9 Tips to Deal with Sexism and Combat Unconscious Bias in Agriculture

Listening to Courtney Denard’s recent interview on Wendall Schumm and Christine Eisler’s podcast “Come Over Here & Say That”, I found myself smiling when Courtney said, “I don’t think there’s any point sitting around and bitching for four hours and then no one does anything about it”.

She was talking about politicians, but I couldn’t help but think about our unconscious bias discussion. We continue to hear stories of women in agriculture who have faced sexism or bias from both genders. Fortunately, the stories are being shared in good humour and to be clear, we don’t feel like we are bitching.

These stories are being shared to create awareness. Even if you’ve personally experienced sexism, it can still be hard to recognize thanks to our own biases. When you do see it though, what do you do? How should you deal with it when it happens to you?

So, to wrap up our discussion of unconscious bias and sexism, we are sharing some tips we have gathered from our members and online sources to combat the engrained stereotypes.

In short, we want to do something about this.

9 Tips to Deal with Sexism & Unconscious Bias in Agriculture

Have you faced sexism or bias? How did you deal with it? What suggestions would you have for our readers? Please share in the comments!

  1. Recognize your own biases and admit to them. It might feel uncomfortable (embarrassing or shameful even), particularly because bias is often rooted in beliefs or options.
  2. Listen. When someone has experienced bias and they share it with you, listen. Don’t try to minimize the event or find reason. Half the battle is accepting bias exists. Talk about it and don’t shy away if the conversation becomes awkward. Awkward conversations can lead to the best understanding, because you are being vulnerable in those moments and open to learning.
  3. Start at home. How we raise our children is how the next generation will see the world. You don’t have to commit to a gender-neutral environment, but you can encourage your children to play with whatever toy they wish and try activities that interest them. We have a unique opportunity in agriculture because our kids also see our work, so strive to give them equal chores inside the house and barn and compensate them equally, if you do allowance.
  4. Call It Out. Trying to teach our children equality is difficult when reps and visitors might assume differently. We have to call these situations out, as difficult as they can be. There are a couple tactics to do this. Humour can help sometimes while restating the comment as a question is another. “If I heard you correctly, you believe only my husband is capable of this task, is that correct?” Most likely they will immediate realize the error of their words.
  5. Be proactive when meeting new people. Extend your hand first, introduce yourself, give an “I” sentence or two – before they start into their introduction.  It sets a tone that you are willing to be in charge of the situation and confident about yourself.  Removing the phrase “I’m just a ….” is also important.  Whatever role you play on the farm, or off the farm, you are important.
  6. Stand together. If you’ve tried to call sexism out and it continues, there are a couple of options. Everyone deserves respect. In a workplace, report it. On the farm, you might consider asking to speak to the individual’s manager. At a minimum, agree as a business team to not work with those who don’t respect everyone on the team. The support of our partner / father / brother(s) is critical. We’re in this together.
  7. Prove ‘em wrong. Time and time again, women have mentioned the best way to earn respect from those around you is to be good at what you do and work hard. Work ethic goes a long way in this industry regardless of gender. If you’re new, ask questions to learn and your enthusiasm will be recognized.
  8. Change your language. Words like “showperson” and “chairperson” instead of “showman” and “chairman” might seem small but they are significant. Probably not many industries ask “ladies bring lunch” and neither should we. If it’s potluck, then a statement around bringing lunch will do.
  9. Help a sister out! We know women aren’t as likely to speak up in meetings or lay claim to their good work or ideas. Support each other and speak up for others in meetings or group discussions. It worked for Obama’s staffers so surely it can work at your next farmers’ meeting.

img_9437Finally, if you work in agriculture (or any industry for that matter), you can save yourself a lot of trouble by not assuming. Address everyone at the table, ask how they are involved (and consider women are more likely to downplay their role) and seek out their opinions.

Truly, reducing unconscious bias starts with ourselves. Gandhi is often quoted as saying, “be the change you want to see in the world.” I recently learned his actual words were much deeper.

We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. – Mahatma Gandhi

Indeed, we can only control ourselves and in doing so, we set an example for others to follow. Reduce our own bias and be more open, and those around us will start to be more open also.

For more tips on how to deal with sexism at work, check out Feminist Fight Club. We haven’t read it yet ourselves but we loved the no-bullshit interview with Jessica Bennet, the author.

-Jen C. & Joan C.


Is Unconscious Bias Holding Agriculture Back?

Last week, I addressed a group of producers at a Dupont Pioneer dealer’s customer appreciation event. The objective of my presentation was to raise awareness of unconscious bias in agriculture and its impact on talent retention and social license.

At times, the presentation was uncomfortable, for those listening and for me. As women in a male-dominated field we are encouraged (often by ourselves) to not show weakness. We don’t share the encounters that make us uncomfortable or cause us to doubt our abilities because we don’t want to be perceived as complaining or unable to “hack it”.

However, if we truly love agriculture and desire to see it prosper, then few would disagree ensuring everyone within it, regardless of gender (or race, religion or sexuality) have equal opportunities to thrive. We also have to acknowledge the issue.

Enter unconscious bias. Even as I shared stories from women working in agriculture who have been subject to sexism and discrimination (from men and women), I made the mistake of directing a comment about the seed dealership to the male host, assuming he was the owner. As it turns out, he is an associate dealer and Laura is the primary. Shame on me.

Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 3.51.58 PMWe are so conditioned to expect men and women to fill certain roles on our farms, in our industry and in society we judge people and their competencies without even realizing it.

