Mental health on the farm – trends seen by a social worker turned farm advisor

Michele Van Beers worked as a social worker in rural ontario for 30 years before switching into accounting. AWN writer Maggie McCormick had the opportunity to connect with her regarding mental health trends and concerns in Ontario.

michele_2Please tell us a bit about yourself and your career path.

I grew up in a very large blended family on the outskirts of Strathroy. Both of my parents operated small businesses my father being a home builder and my mother owning a daycare centre, as well as eventually operating a veal calf farm. As with most rural families we were actively involved in all aspects of our own operation, in addition to being employed as farm labour within our community.

My first career path took me into the social service sector. I worked for almost 30 years in this field, beginning as support staff in residential programs for individuals with developmental disabilities, and then transitioning into the mental health sector. I worked front line for many years assisting people who identified as having mental health needs when they faced crisis’s and transitions in their lives. Over the years, I was able to develop my skills, build my education and seize opportunities which enabled me to work in senior management positions in the not-for-profit sector.

I am currently tackling my second tax season with Farm Business Consultants as a Local Tax Consultant (LTC) out of the London office. Being a local tax consultant is about building relationships and assisting people to not only meet their mandatory reporting requirements, but also assist them through foreseen and unforeseen transitions for their businesses and in their lives. All members are at different stages of development, growth, redesign, decline and/ or retirement from their businesses and sometimes life circumstances cause them to have to make hard and sometime exciting decisions. I really thrive on being part of their network of support and a trusted advisor to aide in their decision making.

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

2014 was a significant year of change for me, I was at a major crossroads with my career. I identified and seized an opportunity that had presented itself to me. I decided I was going to move out of the not for profit sector, and find avenues to apply my skills and unique learning experience in the corporate world. Going back to school was a significant undertaking, this at a time that I was also becoming a first time grandmother. I choose Business Administration – Accounting as my focus, as I believed that this program would round out my skill set and be beneficial in my next role. Graduating, I felt ready to apply my life and educational learning to a new role.

michele_1How do you define personal success?

To put it simply, for me being a success means that I am a part of a thriving family, I am an active member of a supportive community and I have a rewarding and respected professional career.

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

I am a big supporter of building a mentorship network and have embraced the opportunity whenever I have been able to. I have found it best for me to have diversity in the people to advise me and it is vital to continue to nurture these relationships. I have had the benefit of some very strong relationships with mentors over the years and as a result the mentorship has become reciprocal, which I have found to be very rewarding. I use these relationships and learnings to build my personal value statements which in turn guides my day to day decision making.

Learning from our mistakes is an important, but sometimes tough, part of life. In the spirit of these profiles helping others, are you willing to share a mistake you made but taught you something important?

For me personally, the mistakes I have learned from the most relate to balancing my responsibilities as an employee, a wife and as a parent, and forgetting at times to place emphasis to my own self-care.  I recall a time when my children were very small, I decided that I would work full-time overnights. My thinking at the time was this way I could engage in my children’s activities and school life, be the mom I wanted to be, I could still be a beneficial member of my work team and a success in my job, as well as financially contributing to my household at an equal level. The piece I didn’t emphasize was when I was going to sleep. I can laugh about it now, but following a year at this pace my house of cards crashed. I was exhausted and picking up the pieces was very difficult. I would like to say I never made that mistake again, but that is not true. What I can say is the challenge of the balance continued but with each new challenge and each decision made, I was better able to recognize when issues were arising and adjust the goal or plan as needed. I never again let things get that far out of balance for my family or for myself.

How can the agriculture industry build more resilient communities, and support those who may have mental health concerns?

I think we need to reframe how we look at the issue of mental health altogether. Society as a whole I believe, thinks of mental health as mental illness. They think of it as a sudden illness which you might be diagnosed with, perhaps receive treatment for and then it is managed and/or you’re better. However, what I believe to be true is that all of us experience our mental health on a continuum that shifts and moves based on what is happening in our lives and how we are equipped to deal with our circumstances. Two people experiencing the exact set of circumstances, but with different tools and support networks in place will manage their circumstances very differently and therefore the effect on their Mental Health will be vastly different. 

I believe the key to maintaining balance on the continuum in your mental health is in building your self-awareness and coping skills and to develop your personal network of supports. This is what makes you resilient to the impacts of stressors in your life. A network of resilient individuals who seek and offer support within their community are able to build and maintain a resilient community.

