculture is moving into some exciting spaces. Consumers are interested in what they’re eating, science and technology are advancing, and food, fibre, fuel and feed will never be unnecessary. Just because it’s exciting however, doesn’t mean there aren’t hurdles along the way. Canadian agriculture is going to need talent to propel it to a place that allows farmers to continue to grow food efficiently, safely and in a way that pleases the end user all at the same time.

In 2012, the Ontario Agricultural College released Planning for Tomorrow, a report on hiring trends in Ontario agriculture. It found that demand for post-secondary graduates in the food and agriculture industry far exceeded supply. In the 2015 Canadian report by AgCareers, the job posting service saw a steady increase in agriculture job postings. In November, research by the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council determined “[t]he gap between labour demand and the domestic workforce in agriculture has doubled from 30,000 to 59,000 in the past ten years and projections indicate that by 2025, the Canadian agri-workforce could be short workers for 114,000 jobs.” Scientists, engineers, software designers, marketing professionals, educators – agriculture is going to need them all and more.

In addition to the many positions available to be filled, millennials have said they expect to change jobs every three years. The high turn over rate means agriculture will constantly be competing for millennial talent, and that of their younger cohort, with the rest of the country.

What do we need to attract talent to agriculture? At a meeting I attended this summer, a bank executive was reflecting on what sectors needed to attract talent. “We know that for sectors to grow they need to have an appealing culture”. If that bit of wisdom holds true, to attract new talent and keep them we are going to need to keep building an inclusive culture.

By building an inclusive culture, newcomers to the industry will have positive experiences in agriculture. They will feel welcome, supported and ready to put down roots in the communities that support the industry. They will bring new ideas that will both support and evolve current practices.

In an inclusive industry, newcomers will better connect agriculture with customers. We need diversity in our industry to help us reach an incredibly diverse customer base. There are so many different regions, ethnicities, languages, traditions and needs to serve. Insight and ideas will be invaluable to growth.

Finally, an inclusive industry makes a healthier environment for newcomers, but also for those already working and living in this space. Becoming more accepting will help everyone feel safer to share their ideas and be true to their entire identity. It will be a space for open dialogue, and everyone will benefit from the culture.

Ideas for building the inclusive culture

Creating positive experiences

Agriculture is steeped in tradition, but often tradition can be a little hard to access if you’re new. Just because some hasn’t participated in a culture doesn’t mean they won’t want to! Celebrate traditions by sharing them and making them easy to access, without judgement. This industry is incredibly unique and has so many opportunities outside the workplace. By inviting newcomers to participate and explaining traditions, it will make agriculture more inclusive and stand out.

An understanding environment

While we’re celebrating traditions, let’s celebrate what newcomers are bringing to the industry. Maybe it’s their own traditions, maybe it’s their perspective on issues, maybe it’s new knowledge and expertise. If someone has an idea, they shouldn’t be shut down because “that’s not how it’s done”. Maybe the way it’s done is getting really worn out anyways! The HR Council notes that “[w]hen individuals feel that they cannot be themselves at work, they will not engage fully as part of the team or in assigned work.” Ag has to be a safe space to share thoughts, feelings and experiences to attract engaged talent.

Open dialogue

To become more inclusive, we need to keep talking about it. Without discussion we will never be able to acknowledge our issues and try new things to fix them. After all that’s part of the reason AWN exists! There are some obvious ground rules to beginning a dialogue: don’t make assumptions and don’t force it. A good discussion involves a lot of listening, rather than jumping ahead. If someone has a unique perspective, they will share if they want to. Overall though, the more we discuss it, the more comfortable we will all be about addressing industry challenges.

In the end an inclusive culture doesn’t really need justification. “Welcome all people” is a statement I’m sure most can get behind. However, there are definitely some added benefits if the industry can grow and strengthen at the same time.

Diversity and Inclusion Week

By Maggie McCormick

“We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.” J.K. Rowling

Diversity_&_Inclusion_Image.pngDiversity and inclusion. When I offered to organize a week on this topic, I knew that the words carried so much weight, so much responsibility, that the rest of the words to accompany them would not come easily.

Every time I thought about writing posts for this week, the first thing that came to mind was how unqualified I felt for the topic. In our society, I know I am privileged: a white, Anglo-Saxon, protestant… you know the acronym. I’ve benefitted in a society organized by people with those same attributes. But, of course, this week isn’t about me. It’s about all the great voices who have stepped up to share their stories, their struggles, and their ideas. And of course, it’s about the voices we don’t hear in our industry.