Often it’s harmless, like when the church ladies guffaw at choosing to be in the barn rather than the house or when a sales rep comes to the door asking for the boss.

Other times it’s downright discriminatory, like when hiring managers rule out women because they fear they will become pregnant and leave. And sadly, it can also be harassment as several women have shared stories of lewd remarks and inappropriate advances.

Luckily, it appears many of the horror stories from other industries aren’t present in agriculture. And a 2015 study by AgCareers.com found the percentage of people who felt gender inequality existed in agriculture was lower than that of business in general. Like many other studies on the topic though, there is a pronounced difference between the perception of its existence between  men and women.

Although the cost of gender bias in agriculture hasn’t been explicitly quantified, one could easily argue it’s negatively impacted social license, talent retention and potentially even business results overall.

While moms and millennials have been identified as significant influencers of food trends (The Canadian Centre for Food Integrity), only 12% of major agricultural associations in Canada have female leadership (CAHRC). If “unconsciously, we tend to like people who look like us, think like us,” (Trang Chu) then there is reason to think the gender gap in agriculture leadership may be partially to blame for the current gap in understanding about modern farming practices.

Additionally, bias impacts people at a subconscious level, impacting their self-confidence and aspirations. Over time, negative bias will demotivate employees and even discourage them from striving for leadership opportunities. (See Companies Drain Women’s Ambition After 2 Years).

“When I was a feed rep, I got told by a farmer that my job was in the kitchen. Most things I took a grain of salt but made me realize I didn’t want to be part of the feed industry in that specific area and “changed” careers.”  Quote from a woman in ag.

With the current labour gap in agriculture (it’s estimated 59,000 positions are currently unfilled, costing the industry $1.5 billion in lost farm receipts), stories of women subjected to sexism deciding to leave the industry should be a hard pill to swallow. Add to this all the industry boards seeking volunteers to replace retiring directors and agriculture needs to attract new talent, not turn it away.

Finally, celebrating diversity and tapping into its innovative potential is what will make Canadian agriculture a global leader in the future. One only needs to look to the proven success of companies with women in leadership to see the opportunity which awaits the businesses and organizations in agriculture who make gender diversity and women’s leadership advancement a priority.

The challenge then is “how”? This is a topic we will explore in our next post, but it seems unanimous the first step is starting with awareness. Have you experienced bias in your workplace, sector or farm? Do you feel the agriculture industry is better or worse off than other industries when it comes to the existence of sexism and how its handled? Share your thoughts in the comments below or join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.

-Jen C.

Celebrating Canadian Agriculture at the Calgary Stampede – Erin Stuart

Living in downtown Calgary directly across from Stampede grounds, I look forward to the ten days of Stampede every year – it’s a fantastic kick-off to summer.

This year was no different, I enjoyed corporate events, the rodeo, a pancake breakfast or two, the fireworks and time with friends and family.

image1 (1).jpegTo celebrate the event and the ag women involved in it, I spoke with Erin Stuart, Past Chair of the Beef Cattle Committee, to hear her perspective on Stampede and her advice for others in the industry. Erin’s been a CS volunteer since May 2012. Thanks for your input, Erin!

 1) What’s your favourite part of Stampede/What does Stampede mean to you?

My first stampede memories were of showing my first cutting horse Doctana at the CS Youth Cutting competition in the Big Top when I was nine years old (I’m now 31!!).

When I finished my Masters of Science and moved home from Lincoln, Nebraska I joined the Beef Cattle Committee. It is a relatively small committee but it is made up of such a wonderful group of people. Some of us have Ag backgrounds and some of us don’t- but everyone brings their best. The variety of skill sets and backgrounds the group has creates an excellent experience for our guests and makes being a volunteer a lot of fun. I have made some wonderful friends who share a passion for the organization and giving back to the committee.

My Dad, Byron Hussey, was a Stampede Volunteer for a number of years and recently completed his tenth year as a member of the Calgary Stampede Board of Directors. My Mom, Pat Hussey has supported him during all of those years and has a birthday that falls during Stampede. We have a wonderful tradition of going for dinner and watching the Chuckwagon Races and Grandstand Show as a family on her birthday. My younger sister, Kiersten, has worked at the Lazy S for a number of years. That being said, the Stampede has very much been a part of our family for twenty years. We all have our individual Stampede commitments year round and daily activities on park during the ten day festivities but make time to get together as a family and enjoy ourselves.

The family time we get to share on park, the friends I have made, and the opportunity to give back to the community are some of my favourite things about Stampede.

 2) Why do you volunteer with Stampede?

Growing up in rural Alberta and studying science and agriculture in university fostered a passion for agriculture and all of the great things that the industry does to ensure that our food is safe. Farmers and ranchers utilize good production practices that ensure animals are raised humanely, the environment is respected, and resources are used efficiently. The Stampede does an excellent job of sharing this information with park guests year round and during the ten day festivities and I am very proud to be able to contribute my time and knowledge.

3) Advice for other women wanting to get involved in industry events?

Get involved!! We all have knowledge and skills to contribute and it is very rewarding to participate in and contribute to industry events. You’ll meet people and establish friendships with people that you may not have met otherwise.



Contributed by Krista Goranson
Interview content by Erin Stuart

Krista works in business and agriculture and lives in downtown Calgary. Follow Krista on Twitter @kristagg1.




Finding a place in a male dominated industry – Aubrie Mowat

Aubrie Mowat works for a commodity marketing and handling company, which seems like a good fit considering she grew up in a family that owns and operates a grain elevator. She’s just starting her career and it hasn’t always been easy to find her place in a male dominated industry, but she’s been building the career she wants through personal drive and goal setting.

