Once farming is in your blood, you’re hooked – Producer Profile – Joyce Stein

Joyce Stein still remembers her father’s prophetic words as she recalls her venture into full-time agriculture

By Courtney Denard

Overwhelming, fun, daunting, awesome and a dream come true. A few simple words that could represent a lot of things but in this case they’re how hog producer Joyce Stein describes her life on the farm.

Joyce owns and operates Steinamic Pork in Dunnville with her husband Mike. Together, the couple runs a farrow to feeder operation while raising their three small boys Caleb, Cooper, and Wyatt.

The young woman, who grew up on a dairy farm near Ingersoll, told her father Wim that she would never be involved in farming as an adult and to that he would laugh and tell her “once it’s in your blood, you’re screwed.”

As it turns out, Wim, who passed away in 2011, was right.

After graduating from the farm management and technology program at McGill University’s Macdonald College, Joyce says she wasn’t sure what to do next so she took a job at a greenhouse.

Eventually she met and married Mike, a born and bred hog farmer from Tavistock, and the two started their lives together on his farm in Listowel.

As time went on, Joyce and Mike wanted to expand the business but prices in the area had recently gone up so the search for a new farm took them to Dunnville, a small town near Hamilton.

“It was a bit of a surprise but at the same time it was what made sense for us so we went for it,” Joyce says about the move, which took place two years ago.

Relocating is never easy and for Joyce it meant a whole lot of change.

“Everything was new,” she says. “New town, new house, new farm, new feed company, we even switched to a new lender.”

As one of the only new hog operators in their area, Joyce says she and Mike were inundated with salespeople vying for their business.

“We had a lot of people making a lot of promises that didn’t come to fruition so you start to wonder who you can trust,” she says.

There was also the case of not being taken seriously as a woman farmer, something Joyce says she’s experienced countless times over the course of her career.

“I remember when I was working full-time on my family dairy farm and salespeople would refuse to speak to me. They only wanted to talk to my dad even though I knew what was going on.”

Joyce’s Dad once again had a few wise words about that.

“He would say to them ‘I wouldn’t piss her off, she might own this farm one day and she doesn’t forget.’ He was always so supportive.”

Joyce isn’t as hesitant to voice her opinion as she once used to be and perhaps her involvement with the direct sales company Thirty-One Gifts has something to do with it.

Looking for an activity that would get her out of the house and give her a break from the farm and kids, Joyce signed on to be a consultant with the company almost a year and a half ago.

Becoming a consultant has definitely pushed Joyce out of her comfort zone.

She says she’s never been at ease being the centre of attention or speaking to a group but it becomes less challenging the more she does it.

Her favourite part about working with her direct sales team is the friendship and support that comes with the position.

“They told me it was a sisterhood and I thought that was just a marketing scheme but I was wrong,” Joyce says breaking down into tears and then apologizing for being emotional.

“I know I can really count on them and that’s important now that my family isn’t close by,” she explains.

Joining the Ag Women’s Network is another way Joyce has expanded her support system.

The farmer says AWN is different than some of the other ‘mom groups’ she belongs to in that the discussions remain positive and friendly even when people disagree.

This was evident in a recent conversation on the AWN Facebook page that centred on Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, wife of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and her request for more help in her role.

This topic hit close to home for Joyce who admittedly feels guilty at times over the fact that she and her husband rely on a nanny to help with the children.

But even throughout the online debate that garnered over 80 comments, Joyce says the AWN members remained respectful of one another.

“We have opinions but it’s usually a nice discussion, which is good because some other groups can get really nasty.”

Joyce plans on continuing to contribute to the AWN conversation online- something she says she’s doing more often now that’s she’s been a part of the group a little while- and eventually getting out to some of the events.

“It’d be great to finally meet the people I’ve been talking to in person,” she says.


Western Canadian Women -Gabrielle in the Handhills

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

Ranching Lady: Gabrielle Lavoie,  Handhills, AB


Gabrielle checking out her herd in the Hand Hills in eastern-central Alberta

Her Operation:
I run a black angus cow/calf pair operation with my fiancé Tommy and his family out in the Hand Hills of the Special Areas.

How long has she been at it?
I have only been working with cattle for four years now and I love it. I grew up on a hobby farm outside of Cochrane where we had buffalo, horses, chicken and meat rabbits.

Any off farm careers?
I work part-time in Hanna at the Hospital and volunteer with DEMSA and Search and Rescue but the ranch keeps me busy.

What is your favorite thing about living in a rural community?
I love that there is always someones door open that you can go for coffee and have a good BS. Also that help is always there if you need it- that’s the best by far. 

having fun

This photo was captioned by Gabrielle’s future mother-in-law as ‘Having too much fun. They know that if you find a job you love, you never have to work a day in your life. Ranching is that job!’