The Ag Women’s Network is quite clearly hard at work trying to encourage inclusion of women in the barn and the boardroom. This week, let’s explore diversity both with and beyond gender. We’ll talk about diversity and inclusion in all kinds of capacities.

So let’s begin at the beginning. What does diversity mean?

Diversity: “the condition of having or being composed of differing elements:  the inclusion of different types of people (as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization”. (Merriam Webster)

This is a difference in religion, race, appearance, citizenship, sexual orientation and identity, age, gender, mental health, and residence, to name only a few.

Include: “to take in or comprise as a part of a whole or group.” (Merriam Webster)

I don’t think we need to dance around the fact that our industry is not very diverse. How we got here isn’t a tough question. We can look at colonization, immigration, law and other factors of world history to explain how Canadian agriculture ended up in its current composition. Technology has also played a role. At a certain point machinery and breeding advances meant farming was sending people out of the industry to work elsewhere and taking in only a few. Traditions also create barriers for those on the outside.

We’re at a new point in history: our industry is growing and the advances and opportunities mean we need more people in the industry. It’s a time when the industry needs to better understand our customers, so we must get to know them, what they value, and how they speak, socialize, perceive, and, most vitally, eat. We need to build positive relationships with all people in a time when the world is filled with division. It’s more than time to bring in new ideas. It’s time to heal where the exclusion has hurt, even when it was unintentional. It’s time to create an industry that everyone wants to join.

So what to do about it? I believe we are already making some progress but it’s important to examine a problem, and then take action. I’ve asked several people to give their insights this week, and maybe as the week comes to a close we’ll have a clearer picture of what we should do as a group and individually to be more inclusive. This a big, difficult topic, so I ask for your understanding and patience as we begin the conversation this week. Mutual respect and understanding are vital to the topic, but also to the conversation. We may not always get it right, but it’s a start.

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

Joanna Follings on prioritizing positive relationships – Industry Profile

You may know Joanna Follings from the pages of farm publications where she shares crop advice as part of OMAFRA’s Cereal Specialist role. Joanna shares her own advice with us, and how prioritizing positive relationships makes reaching our own goals easier.

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

I grew up on a dairy and cash crop farm near Ayr, Ontario, so from a pretty young age I developed a strong passion for agriculture. I attended the University of Guelph and earned a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture. During my undergrad studies I worked for a number of agriculture companies including Cargill, BASF and DuPont. After graduation I worked for the Agricultural Adaptation Council as a program coordinator where I assessed research proposals for funding and managed the approved projects through to completion.

After two years of working in the industry I decided to go back to school. Once I completed my Master’s in Plant Agriculture, I was successful in getting my first job with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) as a Research Analyst in the Research and Innovation Branch. I really enjoyed that role but really missed working directly with the agriculture industry, particularly with producers. That’s when I made a huge switch and was successful in getting the Cereals Specialist position with OMAFRA last October. 

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

I am the provincial Cereals Specialist with OMAFRA. I am responsible for providing Ontario growers with production and management information on cereal production systems and collaborating on applied research and demonstration projects. I wouldn’t really say I have a “typical day” because every day is quite different depending on the time of year (which is one of the many reasons I love my job).  Some days I can be found writing articles and researching topics that are relevant to Ontario growers and other days I am on the road giving presentations or working with researchers and growers on research projects.

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

I would have to say that personal success is feeling a sense of accomplishment and pride in what I am doing on both a professional and personal level. No matter how small my contributions may be, if I feel like I am making even the slightest difference for the better, that makes me feel incredibly successful. 

In order to get there, you have to have positive relationships and partnerships in both your professional and personal life.  I am a strong believer that the relationships we build with people are very important for achieving our goals. We also have to refuse to let ourselves get comfortable. Take risks! Pushing the boundaries and trying things we never could imagine ourselves doing and then coming out the other side saying “Wow I did it” is the best feeling in the world. 

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

I recently went through a very challenging personal experience. I don’t want to share all the details but what I can say is that I learned no matter how difficult life may seem at the time, you will get through it and it will get better. You will come out of some challenges as a different person but sometimes that is a good thing. I also learned how important it is to surround yourself with positive people and don’t be afraid to lean on them for support. This applies to both your personal and professional life and goes back to my point about the need for building positive relationships in your life.

Who has been your greatest influencer and/or mentor? What have you learned from them?