If you’re interested in connecting with Aubrie, contact her via e-mail at aubriemowat@live.ca

Aubrie Mowat 1Please tell us a bit about yourself and your career path.

I grew up on a small cow/calf operation and was also involved with commodities as our family owns and operates a grain elevator. I graduated University of Guelph – Kemptville Campus in 2012 with an Associate Diploma in Agriculture. In 2014 I graduated Olds College with a Bachelor of Applied Science Degree in Agribusiness. I started with BroadGrain Commodities Inc. while finishing my applied degree and was hired as a Rotational Associate. In this role I moved around our offices throughout Ontario for a year to learn about each division. I then moved on to be a Location Marketing Advisor in Brinston, Ontario, which enables me to be back on the farm! I help my customers create marketing plans for their commoditie, and I am also the team lead of our non-GMO/identity preserved food grade soybean program.

Tell us more about your job and what a typical day looks like.

On a day-to-day basis I keep myself informed with where the futures markets are at and what is happening in our local area in regards to supply and demand. I review my customers’ price targets daily and share the knowledge I have in regards to where the prices are at and reasons supporting those prices. I enjoy helping my customers achieve their goals in regards to marketing their grain and value all of the relationships I have created over the past few years. When the markets aren’t too busy, I also help at the scale, when need be, and enjoy dropping in for farm visits!

Who has been your most significant mentor along the way?

Until I started with BroadGrain, I think it’s safe to say my parents were. They run our family’s grain elevator together and have always been driven to be successful and innovative, and have instilled in me the benefits of hard work from the very beginning. Upon starting with BroadGrain, one of my mentors throughout my rotational program was Sonja. She was in a similar role as I am now but on a much larger scale as she was overseeing different commodities. She is a strong woman with the willpower to push herself past boundaries and continues to set goals. She was also a firm believer in girl power, which I think is VERY important! Although we are in different offices now, she is very supportive and encourages me to grow.

Aubrie Mowat 3

How do you define professional success?

Professional success is setting goals and pushing yourself to achieve them. It is important to strive for this on a continual basis, as challenges are imperative for our growth and development within our career. All of my current goals have some sort of measurable aspect to them to hold me accountable, but I also like to focus on the skills that obtain those numbers. I am a firm believer that time management and the ability to create and carry out an action plan are two of the most important skills an individual can possess. A person must have “drive” and be willing to work as hard as required to achieve his/her goals time and time again.

What is the biggest professional or personal challenge that you’ve had to face?

The biggest challenge that I’ve had to face is ongoing. Being a female in this industry is a small battle that requires me to prove myself to new customers that aren’t used to female professionals in a position like mine. As time goes on it doesn’t seem as frustrating; now it is just another hurdle to jump over and a chance to improve my skills and competencies. Slowly but surely I know women in the industry will change opinions and views; after all, we are all in this together!

It is important to stay open minded. We never know what is around the corner.

Learning from our mistakes is an important, but sometimes tough, part of life. Are you willing to share a mistake you made but taught you something important?

While I was going through college I really disliked my sales classes as they were focused on selling a specific product and I decided that I never wanted a career involved in sales. I quickly changed my opinion after an interview when I was asked what I thought of sales and almost immediately said I disliked the whole concept and never wanted a job involved in it. Without even thinking, I almost closed the door to a great opportunity. “Sales” isn’t always about selling an object. Every day I sell our company’s services to our customers. It is important to stay open minded. We never know what is around the corner.

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

The most burning question that people ask me is: “Why aren’t you working at home?” I get asked this question almost every week; I can understand this considering our family has been heavily involved in this industry for more than 50 years, however it still bothers me. I chose to pursue an education related to agriculture in order to secure a challenging career in this industry. I am young, just starting my journey and my main focus is on my own personal development. I am thankful that BroadGrain is such a progressive company and the opportunities within this company are truly endless!

How do you define agriculture?

Agriculture is the most important thing in this world; there is absolutely no doubt about it. It is an industry that is filled with science, compassion and relentlessness, an industry that is at the mercy of Mother Nature, an industry that literally feeds and clothes the world.

Aubrie Mowat 4

Aubrie with sister Alysa

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

I think the biggest issue in agriculture right now is how uninformed consumers are as more and more of our population is removed from the farm. It is important that we share our stories. We need to inform these consumers of what we do and why we do it. We need to encourage our consumers to ask questions, invite them to our farms and expose them to a day in our lives. Let’s focus on sharing our story and facts to help our consumers make informed decisions. Let’s be approachable and inviting. Let’s do our job in promoting the industry that has provided us with connections, a chance to be responsible for our animals and crops, the strength to deal with the cycle of life, an opportunity to be stewards of the land and the chance to be a part of an amazing industry!

‘Ag Wannabe’ – Christina Fitzgibbons on joining the AG industry

Christina (Couture) FitzGibbon is a member of the Ag Women’s Network leadership team. She found a fantastic professional fit in agriculture, and she’s embraced new opportunities to expand her network and contribute to the industry. She shares with us some advice that she’s picked up along the way and her questions about next steps in life and her career.

If you’re interested in connecting with Christina, contact her via Twitter: https://twitter.com/@agcouture or email: couture.christina@gmail.com

1c68df8Please tell us a bit about yourself and your career path.

I am a passionate ‘ag wannabe’ and proud to be able to bring my consumer perspective to the industry. Growing up in rural Ontario enabled me to experience my first taste of agriculture, and I instantly became enthralled with the process, the effort, and the craft of making food and the farmers behind it. Being a small town girl, when it came a time to choose a University, the University of Guelph was the obvious choice! There I obtained a degree in psychology (with a minor at “the Ranch”) and then furthered my education by obtaining a post graduate honours degree in marketing management from Humber College.