If you could change one thing about your rural community what would it be?
Nothing! Everything and everyone is amazing. 

What’s one piece of advice you would give other ranching women?
I know everyone says this but it is so true- HOUSE WORK CAN WAIT!! And that your crock pot is your best appliance in the kitchen for our busy lifestyle. 

Any activities you enjoy off farm?
The best way to relax for myself is to go for a run right outside my front door and listen to all the wildlife around me and take in the beauty. I also love going to the city to catch up with my girlfriends and have a good time. 

Why ranching?
How could you do anything else? Plus, I drove into the city just the other day and I couldn’t get out of their fast enough!

Industry Profile -Nadine Gill talks success, mental health, and having it all

After graduating with a B.A. from Trent University, Nadine Gill took some time to work on a sow operation in Ohio with her father. It was there she realized her connection with pigs, and her rekindled interest in agriculture. She now works for the Ontario Federation of Agriculture as a Member Service Support Representative but can also be found working on-call at a swine operation or in the fields exploring her new cropping skills.

If you’re interested in connecting with Nadine, contact her via Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/nadinekaur/, Twitter: https://twitter.com/knk_gill or Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nadine.gill77

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

13288375_10100384787740272_1169091909_oMy name is Nadine Gill and I live in the lovely Niagara Region with my partner on his family’s grain and oilseed operation with our two dogs. I’ve spent a fair amount of my working life in the customer service industry and have experience in a variety of agriculture businesses: swine, crops, dairy, and greenhouse flowers to name a few.

Tell us about your two current roles.

I started working for the OFA in July 2014, as the Member Service Support Representative for South-Western Ontario. I love the variety my position allows, as I not only oversee many of the major provincial farm and trade shows, but assist my co-workers in OFA’s Guelph head office and their respective counties. My position allows for much variety in my day-to-day tasks and I am able to travel all over SW Ontario, which I love! I also work with the Stein family at their batch farrowing operation in Haldimand County as on-call help. This typically means I am in the barn once a month, or less, doing whatever task needs to be completed. I feel the most comfortable in farrowing, but have experience in breeding and nursery due to my previous employment in the swine industry. Recently, I became more involved in my partner’s family farm. Although crops have not quite caught my interest to the extent that livestock agriculture has, I have come to appreciate and enjoy this side of agriculture. In fact, I worked my first 500 acres over Victoria Day weekend! I am hoping to learn more about the business and slowly make my way into being a more active participant on the family farm.

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

I define my personal success based on continued growth, the ability to learn, and feeling as though I have “given back” to the community. I do this by taking the time to read an hour or so every week on a topic I know little about. I reflect on what I have learnt on a monthly basis. I also volunteer in my local community and try to spread awareness of Ontario agriculture. I am lucky that my career aids me in shaping and achieving my personal success, specifically in that the work I do gives back to the agricultural community.

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

I’ve recently been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder, which is a constant challenge as someone who is often in social settings with my OFA role. Acknowledging when I am reaching my threshold and being able to say so is something I am starting to feel more comfortable doing. I no longer feel guilty telling someone that I can only do so much, whether that is in my personal or professional life. Realizing that I cannot “do it all and then some” is very hard to admit, especially when our industry, at times, seems to pride itself on doing it all; also, being very straightforward about my threshold for certain things and realizing what works for me. Self-reflection has helped immensely in this regard. I am still learning to cope with my anxiety in everyday settings, but in the process I am learning more about myself.

Who would say is your biggest influencer/mentor? What have you learned from them?

I wouldn’t say I’ve had one particular person who has influence me more than others. If anything, I’ve found different mentorship at different points my life. I try to surround myself with people who bring me up and aid me in progressing as a person. Longest running, however, would be my parents. My Dad’s shown me how hard work, dedication, and self-teaching can bring one to realize their dreams, even if everyone is telling you that you can’t. He’s a very ambitious and resilient person who has really illustrated to me how important general business sense is in agriculture. My Mom is also very resilient. She is one of the kindest and most generous people I’ve encountered. She’s a true nurturer and always seems to find great teaching moments in the every day. Many of my morals are a direct representation of her guidance.

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

Balance seems to be a key issue for me. I have realized that I have a tendency to spread myself too thin, which makes me a bit apprehensive for any major life events/changes that may occur in the future. An AWN seminar at FarmSmart in late January this year (featuring Deb Campbell and Sandi Brock) really put it all into perspective and resonated with me. Realizing that I can do everything I want to, even though it means making some sacrifices, has helped. It would be interesting to see what other women in agriculture have done in adapting to be that “2000s working mom” they described. Also, I’m interested in the networking aspect of AWN. I’d love to see more informal social events!

What do you think is the most important topic in agriculture right now?

Miscommunication between agriculture and the world. It is not just the everyday person who may think their milk comes from the grocery shelf, but the people who are making legislative decisions for this industry need to be addressed. Any outreach to share our agricultural knowledge is valuable and will aid the industry in its longevity and sustainability in this province.