I have been incredibly lucky to have had a number of positive influencers/mentors in my life but I would have to say my parents have been the biggest influencers. They taught me the importance of being respectful, hard work, determination, having an open mind and a solid handshake!  They also taught me how to stand up for myself and to always learn from your mistakes.

joanna_follings3Learning 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?

So I am the first to admit it, I make a lot of mistakes! One mistake in particular was in my old role as a Research Analyst where I took on too many very different projects. I used to be very afraid of saying no and asking for help. I didn’t want it to appear that I wasn’t working hard enough or that I wasn’t good at my job so I had the tendency to say yes to everything. I also didn’t want to burden others with my work so I didn’t reach out for help. As a result, I ended up having to put in a lot of extra time, lost a lot of sleep, and at the end of the day I wasn’t really happy with the work that I had done. After that I learned that it is ok to say no sometimes and to ask for help.  No one will judge you or criticize you, if anything they will respect you more for being honest.

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

Right now I am trying to figure out what to do next in terms of professional development. I have often thought about an MBA, but would be curious to know what other designations, courses, workshops, etc. AWN members have found to be of value in terms of personal and professional growth.

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

I think there are a number of important topics in agriculture right now including, but not limited, to how we communicate with the public about agriculture, animal welfare, and environmental sustainability. Personally, I think we as an industry can do a better job of working together to come up with solutions or a path forward in some of these areas. There are some pretty remarkable people working in this industry with some amazing ideas that we just don’t tap into enough.

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

Don’t be afraid to take risks!  I know sometimes we might be hesitant to go back to school or try new things but I think we learn and grow the most when we push ourselves out of our comfort zone. I was terrified to go to graduate school and to take on my current role as the Cereals Specialist, to the point where I almost said no to both opportunities. I am incredibly thankful I said yes to both because I have learned so much from these experiences.

5 Tips & Tricks for Getting Ahead – The Old Boys Club

A curation of tips and strategies that will help you combat the old boys club, move forward in your career and help others to do so as well.

By Natalie Walt

  1. networkFind a mentor

We’ve talked a lot about mentorship at Ag Women’s Network (AWN) and the importance of finding someone that can support you in your growth both personally and professionally. A mentor is someone that can provide guidance for choosing your career path, learning news skills, improving your current skill-set, and help you join a board. Your mentor should be someone that has similar interests and has experience in the field that you are seeking advancement within.

Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for advice from someone you think would make an excellent mentor because they are more than likely willing to help out. In my experience, I was incredibly shy and self-conscious when sending the first email, but my efforts were always met with enthusiasm and positivity. People are always willing to help- you just have to ask!

It’s important for women to remember that they don’t always need to limit themselves by only asking for mentorship support from other women. Don’t be afraid to seek mentorship from a male colleague. 

2) Be a mentor

Most of us can agree that at some point along the way in our careers, we have sought  advice and support from someone else. Over the years, I have been blessed to know several people who have taken the time to offer their advice to me when I have been in the middle of making fairly daunting steps in my career path. Their wisdom and experienced advice were invaluable to me as rookie in the field.

That being said, it’s important to also consider ourselves as mentors for someone else. You have so much more to offer than you often realize. While we often think that we need to find a mentor for ourselves, we should also consider that there is a generation of fantastic individuals behind us that could also benefit from our mentoring.  Do not hesitate to lend a hand to someone that you think is doing a terrific job in their work or is starting out in the field.

3) Don’t look for just  single mentor, but rather, find a tribe

tips_pic_1In life, we do not consult just one single expert for everything. For example, you do not rely on your doctor for legal advice so why should you limit yourself to one expert to guide you in your career?

Consider this to be kind of like finding a board of directors for your career.  Connect with people that can lend their expertise to a variety of areas like finance, human resources, technical, etc.  I have one person that I always call on when I need personal finance advice because he is an accountant and knows that area inside out. I call on my friend Tony when I need technical advice because he is a digital genius. The list goes on. Depending on the situation, I know just who to call and seek guidance from. Within our careers and volunteer affiliations, it’s important to build a group of people that can lend experienced knowledge as no one single person is an expert on everything.

4) Be aggressive

Simply put, have the courage to put yourself out there and go after the career you so desire.  We miss %100 of the chances we don’t take.

-Send the email or message to that person you’ve been wanting to connect with. If they don’t have time to meet in person, ask to schedule a phone call with them.

-Do the follow up after meeting them. Oftentimes we make great connections at tradeshows or events, but then fail to follow through and send the email afterwards to actually continue the conversation. This next step is key and should be done within a day or two of the initial meeting.