After living and gaining professional experience in Toronto I found myself back in Guelph, in the hub of agriculture, working in a marketing role within the agri-food industry. Today, I work at RKD Web Studios in marketing and account management with both ag and non ag clients. Becoming more involved in the ag community has been very important to me, and has given me a true sense of pride. I love that through professional and personal channels I have the opportunity to lend a hand to the agricultural community and offer an educated voice and perspective from the consumer standpoint.

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

I am a strong believer that success is self-defined. What I think is successful may not be what my friend or colleague believes. But to answer the question… my definition of success is being in a place of continual betterment and learning. If you are able (and lucky enough) to find a position or a role that you are continually learning from and growing from I believe you are successful. For me, my career path has had some ups and downs, but today I consider myself very successful. I hold a position in an industry and organization that is constantly changing and evolving, therefore there is always something to learn and stay ahead of.

“While I have never helped calve a cow, I embrace the agriculture mindset and I am not afraid to get involved or get my boots and hands dirty. My desire for consumers and ‘non-aggies’ to get more involved and engaged in how food arrives from the farm gate to consumer plate is what drives me to continue to be an Agvocate for the industry.“ – Christina FitzGibbon

The biggest step I took in my career and one I continue to take is to get involved! Network, meet people, and put yourself out of your comfort zone! The first organization I joined was Canadian Agri Marketing Association (CAMA), and to be honest I was nervous to get involved and share my voice. But now, I can proudly say I have been on the CAMA board for three years and I am now the Vice President of the Ontario Chapter. The Ag Women’s Network and CAMA have forced me out of what is ‘comfortable’ and have made me more confident to take on new roles professionally.

In the spirit of these profiles helping others, are you willing to share a mistake you made but taught you something important?

Without trying to sound like everything is sunshine and rainbows, I do not think in your career or life you can make ‘mistakes’. Everything is a learning experience and it is how you approach a situation, and what you take from it, that will define the outcome.

That said, I will share a lesson I learned on workplace politics that I believe can be applied to the office or barn… DON’T GET INVOLVED. This can be easier said than done, but I honestly have never heard of an outcome where someone got involved and it ended well. Whether you wear boots to work or three inch heels, try to take the high road and refrain from commenting or lending your opinion. And if you feel you have to, ensure it is constructive and will have a positive effect on those around you.

Christina with Husband Nick FitzGibbon

Christina with husband Nick

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

As someone fast approaching 30, some would say the biological clock is ticking! How starting a family will impact your career is something a lot of my friends and colleagues have been discussing in GREAT length. When is a good time? Will my employer think of me differently? Where do I need to be before I make that step? Lots of questions and thoughts.

A main concern of mine is my career slowing down as priorities change. To be a successful business woman AND have a family is definitely the goal, but what is realistic? I have seen so many women become superwomen, amazing moms and never miss a beat in their career. And of course I strive to be like them.

But does being superwomen come at a cost? Women in agri-business, like other industries, tend to feel the pressure to work through their maternity leaves or come back early to their jobs due to lack of coverage or feeling they are being left behind. So my burning question is, is it fair for employers to expect the ‘superwoman’ as the new norm? Or are we setting unrealistic expectations when it comes work and family life? I would love to hear your comments on this one!

How do you define agriculture?

The center of the world. Without agriculture and the production of food where would we be?


Mary Ann Doré, Robyn Walsh, Maureen Balsillie, Jen Christie, Christina Crowley-Arklie, and Christina Fitzgibbons during an AWN Leadership team meeting

What do you do as part of the AWN Leadership Team?

Since becoming part of the leadership team in 2014, I have had the opportunity to work on various projects including event planning, governance/policy and currently working on a new website (coming soon!). From the beginning when AWN was just a small group of women meeting in my kitchen to now, a group of 1300+ women and counting, I feel blessed to have the opportunity to both work and learn from this network of strong women.

Currently our leadership team consists of eight strong women from all different backgrounds and expertise. Working with them has been a pleasure and given me the opportunity to grow personally and professionally. A big thank you to Jenn, Christina, Maureen, Joan, Megan, Robin and Mary Ann for your continued support; I look forward to helping AWN grow and take on new challenges with you all.

Speed Mentoring Excellent to Inspire & Motivate


Mary Ann Dore & Megan VanSchaik greet guests as they arrive.

Mentorship. It can be an intimidating word for some and it evokes a pile of questions for many. What is a mentor? Do I need a mentor? How do I find a mentor? Can I be a mentor? What do I ask a mentor?

It was some of these questions the Ag Women’s Network sought to answer and hopefully also bring some clarity too at the recent speed-mentoring event.

“I do think the word, ‘mentor’ is intimidating to some people,” said Mary Ann Dore, one of the AWN Leadership Team members and organizers of the event. “People may feel they are too old for a mentor or too young to be a mentor. In reality, anyone can be a mentor or be mentored.”

Indeed, mentorship is often cited by leaders as one of the most important assets they had in their career. Mentorship was also identified by the Canadian Agricultural HR Council (CAHRC) recently as a means to prepare more women to enter leadership positions.


Katie Cheesmond speaks with a group about her career.

Mentorship itself can also take on many different forms. Katie Cheesmond, Director of Business Development at RLB, opened the evening by sharing how mentors, coaches and sponsors all play different roles in our careers. She challenged the group to consider these roles and how each of us may be able to play them at one time or another.