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

Industry Profile – Lois Harris

After a successful career in government communications, Lois Harris decided to step out of her comfort zone and start her own business. She’s been working as a freelance writer and editor for two years now and loves working for and with the agri-food sector. Read on to learn more about her career highs and lows and what’s she’s learned along the way.

If you are interested in connecting with Lois, check out her website at loisharriswrites.com, contact her via email (WordsWork@eastlink.ca) or Twitter (https://twitter.com/@wordsworkcoms)

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

I’m 52, have a husband and four rescued cats and live on 3 1/2 acres on the southern border of the village of Durham in Grey County. I’ve lived in Toronto (12 years) and Guelph (16 years) but grew up in rural southern Ontario near St. Thomas in a hamlet called Frome that had about five houses and a church. So I’m a country girl at heart.

Lois Harris 1I was a co-op student from the University of Waterloo in the ‘80s when I got the opportunity to work at Queen’s Park. I worked at several ministries and landed with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs just after a long trip with a girlfriend through southeast Asia. I started as a speechwriter for the Minister and Deputy Minister and took several secondments around the ministry. After 22 years with the government, I started my own freelance writing and editing business, Words Work Communications, in 2013.

Tell us about being an entrepreneur. What do you enjoy most and what is the most challenging?

Although it was terrifying, I’m glad I started my own business. I like the freedom and the flexibility of getting my own assignments. I like being able to help my clients communicate effectively with their audiences. I really like interviewing innovative farmers and food processors because they’re so excited and interested in what they’re doing.

I’m not a big fan of “administrivia” so I have an online bookkeeping account with Freshbooks, which makes it all easy. I also have a hard time with marketing myself; selling other people’s products and services comes to me much more easily.

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

I define personal success as finding out what makes you happy and going for it. WAY harder than it sounds.

In terms of a career, I think you need to figure out what you want to do and hone your skills in that direction. Stay curious. Don’t let the haters and cynics get you down. Be positive but not Pollyanna. Play nice. Keep friends and family close. Laugh as much as you can.

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

I think making the jump from having a secure public service job to being completely on my own professionally at the age of 50 was my biggest challenge.

While I really appreciate my time at the ministry, I got antsy to stretch myself some more. The learning curve was gigantic, so I planned and plotted my brains out. My husband’s a retired editor from Reuters but the pension’s fairly modest, so I really had to make a go of it. My first year kind of sucked, but last year I did better than expected.

Biggest lesson? I thought about making the change for about five years, and could have saved myself many sleepless nights had I done it sooner.

Who would you say is your biggest influencer/mentor? What have you learned from them?

Professionally, it’s my first boss. She was tough – a former Canadian Press editor. There were soooo many red editing marks all over my copy when I started. But she saw something. She encouraged me without coddling and actually worked with me.

She taught me how to write a headline and a lede and how to tell a story. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing without her influence. Thanks Marj.

Lois Harris 3

Personally, it’s my husband. He’s been so supportive; he encouraged me to take the leap into freelancing. He’s as nuts about cats as I am and we share a fairly twisted sense of humour. Plus, it’s really handy to have a professional editor right in the house!

Are you willing to share a mistake you made but taught you something important?

I took a job in my mid-twenties that was too much of a stretch, when I should have taken the time to look around for other opportunities.

The job basically landed in my lap and I was bored of the place where I was working – so I jumped. I couldn’t believe they hired me. The pay was WAY above what I was making, but I was throwing up every night for weeks because I was so stressed all the time. And the new boss was a dragon lady. Nuff said. I moved on and lived to tell the tale, but it was a bit scarring. Lesson: you should get out of an unfulfilling job, but be careful where you leap, and do your homework.

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

My most burning question is how can I ramp up my business so there’s steady work without going crazy with too much? I’ve had some really good success with really good people in the agri-food industry over the past couple of years, and people seem pleased with my work. But so far, it’s project-based and sporadic. I’ve only had my business for two years, so maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.

How do you define agriculture? 

Agriculture (or, actually agri-food) is an biologically, economically and environmentally essential endeavour that encompasses research, production, processing, marketing, distribution and sales of food, fuel and bioproducts.

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

The top-of-mind topic is maintaining the industry’s social license with the public by being transparent and maintaining/building trust.

While it’s an important one, I think attracting more people (especially women) to working in all aspects (especially the leadership) of the industry should be right up there, too.

If you know of a woman whom you think would be a great person to profile, please send your suggestions to Stephanie Craig via email (contact.scraig@gmail.com)

Industry Profile – Rayanne Frizzell

Rayanne Frizzell lives in on Prince Edward Island with her husband Chris and three children Curtis (7), Rachel (5) and Hannah (1). Her career and volunteer work focuses on the planning and execution of large-scale events. She shares with us her experiences as the General Manager of the PEI Provincial Exhibition and co-chair of the Atlantic Farm Women’s Conference.