-Don’t be afraid to seek advice from a group (like AWN) as to who to connect with. Be specific in your request and likely someone will be able to help point you in the right direction.

women_in_biz5) Find the ‘water cooler’

Determine where the best place to get your foot in the door is and show up. You have to be present and put yourself out there for connections and conversations to happen. Take a look around your industry and figure out where people are making the connections that you want to be a part of.  Every industry is different and agriculture is no exception, but there are a lot of events and organizations to get involved in outside of work that could be great places to start.

For example, trade shows like the Outdoor Farm Show are very well-attended and have a lot of representation from businesses and organizations all across the industry. In agribusiness, a lot of these interactions take place on the golf course.  I’m not much of an experienced golfer, but I have learned that many of the customer appreciation days or industry events involve golf so I have proactively forced myself to get better and even purchased my first ever set of clubs.

Making Waves in Agribusiness – Industry Spotlight: Jenny Van Rooy

By Natalie Walt

Jenny Van Rooy is a rural gal from Bruce County with strong family ties to farming and agriculture. Now, as a dynamic, young agricultural professional, she states that agriculture is not just a career choice, but rather a way of life. She currently resides in Kincardine, ON, where she stays busy co-managing her own business, The Westland Corporation. I had the opportunity to get into the nitty-gritty with her and talk about the Old Boys Club and the impact that it has had on her launching her own business in a historically male-dominated industry. You can follow Jenny on twitter at @jennyvanrooy or you can check out the Westland Corp. @thewestlandcorp

Being Bold and Taking the leap into Business Ownership

jenny_van_rooy_profile_postIf I could have summarized this interview in one word, it would most definitely be ‘optimistic’. Jenny Van Rooy is the real deal. As an ambitious entrepreneur in agribusiness, she has successfully built The Westland Corporation into a prosperous new business  that is continually evolving as they are currently in a stage of expansion.

The Westland Corporation is a grain brokerage firm that is agriculturally driven and focused. They bring together clients  ranging from grain producers, to licensed dealers to end users and international trading companies. As part-owner, Jenny can be found brokering deals throughout the day, while also taking care of all other aspects included in running a business.  She loves the variety of challenges continually presented to her and is extremely motivated by the discovery of unending opportunities in this industry.

When asked about her reasons for deciding to take the plunge and start her own business along with long-time friend and co-owner, Brock Lowry, she said that they both saw an opportunity that would enable them to combine their skills and ambitious work ethic to build something that was truly unique.  She states, “As a business owner, I forever need to be innovative, driven and focused”.  Now, almost two years since inception, The Westland Corporation has hit their stride and is growing their team and business offerings to provide even more value to their growing client base.

Dealing with Challenges and Staying Positive

With this weeks’ focus on the Old Boys Club(OBC) mentality, I asked Jenny what her thoughts were on this and whether it was still an obstacle for her as a female business owner. I found her answer very honest and refreshing.

jenny-combineI really don’t feel like the OBC attitude persists much anymore. Overtime I think this attitude has slowly faded. I talk to grain traders that have been in the Ontario grain trade for multiple decades, they tell me stories of how it “once was” – let me tell you that attitude and behaviour is not present anymore. Slowly over the decades there has been a shift. Any OBC attitude that’s left in the trade is very minor. -Jenny Van Rooy

That being said, she has run into her share of situations where she has felt that a client wasn’t taking her seriously. Instead of getting frustrated, Jenny says the key is to not take it personally and to work on slowly building their respect. The payoff takes a little longer, but in her experience, the feeling of earning their respect and gaining their business is the ultimate win-win.

Jenny further explains that she in no way suggests that there aren’t barriers for women in our industry.  However, she states that we have come a long way and that now is the time to focus on the future.  Instead of dwelling on how bad it can be, let’s focus on how great it’s going to get.  She highlights the need for organizations like the Ag Women’s Network to be a vehicle for change and provide tools that will enable us to become the best agricultural professionals we can be.

Looking Towards the Future

Reflecting on her experience in launching her own business, Jenny says that perspective, persistence and professionalism have been key skills that have allowed her to move forward from the OBC attitude and towards successful business relationships. She emphasizes the need stay focused, prove your worth and the results will come. The doors of opportunity are open for men AND women.

Last words: Jenny’s advice for young women in agriculture

You have set yourself up in a great position, the agriculture industry is full of unlimited opportunity for so many different skill sets. Find something you enjoy and excel at, set your goals and charge after them with undeniable drive and persistence! At this early stage in your career this is a good time to try various different streams and roles within agriculture – it’s a big industry, don’t limit yourself!