Making Waves in Agribusiness – Industry Spotlight: Jenny Van Rooy

By Natalie Walt

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

Being Bold and Taking the leap into Business Ownership

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

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

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

Dealing with Challenges and Staying Positive

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

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

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

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

Looking Towards the Future

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

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

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

Change is hard – leaving the family farm

By Carolyn Kozak

20151101_164922-effectsMy parents sold the family farm this year. We have spent the summer cleaning up two generations worth of stuff and there is still so much to do. The news for officially selling the farm was sparked with an abundance of different emotions. As a kid, I always imagined I’d live on or near the home farm in the country, and I have always lived close to my parents and currently live in a town nearby. How could this be my reality? I couldn’t have imagined that the farm would be sold within my lifetime and that I would have to get used to another family enjoying the landscape, the beautiful canopy driveway and what was once my family home.

My parents bought a bungalow on fifty acres about an hour and half away near my brother’s farm. They are still going to be involved in farming in a different community, but change is always hard.  It has taken some time, and has been a rollercoaster of emotions to fully process, but I can accept that the move does make sense for the future. My parents are getting older and the move will centralize all the farm land within a ten-minute radius. It just doesn’t make sense to spend hours convoying equipment back and forth anymore. The logistics alone had become a daunting task and my parents are ready for a retirement friendly home.

20160925_133622Moving the farm has sparked some serious nostalgia because I love the farm. As a kid, I spent hours, upon hours playing with barn cats each summer. I became an exceptional kitten catcher, which led to the tamest, most ridiculously named cats, ever. One summer, I managed to take enough cat photos to fill a whole film, and then proceeded to create a photo album that almost exclusively featured cats with all of their names labelled which I still have to this day. In case you’re wondering, I didn’t turn out to be a crazy cat lady, although, my Mom did mention that she was surprised that I didn’t have any cats at my house.

Every farm kid also remembers one of the most ‘enjoyable’ jobs walking up and down the fields in the spring, picking stones. However, even simple tasks like these have been changed by technology advancements since my childhood. It is interesting to think about how agriculture and agri-food career opportunities have adapted in the last 20 years. There have been entire new sectors and jobs created through technological advancements such as alternate uses for crops like bio-products or fuel.  Services like drones and GPS technologies are revolutionizing farm equipment. There also continues to be a trend toward fewer small family farms, but these industry changes have meant that there are lot of jobs options available for individuals living in urban settings to be involved in agriculture along the value chain.

Jobs in agriculture and agri-food no longer just include the historical stereotypes of farming. As the jobs within agriculture and agri-food change, the number of individuals who grew up on farms will decrease but there will still be a large number of jobs within the agriculture community that need to be filled in these new and innovative sectors.  While these changes to the family farm have been difficult, I am so thankful the industry has evolved in a way where I am able to use my farm knowledge and strengths to remain actively involved in agriculture. The home farm may be sold, and times may be changing, but there will always be a way to stay involved in this wonderful, evolving industry.

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

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

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

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

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

In short, we want to do something about this.

9 Tips to Deal with Sexism & Unconscious Bias in Agriculture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Jen C. & Joan C.

 

Is Unconscious Bias Holding Agriculture Back?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Jen C.

Unconscious bias is a thing. Full stop. 

What Are Little Boys Made of?

What are little boys made of?
What are little boys made of?
Frogs and snails,
And puppy-dogs’ tails;
That’s what little boys are made of.
What are little girls made of?
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice,
And all that’s nice;
That’s what little girls are made of.
~19th Century Nursery Rhyme~

You may think that someone being sexist or biased is when misogynistic language and behaviors are being used, but there are many more subtle ways to be anti-women.  Sitting down to compile this post, I was trying to find a study I had read a year or so ago about male and female business students selecting a successful ‘male’ entrepreneur in a case study over a ‘female‘ entrepreneur when they both had the same credential and qualifications. At the conclusion of this study, it was revealed that they were in fact the same person, and that person was indeed a female.  That unconscious bias really stuck with me,  even though finding that study seems to elude me, as it seems to be lost in the many other studies examining unconscious bias that are readily available on the internet. I managed to pull  a few examples to demonstrate not only the bias but the extent to which it impacts the everyday life of women:

  1. S.K. Johnson and D.R. Hekman from the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business did a study which had 307 working adults to review a hiring decision made by a fictitious manager.  Participants read a description of the hiring decision, saw a photo of the manager (showing their race and gender) then completed a survey where they rated the manager on competence and performance of that hiring decision.  What they found was that all managers were judged harshly if they hired someone who had the same gender or ethnicity as them, unless they were a white male.  These findings are alarming as it suggests that if a ‘low-status’ group member hires another ‘low-status’ group member they are perceived as incompetent and poor performers.  Not exactly encouraging news when hoping to increase diversity in the workplace, as our unconscious biases are at play judging those around us.
  2.  Moss-Racusin et al, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences gave scientists applications from a student applying for a lab manager position who intended to go onto graduate school and was looking for mentoring. Half the scientists were given an application with a male name, the other half a female name. The results found that the ‘female’ applicant was rated lower than the ‘male’ in competence, hire-ability and whether the scientist would be willing to mentor the student.  More shocking still, is that the scientists also offered the female applicant a significantly lower starting salary than the males.

mary ann

maryann2

Infuriating, yes. And both sexes are to blame.  Women and men were both participants of the studies and held the same biases.  As the authors of the C. Moss-Racusin et al study said “If faculty express gender biases, we are not suggesting that these biases are intentional or stem from a conscious desire to impede the progress of women in science.  Past studies indicate that people’s behaviour is shaped by implicit or unintended biases, stemming from repeated exposure to pervasive cultural stereotypes that portray women as less competent…

Being aware of your own biases are the first step towards limiting bias. ‘Project Implicit‘ was created in 1998 as an ‘international collaboration between researchers who are interested in implicit social cognition – thoughts and feelings outside of conscious awareness and control.  The goal of the organization is to educate the public about hidden biases and to provide a “virtual laboratory” for collecting data on the Internet.”  Run through Harvard University, multiple research teams at the Universities of Washington, Virginia, Harvard and Yale study the results of multiple tests that people can take to rate their biases.  There are tests on Gender-Career, Sexuality, Weight, Religion, and your results and pooled results of everyone who has taken the test are shown to you at the end.

I encourage everyone to explore this website and this project:

https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html

It starts with you, and how you treat those around you, and especially how you treat children.  It all starts at a young age, they watch how those around them treat others. We need to be more aware of our biases.

  • by Mary Ann Doré

Finding a place in a male dominated industry – Aubrie Mowat

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who has been your most significant mentor along the way?

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

Aubrie Mowat 3

How do you define professional success?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you define agriculture?

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

Aubrie Mowat 4

Aubrie with sister Alysa

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

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

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 jessmkelly@gmail.com

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, Farms.com, 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!

Jessica Kelly 8

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.

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.

 

Speed Mentoring Excellent to Inspire & Motivate

AWN-leadership-team-greets-guests

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

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

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

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

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

Katie-Cheesmond-shares-mentoring-experience

Katie Cheesmond speaks with a group about her career.

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

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

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

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

Mentors-discuss-their-experiences-at-roundtable-sessions

Steve McCabe shares his experience with AWN member Megan Hutchison.

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

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

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

Thank-you-to-our-mentors

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

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.