If you are interested in connecting with Rayanne, contact her via email at rayanne.frizzell@gmail.com

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

I grew up in Middle Stewiacke, Nova Scotia, which is a rural community about 20 minutes from Truro. We didn’t farm but had dairy farms all around us!  In elementary school, my two best friends had horses, so it wasn’t long before I started taking lessons and joined the 4-H program.  I was fortunate that my father also had a love of horses, so a barn went up in our back yard and that was my hobby as a kid!

rayanneThanks to 4-H, the Nova Scotia Agricultural College (now Dalhousie Agricultural Campus) was a logical choice. I always joke it is the local 4-H retirement home!  I graduated in 2003 with a B.Sc. majoring in Agricultural Business.  While at school I met a boy. He had a family dairy farm on Prince Edward Island. Upon graduation I moved home and we agreed I would apply for any and every job I could find, so I could join him.  I spent that summer and fall travelling to fairs working for Nova Scotia Farm Safety. Little did I know that the exposure I gained at those events would be a big bonus when applying for a position with the PEI Provincial Exhibition Inc. The position had an added bonus. Moving to PEI meant I was closer to future hubby.  I started in the spring of 2004 and have been with the company ever since. Chris and I married in 2006. Our farm milks 270 registered Holsteins (prefix Valleyville) with Boumatic robots.  My husband farms with his parents and brother, and while I’m not in the barn on a daily basis, I still get the cow reports.

Tell us more about your position as the General Manager of the PEI Provincial Exhibition.

Every day is different for me, which is probably what I love about my job the most.  Our 10-day fair is a bit unique as we rent our facilities and my job is focused on those sole 10 days.  I am the only full time employee, so all of the pieces fall to me.  My title is General Manager, but I’m also responsible for marketing, finance, entertainment booking, sponsorship, logistics, and any other task that may arise!  I do have summer staff help, but, really, it’s up to me!  I work for a volunteer board of directors who meet monthly.  I have been very fortunate that they have put a lot of trust in me to make the event happen and in accepting change!  Our fair happens in August and that month is crazy busy for me.  There is a two-week period where I actually move into a hotel that is two minutes from the site and put in 18-hour days. That said, outside of August, it’s a pretty regular 9-5 job with a lot of flexibility! The event started in 1888 and has evolved from a 2-day fall event.  The fair now welcomes 90,000 guests over 10-days and includes livestock and horse shows, entertainment, 4-H and handicraft, and harness racing, which is managed by Atlantic Lottery. We also have the largest parade in Atlantic Canada, which is run by a separate volunteer committee.  It is truly a traditional event for Islanders and many come just for the social aspect. For 10 days, it’s the place to be on PEI!

Tell us more about the Atlantic Farm Women’s conference.

In 2011, a friend of mine from University and I were chatting on Facebook. She was disappointed that I hadn’t attended a dairy industry conference in our region.  In our conversation we chatted about how it would be great to have a conference just for farmwomen.  I suppose you could say a light bulb went off and I thought, “Yes. Let’s do it!”  Our first Atlantic Farm Women’s Conference happened in November 2012.  We have since had events in April 2014 and November 2015 and are now planning for April 2017! Women of all ages from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and PEI with backgrounds in farming and ag industry attend.  My co-Chair Amy Bysterveldt and I do the majority of organizing on a volunteer basis. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but honestly the response from the women who enjoy the event make it all worth it! We typically have 75-80 women and have had some amazing speakers. It’s just a little side activity for me, but it’s incredibly gratifying to have women sincerely thank you and then see them go home and make a difference locally as agvocates. I firmly believe in the movement of farmers and those in our industry telling our stories, so helping people realize the importance of this is great!

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

To me it is at the end of the day being proud of what I played a role in on that given day and knowing that I completed it to the best of my ability/resources.  I am the type of person who will take a project and throw my whole self into it. It could be something small at my kids’ school or a major part of our event but I still put the effort in. I don’t leave things half done and I know that my own expectations for executing the small details in projects are probably higher than anyone else’s. For me it’s not about receiving lavish compliments or big thank yous (although I gratefully accept them!). I really consider an event a success when no one complains!  Honestly, I’ve discovered that people are quick to complain but rarely tell you positives; for me, a lack of complaints is the best compliment!

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

I am definitely detail oriented and have learned how important it is to surround yourself with a team that you know you can trust. In a perfect world, if I give a task to someone, I expect him or her to complete it to my satisfaction and do so in a timely manner.  I will not micro manage and I do not hover, which I think stems from me resisting those who try to micro manage me. Being that we hire staff for 6-10 week periods and those people often change year over year, this is not always the best management style. Adapting my management style and evaluating new staff quickly to understand how best to manage their personalities has been a huge learning curve for me.