Often when we think of mentors, many of us think of the longer-term relationships with those who inspire us to be our best selves. Our parents may come to mind as the first mentors in our lives but as we progress in our careers, it’s helpful to have a few people you can seek out to help navigate the tough decisions.

Less talked about, but perhaps as important, are coaches and sponsors. Coaches often provide support specific to a skill or outcome we’re trying to achieve, like negotiating a deal or public speaking. Sponsors are like your champion or advocate. They may recommend you for a role in your company or a position on a board or focus group.

Whereas coaches can provide help with one phone call, mentorship and sponsorship both require some level of relationship to be effective. The mentor need not be in the same sector, or even industry, so long as there is a level of trust and comfort to discuss matters openly.


Steve McCabe shares his experience with AWN member Megan Hutchison.

As a result, the speed-mentoring event provided people with an opportunity to get to know a diverse group of leaders from across the industry through roundtable sessions. Mentors shared their stories and offered encouragement to attendees to seek out what they love, stick to their values and build their network. The goal was as much about networking as mentoring, and most people took advantage of the time afterwards to talk further.

Although not decided if or when another speed-mentoring event will be held, the feedback has been very good thus far. One attendee described it as an “excellent networking event to inspire and motivate you to be your best self!”

The Ag Women’s Network thanks RLB for hosting this event and everyone who participated, especially the mentors.


LtoR: Ann Godkin, Stewart Skinner, Steve McCabe, Elgin Craig, Joan Craig, Brad Adams, Denise Zaborowski, Kelly Ward, Kathleen Shore

Meet your Mentors – AWN Speed Mentoring June 16th

Come and join the AWN for our first speed mentoring event in Guelph June 16th.
Networking, food, drinks and of course the chance to set down with industry leaders and gain insight and perspective into their career paths.


Evening Details:
Event fee: $20 which includes two drink tickets and light snacks
Location : RLB LLP 197 Hanlon Creek Boulevard Unit 103, Guelph Ontario

RSVP deadline June 14th

SPEED MENTORINGJune 16th 6-15 pm

Kathleen Shore, Ruminant Nutritionist, New-Life Mills

Kathleen graduated from University of Guelph with a B.Sc. (Agr) majoring in animal science and then an M.Sc. in Ruminant Nutrition.  Kathleen spent several years working as a hired hand on dairy farms and then a few years in the fitness industry while her kids were small.  Kathleen worked for Grober Nutrition for 7 years, a role that focused on young ruminant nutrition but also entailed managing the HACCP and Quality Assurance program.  During her time at Grober, Kathleen became manager of the Nutrition Department, leading a team of staff for the department and overseeing all activities relating to nutrition, research and development, quality assurance, and HACCP.  Kathleen has worked for New-Life Mills for the past 3 years in the role of Ruminant Nutritionist where she oversees ruminant nutrition programs in Ontario and Saskatchewan.  She has served on several provincial and national boards/committees within the feed industry, including the Ontario Agri-Business Association Nutrition Committee.  Kathleen has also been involved in the Leadership Group for the Animal Nutrition Association of Canada Nutrition Committee where, amongst other roles, she served as chairperson.  Within these roles, Kathleen has helped organize several industry conferences.

Brad Adams, Semex @badams392

Brad Adams is currently Global Training Manager at Semex. Brad has over 18 years of experience in sales, marketing and training and development in the agriculture industry. After graduating from the University of Guelph with a diploma in agriculture business, Brad began his work in the nutrition industry as a Formulation Analyst at United Cooperatives of Ontario. In 1994 he joined GROWMARK, an Ontario farm supply and grain marketing cooperative as a Feed Systems Coordinator/Manager. He quickly worked his way up to Human Resources and Sales Administrative Manager where he implemented training and development programs. Prior to joining Semex, Brad served as the National Director of Marketing and National Division Manager for Masterfeeds Animal Health of London, Ontario. Brad is also a Trustee on the Canadian 4-H Foundation and Vice-Chair of the Toronto Stockyards Land Development Corporation. Brad resides near Brantford with his wife and four daughters.

Katie Cheesmond, Director of Business Development, RLB @katiecheesmond

As director of Business Development for RLB, Katie actively engages employees of one of the regional largest accounting and business advisory firms in business development, forging a business development culture within the firm and providing the tools for success through marketing.

Spending 10 years in finance, Katie developed an understanding of the needs and requirements of family business to have support and advice through change; growth, diversification, ownership change, divorce to name but a few. Coming from a farming family, she understands the challenges especially presented with the transfer of physical and emotional assets through sucession.

Kaite has a strong background in the Dairy Industry and a passion for both agriculture and rural development. She is a keen supporter of rural youth with almost 20 years experience in competitive public speaking. As an immigrant to Canada (12 years from UK), she has an understanding of the challenges and opportunities presented by starting a new life in foreign country.

Stewart Skinner, Owner, Imani Farms @modernfarmer

Stewart was raised on a pig farm near Listowel and after a meandering path, returned to a full time farming career this year.  Along with his wife Jessica Kelly, they Imani Farms in 2015 and today it is a diverse farm business that is comprised of 3 segments, a commercial sow herd, a niche market production system, and swine management services.

Stewart graduated from the Ontario Agriculture College with a B. Comm in 2007.  Following his undergrad, he worked as a commodity trader for FS Partners.  He returned to Guelph and in 2010, received a M. Sc. in Agricultural Economics.  His research focused on the economic impacts of Ethanol by-products in pig feed.