I believe that for the agriculture industry there are three main barriers to this development. First would be the personal isolation that is inherent to many in their roles. Many agriculture roles are remote and isolated, and although this is a part of the draw for pursuing this career it can also be a disadvantage when stressors happen and accessing appropriate supports. The second barrier to overcome is the demands of the roles themselves. People pursuing careers in a lot of traditional agriculture roles don’t work a standard 40 hours a week. They juggle many pressures and may not feel they are in a position to prioritize building their mental health resiliency. The third barrier I would identify would be the issue of stigma and perceptions of mental health in our communities. When we can get to the point that we can openly discuss plans to manage our own anxiety or depression as easily as I can discuss managing my diet because I am diabetic, we will be able to make real progress in this area 

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

I believe one of the most important issues in agriculture right now is the sustainability of it as a family based business. The desire to have an agriculture lifestyle and to raise families this way is becoming unattainable. The family demographics, financial resources required and business management skill requirements are all factors that are rapidly changing, and I wonder if the industry is prepared for assisting individuals to get ahead of this development curve in order to prepare for it. We can see that the large-scale operations are thriving, but when I speak with people individually they are concerned with the entire agriculture industry changing to be corporately run, and many are asking is this really what we want in the long run. 

Industry Profile – Stephanie May

The Ag Women’s Network offers our sincere condolences to the family and friends of Steph May. Steph was a valued member of our team, who most recently connected with many women during our virtual event, which she helped organize and host. She had an especially positive impact on many women with her blog post, “Networking as an Introvert”. Her positive comments and willingness to be open and share her story is a testament to the passion she had for supporting others and for the ag industry. Her vibrant enthusiasm will remain with our team and we feel blessed to have worked with and been inspired by Steph.  

Steph’s profile was originally published on February 25, 2016. 

Stephanie May has been in the workforce for five years and has shown she is not afraid to make career changes. Her experiences showcase the importance of adaption and taking advantage of opportunities (as different and alternative as they may be). Through embracing these opportunities, she has redefined her personal and professional happiness. Stephanie now works with South Central Ontario Region Food Hub project that connects farm products directly with schools, hospitals and nursing homes. Her flexibility has brought her to an exciting and rewarding role that focuses on both producers and consumers.

If you’re interested in connecting with Stephanie, contact her via Twitter @Steph__May.

To start off, please tell the Ag Women’s Network about your background.

steph02-cropI grew up outside Tavistock, Ontario on a dairy farm. When I was 12, I started riding horses competitively. My dad made a major life changing decision when I was 13 to sell our quota and exit the industry. In my teen years, I was fortunate that my dad allowed me to convert our barn from cows to horses. We had a small handful of boarders, and during my University years, I taught riding lessons to neighbourhood kids.

In 2012, we sold the family farm so my dad could enjoy his well-deserved retirement. It was a heartbreaking decision, but ultimately the best for our family. Now, in my spare time, you can find me either riding my horse, at CrossFit, or helping out on my boyfriend’s dairy farm outside Woodstock.

Tell us about your career path so far.

I graduated from the University of Guelph in 2011 where I received a Bachelor of Commerce degree, majoring in accounting. I worked for two years at Agricorp as a Claims Adjudicator on the AgriStability and Risk Management Program. It was here that I learned that what I loved most about my job was interacting with farmers. I was always very curious about their operations, and often got side tracked in conversation with them while on phone calls. I became restless in my job, knowing that I wanted to do more. I just didn’t know what that was. I decided to go back to school and pursue my Certified Management Accountant designation. During this time, I worked for Collins Barrow KMD, a chartered accounting firm in Stratford, Ontario with an agricultural clientele. I had a great experience with the firm, but upon finishing my designation, it was time to move on.

I am currently working for Whitecrest Mushrooms Ltd in Putnam, Ontario. My boss is incredible. He is very progressive in his farming practises and is continually innovating. My main role is to help to manage our US customers and assist with marketing; a role that is very new to me. My boss is a member of a steering committee group for a local food hub initiative with the South Central Ontario Region (SCOR) Economic Development Corporation. Last May, an opportunity arose for me to begin working on the Food Hub project. I am still employed by the mushroom farm, and maintain my duties there, but I contact my services to SCOR full time.

Tell us more about the Food Hub project with SCOR.

The SCOR Food Hub project (link: http://www.scorfoodhub.com) was designed to assist small to medium sized producers in getting their products to local markets, particularly broader public sector institutions. This is achieved by providing a connection between local producers and customers through an online marketplace. Producers are able to sign up on the site and list their products. Customers order online and each producer gets an email detailing what they need to deliver that week. The orders are aggregated at one of our Hub sites, then delivered to the customer.

We focus on distributing local products through the Ontario Student Nutrition Program, University dining halls, hospitals and long term care facilities. I am responsible for sales and helping to expand the Food Hub network. Part of my duty is to make connections, and provide support in building the local food economy. We also provide educational material on the products that go through the Food Hub.

My job is constantly evolving and every day is different. To me, the local food movement is about supporting Ontario farmers, producers, rural communities, and building a brighter healthier future for all consumers. I love being able to support farmers to grow their businesses and acting a resource for them.