Who would say is your biggest influencer/mentor?

I would probably have to say my Dad. As a kid growing up, both of my parents were super supportive of my love of horses, but especially Dad. He hauled me across the countryside, watched lessons, mucked stalls and always made sure that if I fell off, I got right back on the horse. This is also a great motto for life! Dad spent a lot of time (and, let’s face it, money) supporting me and if I didn’t have horses, and eventually 4-H, I’m not sure I’d even be involved in agriculture today! Dad definitely spurred my love for agricultural fairs, although when growing up it’s not something I ever considered could be a career!  Looking back, my life could have been very different if not for my Dad’s influences and support.

We are fortunate to have a group of amazing dairy-farming friends who understand the challenges and positives of farming. We are quick to celebrate each other’s successes, but even faster to band together and support each other in challenging times, whether personal or farm related.

In the spirit of these profiles helping others, can you share a mistake you made but that taught you something important?

One of my first years at Old Home Week, booking and confirming a chef for our daily food demonstrations didn’t get done. Somehow it was missed on my list.  I can remember sitting at my desk and my boss looked at me in complete disbelief; we were a week away from our event and I had missed a huge portion of the programming.  I’m sure I had thoughts in my mind that I was going to be fired on the spot, and I’m sure I could have lied to him or come up with an excuse, but it was a matter of fessing up that it got missed and then working through the solution. If you’re wrong, just admit it and move on. It’s not worth the time and effort to create elaborate excuses. I think my job has definitely made me a straight shooter. I’ll tell you like it is and then move on! I definitely expect this of my staff, friends and even my kids!  Just tell me what went wrong and then let’s work together to fix it!

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

For me right now, it’s getting the work/life balance figured out!  With kids in school, the summer months have become more important in terms of family time, but that is my busiest time at work.  In fact, each August I send the kids to my parents in Nova Scotia for two weeks, so I don’t have responsibilities at home. Having last summer off on maternity leave made me realize how much I miss out with my kids by working hard in the summer, and how little time I was spending on the beaches of PEI! My kids will only be this age once, and I am leaning toward stepping back a bit at work and letting someone else take the lead. It’s not an easy decision and there are lots of pros and cons to consider.

What do you think is the most important topic in agriculture right now?

With consumers being removed from agriculture production, the challenges of promoting food has become incredibly challenging. Terms like GMO’s, organic, natural, grass fed, hormone free, family farm, factory farms, and the list goes on are being used as marketing tools by companies and businesses to sell.  Even more challenging is how farmers speak about other farmers. Too often we see one side boost themselves up by insulting and degrading another form of production. It drives me nuts to have negative generalizations made about one production technique in an attempt to have the other look superior.  While consumers try to wade through the marketing terms, how can we as primary producers help the situation? We should be educating on how we produce our products and not bringing down those who do so differently. I guess I just wish we could all be friends, we could see the positives in others’ actions and we could work together to educate consumers on buying local and most importantly Canadian products.  Maybe it’s too much to wish for, but arguing amongst ourselves doesn’t help the consumer, and we need to please those who consume our products!

If you know of a woman whom you think would be a great person to profile, please send your suggestions to Stephanie Craig via email (contact.scraig@gmail.com)

Finding a happy ending on the farm – Brianne Brown

 Brianne Brown didn’t picture her life to turn out as it did but she loves it all the same

By Courtney Denard

“My life would make a really good movie,” Brianne Brown told me over the phone during our two-hour interview that felt more like a conversation with an old friend.

We both laughed at her remark but after hearing her story, I have to say I tend to agree.

Brianne was born and raised on her family’s dairy farm in Shelburne. She was the oldest of three children and in love with the farm from a very early age.

She was active in 4-H and went to the University of Guelph to study agriculture science. She married her college sweetheart, Chris Brown, another born and bred dairy farmer, shortly after they graduated in 2003.

The plan was for Brianne and Chris to return to Shelburne and work alongside Brianne’s father and uncle at Beslea Farms and live out their dreams of farming and raising a family together.

This should have been the part in the story where the newlyweds lived happily ever after but real life doesn’t always turn out that way.

In 2006, Brianne says “a major family shake up” destroyed her world as she knew it.

Her father, whom she loved and adored, unexpectedly made the decision to leave the family. Brianne, Chris, and her uncle were left to run the farm.

Brianne says she got real tough and pushed forward even though she was devastated.

Two years later Brianne and Chris amicably split from her uncle and the young couple started farming on their own.

“We were 28 years old with two young children and millions of dollars in debt. Never in a million years did we think that would happen,” the farmer says.

Another blow came in 2011 when developers placed an offer on Brianne’s uncle’s dairy farm, which the couple was still renting as part of the separation agreement.