Stewart started working for his family’s business, Stonaleen Farms in 2010.  In 2012, he developed and launched an expansion project that would serve a niche market opportunity in the GTA.  This project was not successful however it taught him many valuable lessons. Thomas Edison said, “I haven’t failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work,” and while he doesn’t plan on quite that many mistakes, I try to internalize that thought process when working through setbacks.

In 2013, Stewart took a leap and went to Kenya to work with Wesley Korir, a Boston Marathon Champion and candidate in Kenya’s national election. He worked with farmers in his area and became very involved with Wesley’s political campaign.  That experience inspired him to get involved in politics here at home.  In 2014, Stewart was a candidate in the provincial election and for the last 2 years he worked at Queen’s Park as a policy adviser for the Hon. Jeff Leal, Minister of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs.

This spring, Stewart and Kelly welcome their son Bryce and he knew before he was born that spending a couple days a week in Toronto was not what he wanted to be doing.  Jess and Stewart worked together to make a plan for our farm that would allow him to farm full time and this spring they started raising pigs for niche market in New York.  Stewart’s responsibilities centre on data management and production oversight.

Steve McCabe, Manager, Member Relations @shadowless73

Steve joined Grain Farmers of Ontario in December as manager of member relations.

In this role, he is responsible for connecting with farmer-members, helping with district meetings and events, and running member programs such as Grains in Action. Having been involved in the agriculture industry for well over a decade, he is excited to engage with farmers across Ontario to work on addressing their concerns and the issues they face.

McCabe was raised on a beef farm in Kenilworth, Ontario. He attended Ryerson University and Athabasca University to study public administration and obtained a political science degree. He worked with the labour department of the federal government for three years before pursuing a career change and moving on to the Western Producer, where he worked in national advertising sales. For the past six years, McCabe worked at Top Crop as their national sales manager.

Outside of work hours, Steve is in his second year of a four-year term with the Council of the Township of Wellington North. He also enjoys fly fishing, farming, and following Canadian and global politics.

Joan and Elgin Craig – E&J Craig Farms Inc. @craigcrest

Elgin and Joan farm together north of Arthur.  2014 was a year of change for Elgin and Joan as they dispersed the “Craigcrest” Holstein herd (three time Master Breeder Award winner) and Joan retired after a 30 year career as an elementary school teacher. Currently, they are establishing both a purebred and commercial Speckle Park and Angus beef herd. New interests include grazing and pasture management and using social media to connect with people within and beyond the agriculture industry. They are excited to bring a farm-team and producer perspective to the AWN Speed Mentoring event. Elgin and Joan appreciate the guidance received from others throughout their careers and believe strongly in the benefits of mentoring.

Elgin (OAC 76A) has judged dairy shows both nationally and internationally.  He was a member of the Board of Directors for both Eastgen(Gencor) and the Semex Alliance.  He served as President of both boards.

Joan (BA Waterloo, B Ed Western) is a Past-President of Drayton Festival Theatre and served in several work-related and community leadership roles.  Currently, she is a member of the Leadership Team for Ag Women’s Network.

Kelly Ward, Supervisor of Brand Services for Foodland Ontario

Kelly Ward is the Supervisor of Brand Services for Foodland Ontario and is the face behind their social media channels where she manages interaction with over 198,000 Ontarians daily. She has been with the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs for 16 years working in program delivery in crop technology and economic development.  Now, she’s involved with social media strategy development, web user experience design, ad placement and consumer behaviour research. Kelly holds a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture from the University of Guelph majoring in Agronomy and a Masters in Digital Media Experience Innovation from the University of Waterloo in Stratford. Kelly lives in Palmerston where she volunteers as an executive director for North Wellington Healthcare and Groves Memorial Community Hospital and as the media coordinator for the 2016 International Plowing Match in Minto.




Ann Godkin, Cattle Health Vet/Disease Prevention Veterinarian, OMAFRA @godkinag

Current Ann is  involved consultation with veterinarians, industry reps and producers to trouble-shoot on-farm health and welfare problems in dairy, beef and calf operations.  She also advise government on health, productivity and safety issues on farms and with animal health.

She is the current secretary of provincial bovine veterinary organization (OABP), with a mission to strengthen veterinary practices, and thru vets and their staff, to improve cattle health and welfare. She is also an adjunct faculty at OVC, involved with graduate students working on a number of applied research projects around cattle health, vet training and welfare practices.

Ann graduated BSc, DVM (1982), DVSc (1989) all from U of G.  Previous to her employment with OMAFRA as the Cattle Health Vet/Disease Prevention Veterinarian 1990 to present, she was employed in private veterinary practice and by OVC in Ruminant Vet Practice.


Denise Zaborowski, Manager of OMAFRA’s Domestic Marketing’s Foodland Ontario program.

She is a local food advocate who encourages the public to ask for, purchase and care about all of the “good things that grow in Ontario”.  She is also active in industry development and was the recipient of a Visionary Award from the American Agri-Women Association for leadership and a Friendship Award from the Asparagus Farmers of Ontario.  The Foodland Ontario program has also been a recent recipient of a Ministry Innovation Award for Social Media, and a North American Agricultural Marketing Excellence Award.  Denise has been in the Ontario Public Service for almost 15 years and has held a number of roles including Client Services Officer, Executive Assistant, Food Services Supervisor and Healthy Eating Team Lead.  Denise also has experience in leading marketing communications in the food industry with M&M Meat Shops, Canada’s largest specialty frozen food retailer and Weston Bakeries, a large commercial bakery operation.  Denise holds a Master’s of Science Degree in Marketing Management from the University of Guelph and an undergraduate degree from Guelph in Consumer Studies.  She also volunteers on the Campaign Cabinet for the Guelph Wellington United Way.  Denise is the proud mom of three awesome children and enjoys juggling multiple priorities with optimistic enthusiasm.