You’re a Certified Management Accountant, what does that mean?

People hear the word “accountant” in Certified Management Accountant and that is all they think of. Being a CMA to me means so much more than being an “accountant”. It means being a member of an esteemed group of professionals, and having the skills, knowledge and analytical ability to make informed decisions. It has given me the tools to make informed decisions to propel businesses forward while taking into account the operational, financial and sustainable integrity of an organization and its people. I love the way the program challenges me to think outside the box and push the limitation of the business world to allow for adaptation and growth.

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

Not knowing what I wanted for my career. I was never that kid that you could ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and get a consistent answer. Even through university, I felt like a wanderer. I took business because that’s where I excelled in high school. Business concepts came fairly easy to me, but I never really thought about what would happened when I was finished. I had no set career in mind. When I graduated and was in my first job, I felt myself searching for more. I wanted to find that job that I was truly passionate about. I was looking to find my fit. I had no idea what that meant, I just knew I wanted it.

What did you learn from that experience?

In the past two years, my personal and professional life have transformed so much. As I neared the end of the CMA program, I knew the accounting profession wasn’t exactly where I wanted to be and I needed to make a change. I left my job at the accounting firm to work for a family friend who owns a mushroom farm. People thought I was crazy when I told them what I was doing.

It was the most liberating thing I have done. For the first time in my life, I stepped outside my plan and stepped into the unknown. I took the time to do some personal development. I stopped constantly living for the future and learned to live in the present. I can confidently say that this has led to be the happiest I have ever been. If I could share one piece of advice with people from this experience, it’s that it is okay to be lost for a bit, because the journey finding yourself is the most amazing thing to experience.

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

Farm and food education. There is a significant gap between agriculture and urban communities. I cannot believe some of the misconceptions about food and farming that I have encountered this past year through my job. Many people are misinformed, or genuinely do not know about common agricultural practices. At the same time, people are starting to question where their food comes from and how it is grown. We are facing a shift in our food economy, and now is a critical time to get people educated on farming, and where their food comes from.

Perspectives on learning

AWNWinter WarmUp 2017 has provided a great deal of food for thought on Personal & Professional Development.  There has been a dynamic flow of conversation around the experiences of “learning”.  One cannot help but notice the abundance of support people have expressed for each other.  We asked several AWN members to share unique perspectives on learning opportunities and we thank them for their reflections.  We all have a different journey in how, when and why we take on learning opportunities.  We encourage you to keep learning in whatever way has meaning for you.

‘Motherhood has been my greatest journey in self-discovery. It’s taken me far beyond any training programs I’ve done throughout my career, where I’ve learned so much more about myself and how I interact with others. Managing (and/or surviving) the behaviours of a toddler makes me feel like I can actually accomplish anything in my professional career.

Through social media and blogs, there is so much support for families trying to figure out how to be their best selves and the best parents. As with most online content, you have to sift through some extremist information, but I don’t feel like I’m alone when looking for help, ideas, or even some people to vent my struggles to. I’ve joined some Facebook groups with moms that have similarly-aged kids as mine, and they’ve been great resources for the past two years’ –  Kate

‘Going back to school was mostly a necessity for our family if we were to survive. The 80’s with high interest rates and very depressed prices, as well as ruthless banks, hurt us financially, emotionally, physically and socially. While my university classes were my night out, it was very, very tough juggling the four kids and all of their activities, along with the directions our farm had taken-growing fresh market vegetables & berries and Ag entertainment. Quite honestly, I do not know how I got through, guess I just tried to do what had to be done’- Diane                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

‘January is the middle of what we call conference season on our farm. From mid-November to the end of March there seems to be one meeting or another, a conference here and a conference there. For me it means hitting the road and heading to Michigan and Montreal, Toronto and Connecticut. Attending these meetings takes time away from my day–to-day work, making things a little harder to get done and puts many miles on my truck, but I feel the trade-off is worth it. Seeking to find out what’s new and exciting is not only interesting, but important. In an industry as dynamic and diverse as ours, it is essential to continue engaging and learning from those around you. In the words of my dad “we go to these events to ‘learn what we don’t know’”. To grow as an individual and as a business, new ideas and discussions are key. For me this means taking the time to attend and learn from the wide variety of workshops, meetings and conferences available across the region. From farm management events like FarmSmart, or Dairy Sen$e to personal development like Advancing Women there is something for everyone. In November, I had the opportunity to attend the Ontario Young Farmers Forum in Toronto. The two day event showcases a wide array of topics for young farmers from across the province to discuss, debate and learn from. Being able to spend two days in a room filled with young people passionate about agriculture instils in me a sense of positivity and optimism.