With no clue on how to move forward, Brianne says it was a piece of advice from their accountant that presented some direction.

“He asked us ‘do you want to dairy farm or do you want to live where you grew up?’ In the end we wanted to milk cows so we started looking for farms east of Shelburne,” she says.

Brianne and Chris put an offer on a farm in Yarker on June 1, 2011. Their farm in Shelburne didn’t sell until that August and Brianne gave birth to their fifth baby that September.

Brianne says she wanted to have the baby with her doctors in Orangeville but also wanted her four older kids to start the school year in their new home. There was also the case of getting the cattle moved from Shelburne to Yarker.

So what did Mrs. Brown do? She delivered her baby as planned and a few days later drove a newborn, two young children, and a trailer full of cattle from one part of the province to the other.

Chris had been by her side during the delivery but had to get back home to be with their other children and run the farm. Each time the new baby had a doctor’s appointment back in Orangeville, Brianne would move another shipment of cattle east.

“Looking back now it’s totally insane what we did,” she says.

As time went on the Brown family adjusted to their new surroundings and felt the dust settle after five tumultuous years.

Brianne especially loved her role as a mother even with all the challenges that parenting brings.

One such challenge was the children’s inner ear issues but once tubes were put in the kids were typically good as new.

That, however, was not the case for Brianne and Chris’ youngest son Chase. “Even after his tubes were in we didn’t really notice any improvement,” says Brianne.

Deep down, Brianne says she knew there was something else going on but unfortunately her new family doctor in Yarker refused to give her a referral to a specialist.

“It was actually the ears, nose, and throat specialist that put Chase’s tubes in who finally gave me a referral bless his heart.”

On March 6, 2014 Brianne received crushing news. The specialist who reviewed Chase’s case looked her straight in the eye and said, “I’m seeing signs of autism.”

Everything clicked at that exact moment, says Brianne, who knew about the condition and what it entailed.

It wasn’t an official diagnosis yet but all of the symptoms were there- the blank stares, the inability to make eye contact, the delayed speech, not learning to walk until one and a half years of age, and more.

“I’ll never forget that day. After I left the appointment I put my son in his car seat and I sat in my vehicle and bawled. I never cried much after my Dad left, the whole experience really hardened me, but that day it was like the dam broke and I cried like I’d never cried before.”

Brianne says getting an official diagnosis for Chase was laden with red tape and waiting lists. The fact that both her and husband work from home on the farm turned out to be a saving grace.

Instead of waiting the typical six months to even start the process, Brianne told the doctors to put her on a cancellation list and she’d be there in 30 minutes or less any day of the week. As luck would have it there was a cancellation the very next day.

Chase was diagnosed with severe autism and global delay in December 2014 by his team of specialists at the Child Development Centre at Hotel Dieu Hospital in Kingston.

“We were lucky to get a diagnosis with Chase only two and a half years old. Most kids aren’t diagnosed until they’re five our six,” says Brianne.

Coming to terms with Chase’s autism hasn’t been easy for Brianne. She says she experienced a grieving process where she mourned the loss of the life she thought her child would have. She then went through “a stage of being pissed off.”

“We’d already been through so much and now to go through this was just too much,” she says.

Slowly Brianne is accepting Chase’s diagnosis. In fact, she’s at a point where she can see the many rewards that come with raising a child with special needs.

“We were very busy, driven people and Chase has grounded us and made us focus on what’s really important. His diagnosis has brought us closer as a family.”

It’s not easy though and it’s a huge commitment. Brianne and Chris have made the decision that only one parent will be away from the farm at a time so this means there’s certain things that Brianne wants to do but simply can’t right now.

“I wish I had more time to get out to some of the industry meetings and events but I have to pick and choose.”

Brianne says joining the Ag Women’s Network has allowed her to live somewhat vicariously through women who are able to attend industry events and travel.

The farmer says she enjoys hearing about what the members are doing and what’s going on in the sector even if it’s on a screen between milkings.

“And knowing that there are other women out there going through what I am going through is huge for the morale,” she says.

Brianne and Chris’ story may not have had the predictable Hollywood ending that you do see in the movies but the farmwoman says she wouldn’t change a thing.

“I love my life and my family exactly how it is. Chris and I are so lucky to be able to do what we love every day and share it with our five amazing children.”



Industry Profile – Marie McNabb

Marie McNabb is a dairy farmer in Waterloo County who shares her expertise on the Gay Lea Foods Co-Operative Limited Board of Directors. She is also a leader in her community, stepping up to help in leadership roles in various organizations. As part of #AWNGetOnBoard week, she shares her experiences to help support and inspire other women in Getting on Board!

If you’re interested in connecting with Marie, contact her via email at callumlea@gmail.com

To start off, please tell us a bit about yourself and your career path.