Producer Profile – Fill-in farmer goes full-time – Romy Schill

Romy Schill had to step in when her husband got hurt, then found taking on the role full-time made a lot of sense

By Courtney Denard

Ag Women’s Network

When I ask Romy Schill what her primary role on the farm is, her answer is simple and perhaps somewhat obvious. “I’m a farmer,” she tells me and leaves it at that.

Romy owns and operates Circle R Livestock in Wallenstein with her husband Ryan.

With 300 Dorset ewes, Romy refers to Circle R as a sheep farm but points out that the operation also runs 1,200 layer-breeder hens.

Sheep farming was never something Romy envisioned growing up on her family dairy farm in Drayton. In fact, as a teenager she told her mother she didn’t want anything to do with farming and would never marry a farmer.

But as the old saying goes…never say never.

Romy and Ryan, a farm kid himself, met through 4-H in high school and were married in 2008 after Romy graduated from the University of Guelph in 2007 with a Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture.

The couple moved to Ryan’s family hog farm and Romy started a career in feed sales.

Romy and her husband made some big decisions early on. The first was to take a government buy out and get out of hog farming. The second was to get into sheep.

Ryan would run the farm and Romy would continue to work in sales.

While Romy was on her first maternity leave, Ryan hurt his leg in a farm accident leaving him unable to work for an entire summer

It was at that time that the matriarch became responsible for managing the farm on her own just until Ryan was back up and running.

That was the plan but the more Romy thought about it the more it made sense for her to stay home and for Ryan to go to work.

“I was doing everything in the barn anyway and we wouldn’t have to find day care if I stayed home,” she says.

That was five years ago and Romy says it’s a plan that continues to work today for her family, which grown by two more over the timespan.

Circle R Livestock focuses on lambing every sheep in the flock every 8-9 months; pushing the number of lambs per ewe, and getting lambs to market faster.

Romy says the Dorset breed was selected because she wanted a ewe that is a good mom and can lamb on her own and that’s important for the farm’s year-round lambing program.

Not knowing much about the industry to begin with has given Romy a unique perspective on sheep farming, in a good way.

“We didn’t come into this with any preconceived notions on how to manage the flock,” she says, adding that her background in dairy has been a “huge benefit.”

Romy says she feeds the flock like a dairy herd using a total mixed ration (TMR) and spends a lot of attention on getting the feed just right.

“We don’t have weak lambs or pneumonia or any big health issues at all and I believe it’s because they’re fed well,” she comments.

The sheep are also kept in the barn year round. Romy says the facility is well ventilated, comfortable for the animals, and away from predators like coyotes.

Flexibility, demand for product, and good prices are the successes Romy has welcomed since becoming a shepherdess. Animal disease, bio-security, and not being taken as seriously as other livestock producers are the challenges she’s faced.

When asked if being a woman in agriculture has ever presented itself as a challenge, Romy says it has not in her experience.

“Maybe it’s because I’m stubborn and I don’t let the fact that I’m a woman hold me back,” she says. “I know the job that needs to be done and if I don’t, I figure it out. Plus, I don’t think of myself as being a woman in farming, I think of myself as a sheep farmer.”

romy.pngRomy, who sends out messages from Circle R Livestock on Twitter and Facebook, joined the Ag Women’s Network three years ago as a way to network.

She was looking for a place to meet people with similar interests and she wanted a group that could talk seriously about agriculture production and business.

“Being a part of AWN has allowed me take myself more seriously as a producer. I used to think that I was only a farmer but I’ve learned that I’m just as much in the industry as someone on the business side.”

Romy says it’s also great to belong to a group that encourages open, non-judgmental discussion and she loves the articles that are shared online by the members in the AWN Facebook group.

“We all go through tedious points in our life so it’s nice to start your week off by reading something inspiring before going to the barn,” she says.

Speaking out on the ag issues that really matter

Amy Matheson found a disconnect and decided to speak out for her industry

By Courtney Denard

When Amy Matheson joined Twitter four years ago one of the first things she noticed was a huge disconnect between the farm world and everyone else.

Matheson could’ve ignored this realization and carried on with her life as a dairy farmer, agriculture professional, wife and mother but that’s not her personality.

Amy Matheson.png

You can connect with Amy on Twitter at @amyemathe

Instead she decided to speak up and so began her journey into the exciting and sometimes volatile world of modern agriculture advocacy.

Matheson was raised on a dairy farm in Perth County. Growing up you could find her in the haymow with her nose in a book or tending to the animals.

After high school, she said goodbye to the farm life and headed to Western University to study English language and literature. When she graduated she found work in the non-profit sector as a communications and marketing specialist.

“I had no intention of moving back home to the farm,” Matheson says, but like it usually does life had other plans and in this case they involved meeting a dairy producer named Mark, getting married, and starting a family on his fourth generation farm in Embro.

Today, Amy and Mark, who now have three children, work along side Mark’s father and brother at Lochalsh Holsteins & AG Commodities, a 180-head dairy operation with 1,800 acres of cash crop.

Matheson also works off-farm as a communications administrator for the Oxford County Federation of Agriculture. She was recently elected to the Oxford County Dairy Producer Committee and nominated as a Grain Farmers of Ontario delegate.

Becoming an agriculture advocate was somewhat of an unconscious decision in the beginning, Matheson says.