At an event such as this we have the opportunity to learn from each other, as well as the experts. We can learn from each other’s success and, just as importantly, from the missteps and mistakes made along the way. By doing this we collectively move forward. Discussion and collaboration are invaluable tools, and I would encourage everyone to take advantage of any opportunity to present itself, as often as possible. There are many ways to do the same thing; the trick is finding what will work for you. Learning doesn’t stop when we leave the classroom. Learning is an ongoing experience that we can all embrace’   – Kara

‘When individuals take the leap of faith to try something completely new, such as the performing arts, the results can be amazing.  The ability to handle new situations with an extra boost of confidence can be carried with you your whole life through.  Watching people grow and take on a new challenge is also motivating to others’ – Robyn

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.

Social connections keep farm woman grounded – Producer Profile – Mariette Bardoel

Mariette Bardoel credits her support group of friends with helping to see her through the tough times

By Courtney Denard

When Mariette Bardoel was just 19 years old she boarded a plane and flew almost 5,700 kilometres to a new and unknown life in a far off country.

14825777_10154846865158814_416639743_nThe daughter of dairy farming parents, Mariette grew up in the province of Noord Brabant in the Netherlands with her four siblings.   

She spent her childhood working in the barn alongside her family, doing chores and tending to her pony.

When Mariette was a teenager she met the man who would eventually become her husband.

His name was Wim and he was the reason Mariette decided to leave the only home she had ever known and start a new life in Ontario.

The move took place in 1984 and it didn’t come without challenge.

Wim had already been in Canada working on a farm for a year before Mariette could join him through a work visa to become a nanny.

“It was the only way to get in,” Mariette explains.

The young couple spent the next two years living closer in proximity but still apart as Mariette’s job was in Manotick and Wim’s was in Navan.

They’d see each other on weekends and this gave Mariette time to settle into her role as a caregiver and to learn English.

Learning a new language was one of the biggest fears Mariette had about relocating but she says working with children made it less daunting.

“You’re not as afraid to make a mistake when you talk and they tell you when you’re wrong,” she says.

In 1986, Wim received his landed immigrant papers and with that came big changes.

Mariette and Wim relocated to Park Hill, got married in a civil ceremony, and eventually held a second wedding back in Holland with family and friends.

On April 1, 1987, the newlyweds began renting a dairy farm in Ingersoll from Wim’s uncle and two years later they took over full ownership.

“We started that farm with 34 cows and four heifers,” says Mariette. “There wasn’t enough security for the bank to give us a lot of money.”

The couple also added children to the mix- a daughter Joyce in 1988 and a son Michael in 1990.

“Money was tight” in the early years so Mariette says she wasn’t able to see her family back in Holland as much as she would have liked.

“There would be events back home that you wanted to be at but it just wasn’t possible. There were times of homesickness. It was hard,” she says.

Craving connection, Mariette joined Oxford Women for the Support of Agriculture, a local association that offers networking and education to women.

Her role within the association has changed over time but she continues to be an active member today and encourages all women in agriculture to find a group of their own.

14572989_10154846864153814_3170294187492908407_nIn 2011, Mariette found herself amongst another life altering change when her husband and partner in farming passed away suddenly at the age of 48.

In a blink of an eye, Mariette says, “there were a lot of decisions I now had to make on my own.”

If it wasn’t for certain key factors like life insurance, a dual will, and most importantly a supportive group of family and friends, Mariette says she doesn’t know if she would still be standing.

Mariette continues to have a role on the farm today although it’s a little different than it was even five years ago.

While her son Mike is managing the business along with his wife Hilary, Mariette is responsible for feeding calves, milking every other weekend, and filling in when needed.

Mike and Hilary will eventually take over the farm and a succession plan is underway.

Throughout it all, Mariette says having a strong social connection has remained very important to her and this is one of the reasons she joined the Ag Women’s Network.

“Even if it’s not in person you can bounce off ideas and ask questions,” she says speaking about the AWN’s Facebook group.

“Something like this wasn’t there when I was starting out. There are more options for women in ag to be involved without being away from the farm,” she adds.

Being a member of AWN has also given Mariette “something to learn about.”

It keeps her on pulse of what’s happening in the agriculture sector and up to date on relevant articles in the news.

When she’s not working in the barn or connecting with her networks, Mariette can be found out in nature with yet another group of women whom she has been hiking with since 2005.

“There are 11 of us and we hike a couple of times per year. Two have lost their husband and one has gone through cancer so we talk about our problems and it’s really good to be together,” she says.

Mariette has some serious kilometres to her credit.

She’s hiked the entire Bruce Trail, the Avon Trail, the Elgin Trail, the Tour de Mont Blanc in Switzerland, and the Inca Trail in Peru. Together that’s 1,249 kilometres.

Mariette has no plans of slowing down either! She says she’s just started the Grand Valley Trail and when that’s done she’ll do another.

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!