Growing up in a farm family of six siblings, we were all encouraged by our Mom to go to

2015 Liam's Birthday

Marie McNabb with Husband Ken and three sons

university or college. I learned at an early age, the value of participating in volunteer organizations and the benefits they provide to people and the community. My earliest exposure was to 4-H, which brought me into contact with county Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food (OMAF) staff and the local leaders. All of this sparked my interest in taking agriculture at the University of Guelph.

After graduating, I worked with the OMAF(RA) for 14 years in Toronto, Dufferin County, Halton and Peel Regions. I held a number of positions over the years as Assistant Ag Rep, Acting Ag Rep, and Farm Management Specialist. I built up a clientele that respected my ability to respond to their needs.

Following the birth of my third child, I opted to join my husband as a 50 per cent partner in our dairy operation as well as start a part-time bookkeeping business. I have worked casually for an accountant for the past 10 years, assisting with the completion of applications for risk management programs. I work at Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show in the fall manning the show’s office acting as reception and the front line problem solver for exhibitors and attendees.

I have always been involved in community organizations. Since 4-H as a child and Junior Farmers as a teenager and young adult, I have served in board, executive and committee roles.  These included a Cooperative Nursery School, county 4-H associations, Minor Hockey Association, School Council, Dairy Producer Committee etc.

You are currently a director on the Gay Lea Foods Co-Operative Limited Board of Directors. How did you start on the board?

Gay Lea Foods Co-Operative is a dairy processing company owned by over 1,200 Ontario dairy producers. We have $660 million in sales with seven processing sites and 900 + employees. The Board is comprised of 10 dairy producers, of which two are women, and there have been women on the board since 2005. We are a Governance board and there are also 60 delegates (15 in each of four Zones).

I was asked to let my name stand as a Delegate in our Zone and was elected by fellow dairy producers in 2010. I ran for the Delegate position on the Audit Committee the following year. In 2012, a Director position was available in our Zone. I was approached by other Directors to consider the position, and I researched the position, talking to directors, delegates and members. I decided that I was very interested in the opportunity of learning more about the dairy processing industry and the challenge of being a Director of a dairy cooperative.  My husband also gave me the green light to go for it.

I felt I had the skills to bring to the board and was more than willing to learn what I didn’t know about the processing side. At no time did I get the feeling that being a woman was going to determine whether or not I was going to successful. Three of us were nominated and ran for the position. I was elected and completed first three-year term and just started my second term.

I believe that not enough women run for positions. We are just as qualified and have just as much time as our partners.

Can you tell us about what your responsibilities on the board include?

It takes commitment, time management and getting to know the voters. I made phone calls to people to encourage them to come to the annual meeting. I didn’t ask them to vote for me, but did ask them to support the election process. I was the first person to use a PowerPoint presentation in a speech and am still remembered for that.

As a Director, I am away roughly 55 days a year. Board meetings are two days a month in Mississauga. I sit on one board committee and I am responsible to several outside organizations such as Cooperatives and Mutuals Canada and OnCoop. Our day-to-day work involves daily emails with news articles from around the world covering dairy and related issues.  We also receive updates on Gay Lea business as it pertains to the board and will typically have 15 to 20 reports to read prior to board meetings. At the board table we make decisions on capital purchases of equipment, land, as well as discussions of acquisitions and alliances with other businesses. We are responsible for setting the strategic direction for the cooperative. The hiring and performance reviews of the CEO are board decisions as well.

Do you have tips for AWN members who are interested in or considering board positions? 

How do we as women get to the point of recognizing the ability to lead, in others and ourselves? Things I have done that led me to being asked to run for the board include networking in the community, imagining myself in leadership roles in local organizations, and stepping forward to showcase to others that I could move into a more complex leadership role.

It’s finding the balance that’s really tough for me, and my support network is vitally important to me for that.jpgAnother key aspect in taking on these leadership roles is the ability to represent the whole and not yourself. Also, it’s important to learn about and understanding your fiduciary responsibilities. Understanding this concept, you will be a much more respected leader.

Along the way I was willing to learn, make mistakes, own them and learn from those mistakes, and solve them either by apologizing or making it right for those involved (or both).

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

My definition of success has changed over the years. I relate it now more to happiness. Success is a combination of teaching, inspiring, motivating, leading, mentoring, visioning, goalsetting and being part of a team. I am happy when I can work toward these. If I, my family, co-workers, or fellow board directors cannot derive a sense of pleasure (or at least contentment) from a decision, I don’t think we have been successful.

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

I ran for a board because I felt I could save it. My husband could see I was not enjoying the experience when I came home frustrated and angry with the politics. I have always prided myself on being value driven and ethical. For the first time in my life, I withdrew from a volunteer commitment. It is not something I am proud of even though I was much happier once I made the decision to leave the organization. I had taught my kids that when you make a commitment, you see it through to completion and still believe this to be true! I learned that you are the best board member when you are passionate and committed. You must believe in the organization and their mandate.