“I didn’t see why I shouldn’t step in and correct some of the misinformation that’s out there,” she explains. “I had time. I had access.”

It’s not for the faint of heart though. Matheson says since taking to social media she has had her fair share of Internet trolls who hit below the belt, condemn her core beliefs, and even resort to personal attacks.


Amy and her husband Mark own Lochalsh Holsteins & AG Commodities near Embro

“I’ve been called a cow raper, a cow murderer and felt particularly threatened in one circumstance.”

Friends and family have commented on Matheson’s way of life too. She’s been told to her face that her farm is a factory farm that doesn’t promote organic.

“I don’t concern myself with what they think about me. I am more concerned about the non-industry people that are reading along, that moveable middle that aren’t fanatical die-hards,” she says.

And that’s where Matheson thinks the agriculture industry can make the most progress. She emphasizes that farmers need to stop “preaching to the choir” and start speaking out.

“You don’t have to go and look for it but if you’re out and you over hear a conversation that’s inaccurate, say something.”

Matheson says farmers need to remember that they have nothing to hide and putting a face to the farm goes a long way.

Plus, speaking out about agriculture isn’t always bad.

“It’s the people that say ‘thanks for saying that, I didn’t know that’s why things were done that way.’ It’s moments like these that keep me pushing back,” says the agvocate.

The support from the Ag Women’s Network (AWN) has been an important part of Matheson’s journey as well. She joined the organization about a year and a half ago.

Whether it’s seeking help with a presentation that she’s giving or asking a question about the farm, Matheson says the AWN has offered her a unique level of support and a deep connection to other women in the industry.

“It’s really quite special to be lifted up by a group of women, many of whom I’ve never even met. It defies words and I believe every woman should have that.” – Amy Matheson

Matheson will be representing Dairy Farmers of Canada at the BConnected Conference in Ottawa on April 24. The conference is a gathering of Canada’s digital influencers and the perfect event for Matheson to take her advocacy to the next level.

“My role is shifting from online advocacy to presenting my story in person. I am very excited and proud to be offered this platform.”


Want to read other #agwomenstories – click here

Volunteers make the world go round

– Happy National Volunteer Week!


12.7 million Canadians volunteer every year in Canada

This week in Canada we are celebrating national volunteer week! What an awesome thing to celebrate! According to Volunteer Canada, 12.7 million Canadians volunteer every year, giving 2 billion hours annually. That means one in three Canadians volunteer every year. Statistics Canada lists it even higher with 47% of Canadians volunteering. Stats like this give me so much hope for the future. As North Americans,  we are incredibly privileged, but stats like this show that we are very aware of our privilege and are actively trying to make a difference, Stats like these show that we care about those who are struggling and want to contribute to the betterment of our communities, our country, and beyond.

Volunteers really do make the world go round. Donating money to a charity is quick and easy (and I highly encourage everyone to put aside funds every year to an organization whose work you believe in) but giving your own time and efforts to a cause is equally valuable.  To get a better look at the impact of volunteerism on the economy, let’s assign it a dollar value. If every volunteer was paid minimum wage per hour, it would have cost the Canadian economy at minimum $20 BILLION a year. And this doesn’t even take into account that a significant amount of the work likely has a higher fair market value, probably between $20-50 per hour. I would also suggest that there is a significant amount of volunteerism that can’t even be measured. Think of people who volunteer for small organizations. Those who are activists and show up to demonstrations. There are so many volunteers who cannot be quantified, because they step up without batting an eye.

Volunteering is a fantastic way to fulfill your passion. While I greatly enjoy the work I do, and am passionate about the organization I work for, my volunteering is definitely where I find my true passion. I love Ag and feel very strongly about the advancement of women in this industry. I believe women have an important role and can have a hugely positive impact on our industry as we move forward together. Working with AWN has definitely allowed me to realize this passion and make a lasting impact.

Through my parent’s fruit farm, I once met a women who had established a not-for-profit farmers market in downtown Windsor. She believe deeply in the positive impact of the market. It added a layer of colour to Saturday mornings downtown,  allowed urbanites to develop a deeper connection with their food, and helped  support the agriculture sector in Essex County. In conversation with her one day, she shared stories of all of the volunteer activities she was doing as well as raising her family −her own version of having it all. She also works in public service, and while describing her life to me, she coined the phrase ‘my work is really getting in the way of my volunteering.’ I often have this thought myself as I sit up late working on volunteer items, counting down the hours of sleep I will get that night. I’m sure many would join me in this sentiment, as they spend hours reading briefs for boards or committees that they volunteer on, or simply getting chores done in time to participate in a walk-a-thon on the weekend. Volunteering is a form of empowerment. It really allows us to have it all. It’s a way to work, support ourselves and our family, and still give back.

“My work is really getting in the way of my volunteering”

I wasn’t able to find stats that indicate what percentage of volunteers were women. However, the people I know who volunteer their time and resources are predominantly women. Volunteering as a part of the AWN Leadership has really helped to demonstrate just how much time the women around me give to the betterment of society. AWN is a grassroots organization and is run exclusively by volunteers. At present, we rely on donations of time, space, food, and money for individual events. Without these donations and these volunteers, we would not exist at all. We wanted to take this week to send out a very special thank you. Whether you have contributed to AWN through volunteering on one of the actions team, writing blogs, attending events, or simply following along on Facebook and Twitter. As with so many other fantastic organizations, we are dependent on YOU, and the time and effort  you give us so graciously.

Stay rad volunteers of the world, and keep fighting the good fight!

-Maureen @greenMreen