Jessica Kelly on balancing work, farm and family

Jessica Kelly is the Direct Farm Marketing Program Lead with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and owns a sow operation with her husband in Perth County. She readjusting to life because she recently went on maternity leave with her first child, but took some time to share her experiences with us.

If you are interested in connecting with Jessica, contact her via email at

Please tell us about yourself and your career path.

I grew up on a hog farm near Drayton, so agriculture has weaved in and out of my life since the beginning. I studied business at the University of Western Ontario (forgive me, aggie friends!), but summers were spent in ag-related jobs and volunteer work: Farm and Food Care,, and a probiotic yogurt project in Tanzania. There were certainly times at Western that I didn’t feel as though I was with “my people”, however I don’t regret it. With only two “farm kids” in my class of 350, I was a novelty and had many opportunities to teach my classmates about farming.

After undergrad, I taught at Western for three years and then landed at the University of Guelph to complete a Master’s in Food, Agriculture and Resource Economics (and international development) where my thesis looked at the farmers’ share of the food dollar in Canada. After my master’s I was fortunate to dive right into my current job with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA).

Jessica Kelly 1

Jessica with Leslie Forsythe(middle) and Cathy Bartolic(right) at the Queen’s Park Farmers’ Market to celebrate Local Food Week in June 2015


What do you do with OMAFRA? What does your “typical” day look like?

I am the Direct Farm Marketing Program Lead within OMAFRA’s Agriculture Development Branch. In this job, my aim is to help direct marketers (farmers’ markets, on-farm markets, agri-tourism, etc.) and food entrepreneurs access the information and build the skills they need to strengthen their businesses. There is a lot of variability in what I do throughout the year!  Conferences and training workshops fill my calendar in fall-winter; reports and administration are a main focus in the spring; and summer-fall is my time to hit the road and visit farm businesses.

Please tell us more about your farm. How do you balance roles to make the farm business run smoothly?

My husband, Stewart, and I own about 350 sows in Perth County and our farm business works very closely with my in-laws’ farm. We are also undertaking an expansion to capitalize on a business opportunity to raised pigs under a humane certification program. Our roles on the farm are primarily dictated by the fact that Stewart and I are, in many ways, total opposites! He’s amazing at building connections, seeing new opportunities and dreaming big. Without him, I might be too timid to try new things. I’m the detail person who loves to-do lists and asks the tough questions as a “reality check” when new ideas come up. Without me, he might be on to dream #3 before dream #1 is done. Since I work off the farm, my role is primarily bookkeeping in the evenings and weekend chores when an extra hand is needed.

Jessica Kelly 6

A family affair at the Ag Women;s Network Speed Mentoring event with her husband Stewart Skinner and son Bryce. This was Bryce’s first official AWN event! 

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

For me, personal success is all about using your talents to make a contribution, no matter how big or small, and constantly striving to learn new things. I keep a journal of inspirational quotes; one favourite is from Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” To me this is a reminder that success is more than what you do, but how you do it.

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

One of just many important things I learned from my parents is the importance of being a lifelong learner – asking questions and learning no matter what age and stage you’re at.  When I was in grade 4, my Mom went back to school to complete the agribusiness MBA from the University of Guelph, while working more-than-full-time managing two farm businesses. My Dad was a city kid turned pig farmer, who learned from asking questions and soaking it all in.

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

Regret may be a better term, but I sometimes wish that I had pursued a designation (such as accounting) when I was at Western. At the time I decided against the specialized accounting courses because I (unreasonably, in hindsight) worried that I would be confined to be a career accountant doing audits day after day, which didn’t interest me. Lesson learned: opportunities are a chance to add an experience to your toolbox. They do not dictate your career path or close other doors.

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

I’m currently on maternity leave, so the career questions on my mind are looking more to the future…childcare, balancing farm/off-farm/family, etc. I know many members of the AWN are amazing, active parents, so I’ll be paying closer attention to their perspectives!

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Jessica with her mom Joanne Selves and son Bryce before for the Hog Jog at the Ontario Pork Congress in June 2016


Speaking of maternity leave, do you have any professional advice for women who are preparing to do the same?

I’ve only been on maternity leave for a few months, so I’m going to recycle some advice given to me! The leader of our local Early Years centre always tells us to “leave our capes at the door.”  When we have superhero notions about parenthood and maternity leave we set ourselves up for disappointment. I’m someone who loves to-do lists and calendars, so for me, “taking off my cape” means recognizing that each day is different. One day a victory can be a day where I went grocery shopping, did farm books and made supper. Then another day is a victory because I got out of my pyjamas and took a shower, and that’s okay too.

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

I’ll answer these two together! My definition of agriculture is very broad – encompassing those involved in all links of the food production system and the supporting services. In my position with OMAFRA, I am fortunate to work with an amazing, eclectic, and entrepreneurial group of farmers ranging from on-farm cideries and butcher shops to pick-your-own farms and agri-tourism destinations.  This has been a great reminder about the diversity of the agriculture industry!

I think one of the most important topics in agriculture right now is the importance of unity when communicating with the public or working to improve our industry. Since agriculture’s so diverse it’s easy to draw artificial lines – direct marketing vs. commodity marketing, organic vs. conventional, supply-managed vs. not supply managed — but there are too few of us involved in the industry to not play on the same team.

Krista Hulshof on finding her niche in ‘Agritecture’

Krista Hulshof has turned a niche into her career. She’s a self-described “agritect” serving rural and agricultural businesses in designing beautiful and sustainable buildings. As well as running her own architecture business, she and her husband are busy raising two young children. Krista shares with us about developing her business, being a mom and working to make our world more sustainable.