Who would you say has been your biggest influencer/mentor? What have you learned from them?

I have several.  First my Mom, as my Dad passed away when I was 17. Mom saw that all of us had the opportunity to go to university or college. I am one of four girls and we are all university educated. Also five of my closest university friends have enjoyed careers in agriculture. These women and my family are my support team; along with my husband, Ken. He plays a very large part in my decisions in assessing whether we can manage the farm and the family, while one of us takes on leadership roles. It’s finding the balance that’s really tough for me, and my support network is vitally important to me for that.

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

I’ve been asked to consider stepping up for the executive of the Gay Lea Foods Co-Operative Limited Board. I need to fully consider the commitment of time, the learning curve, which I must be ready to take on and examine my own wants and needs (as well as my husband’s!) to make a decision.

How do you define agriculture?

My definition of agriculture is everything from primary agriculture to the food on the table and all points in between. It is an incredibly large industry and yet so small at times. It is dynamic, innovative, vibrant, and exciting. The young women in AWN who comment and explore all sorts of topics in this field inspire me.

I believe that agriculture must continue to cultivate leaders (you and me) who will speak to consumers about food. We must be prepared to answer questions on biotechnology, animal welfare, protecting our environment and farmland.

If you know of a woman whom you think would be a great person to profile, please send your suggestions to Stephanie Craig via email at contact.scraig@gmail.com

From the boardroom to the barn

How one workingwoman said goodbye to the office and hello to the family farm

10412058_10154100611463814_1282908551_o.jpgBy Courtney Denard

“I wasn’t laughing anymore,” Barb Keith says when asked why she left a 13-year position with the government to work full-time on the family farm.

Barb, like many women in the farming sector, held a job in the city while her husband Donald Badour was responsible for the daily operation of their cow-calf and cash crop farm in Lanark County.

For more than a decade, Barb would spend three hours of her day commuting to and from Ottawa where she worked as an analyst for Statistics Canada.

Barb took the position with the government in 2001 after moving to Perth with Donald. The pair had met in 1998 when Barb was working in Guelph for the Ontario Farm Animal Council, her first job after graduating from the University of Guelph.

“We sat across the table from each other at a board meeting,” she says.

Three years later, the couple decided it was time to move back to Donald’s family beef farm and officially begin their life together. They were married in June 2003 just a month after BSE was declared.

Barb says starting her career with the government was an exciting time. She met some great friends that were at the same stage of life and found the work interesting.

Over time as priorities shifted though working off-farm didn’t seem quite as appealing. Barb and Donald became parents to two sons and the farm was expanding so responsibilities at home were bigger than ever.

Barb began having health issues too. Even though she was still young Barb was suffering from high blood pressure and asthma; and emotionally she was filled with stress.

“The government is not the nicest place to work since all the cutbacks occurred. There is a lot of stress with people doing a lot more work with less resources.”

When Barb realized she was coming home in tears on a regular basis she knew something had to change. So between her and Donald it was decided she would leave her position in Ottawa to work full-time on the farm.

That was in December 2014.

Fast-forward to a year later and Barb will tell you that transitioning from an office worker to a full-time farmer was “strange” even though she had been involved in farming her entire life.

“Working for the government and running a farm are two totally different things. This time the BS is the real stuff,” she jokes.

Barb’s schedule is now “extremely flexible” and no two days are the same. She says she can get up in the morning and go to bed at night and in between could be anywhere doing anything.

Finding her role on the farm took Barb a little time, and patience from both herself and Donald, but she’s now found her place.

Barb’s daily to-do list includes feeding cattle, running equipment, fencing, drawing gravity boxes, checking frozen water bowels, cutting firewood, and so much more.

These are all tasks Donald used to have to do on his own but now the workload is split and that’s allowing their business to go even farther.

When it comes to leaving her 13-year government career behind, Barb says it’s one of the best decisions she’s ever made. “We are all just a lot happier now,” she says.

The farmer is much healthier too. Barb’s blood pressure dropped six points in two months after quitting her job and her asthma has significantly improved.

She has much more time to be with her children as well and is now volunteering regularly for her boys’ elementary school.

“When you’re six year old says ‘mommy, I am really happy you’re home all the time’ that’s good.”

Becoming a member of the Ag Women’s Network has allowed Barb to continue networking within the agriculture industry, something she says is very important to her especially now that she’s working on the farm full-time.

It’s an opportunity to find contacts, get advice on how to deal with situations, and hear more about what’s happening with women on the farm side, she explains.

“The more people you have around you the more help you can get,” says Barb. “It doesn’t matter if it’s something as simple as a recipe for cookies or how to deal with your kids or the farm, anything that increases your network is beneficial.”