If you’re interested in connecting with Krista, contact her via email ( or Facebook (

Tell us a bit about yourself and your career path.


I am an architect who specializes in rural, and agritourism design. I grew up on a dairy/poultry farm and went to the University of Waterloo for architecture. In third year I found a book called “Barns”, which included numerous projects that renovated old barns into homes. I realized I missed the farm life and culture, but I also loved architecture. So I set out to figure out how to bring architecture and agriculture together. I spent my thesis year studying sustainable farming practices and designing a 150-acre farm (land and buildings). I specialized in sustainable farm design through my master’s thesis, and now call myself an agritect! So what does an architect, or agritect do? An architect helps facilitate and guide clients through the millions of decisions required to prepare a building for construction (from colours to insulation), and document these decisions in the form of drawings for permits and construction. Using their training, expertise, and experience they assist in creating an efficient, flexible, and beautiful building for the long term of your major investment.

Tell us more about your work as an agritect.

 After university I worked for another firm while I tried to figure out how to break into this niche market of ‘agritecture’. This was a big challenge because farmers don’t traditionally hire architects. But a new industry of agritourism (on-farm, value added services like wineries, on-farm stores, farm tours, wedding venues, etc.) was emerging. This emerging industry often required architects and there was real value in helping farmers through the red tape of zoning and building codes required; this is where I targeted my skills. In 2012 I started VELD Architect. I am the only architect that I know of working specifically in this niche market.

I assist farmers and farm owners with the planning of their agritourism or farm projects from the master planning stages, through the hoops of regulations, building designs, permits, and the construction stages. You can see examples of my work on my website at I have worked on wineries, distilleries, kennels, event venues, farm stores, equestrian facilities, barn conversions, as well as farmhouse and residential design.


Do you have a favourite project you’ve worked on?

My firm is young, so the portfolio is small, but my favorite project so far is my first barn conversion to a house. It also happens to be my house so I might be biased, but I’ve learned so much, and I very proud to say we saved a bank barn that would have been torn down ( My second favorite project was for a not-for-profit group called My Farm in Waterloo ( They hired me early on to help them plan a 10-acre sustainable farm with a gathering and working “barn”. The project is still in its early stages of site grading and tree planting using “restoration agriculture” methods (Here’s a video to explain: There is no building yet, but I hope they have continued success and we can slowly fulfill the vision we had for the property.

You have two very young children. How do you balance your time as a mom and an entrepreneur? 

I have lots of help! My 2-year-old goes to a babysitter three days a week (daycare one day, Nana’s one day, and Oma’s another day). My 6-month-old stays with me and I work as fast as I can when he is happy or sleeping! I have had to sacrifice both in my career and in mothering. I have learned to say ‘no’ to potential clients that don’t enhance my portfolio in the direction I want my firm to go. I have also hired a co-op student to assist me during busy times to ensure my clients are satisfied.

As a mother I sometimes feel that by sending my kids to daycare I miss out on so much of their learning and development, but I know they also learn a more varied amount of skills through the experience. It also helps that their babysitters are their grandparents and I hope this develops a special bond between them, as they grow older. I also try to keep my housework lower and realistic, so that I don’t get overwhelmed or upset with myself. My husband is a pig farmer, and he does his best to pitch in and share the responsibility of household chores. I also work flexible hours (nap times, slower response times, evenings, etc.) and share my life situation with clients and only work with those who ‘get it’.

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

I used to want to be a famous architect! There are only a few who get to be that, but I hope that I can be published and recognized not only by the architecture community but also by the agriculture community for providing value and enhancing rural culture. I work toward this slowly with each project, giving my clients efficient, inspiring spaces, and making the building process as painless as possible.

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

Balancing being a mom and an entrepreneur has been my biggest challenge. I didn’t have time to get good at either without being busy with the other. So I’m learning to be a mom while also learning to be an entrepreneur. Not an east task!

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

I took on a very large project that with another architect. The design process was long and a very big undertaking. I made a lot of mistakes and embarrassed myself and the other architect. I was pregnant, had severe morning sickness and was busy with my 8-month-old. And that is no excuse, but I realized I bit off way more than I could chew. I often think I can do more than I can. I learned two lessons: 1) Say no when you need too, and 2) Review your work and take care in everything you do. When I make mistakes, it costs people money.

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

What will my firm look like in the future? Do I want to grow and at what cost to time with my kids? Should I be looking for a partner or an employee to take on more projects? Will they be as invested as I am?

How do you define agriculture?

Agriculture is a community of people engaged in the production of food. It’s more than just farming; it’s a way of life.

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

Moving toward less fossil fuel intense farming and looking at alternative more sustainable practices (restoration agriculture, keyline farming, urban gardens, CSAs, local food, increasing soil organic matter, enhancing natural ecosystems with farming, etc.). I know it’s controversial and change is hard in rural communities, but I think there are ways to address the challenges. The consumer is demanding alternative methods, more transparency, and farms are businesses trying to meet customer demands. There is no business model in the world that can survive ignoring the market trends and consumer needs. Farming is not an exception and will NEED to adapt.

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

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

If you’re interested in connecting with Christina, contact her via Twitter: or email:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christina with Husband Nick FitzGibbon

Christina with husband Nick

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

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

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

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

How do you define agriculture?

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


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

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

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

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

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:, Twitter: or Facebook:

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.