Industry profile: Cathy Dibble

Cathy Dibble lives near Drumbo, Ontario on a broiler chicken farm. She is an active volunteer in her community and works part time for the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA). 16 years ago she fell into her career by accident, but has been working with and for Ontario farmers ever since.

If you’re interested in connecting with Cathy after reading her profile, contact her via Twitter (@TVRSCIA ) LinkedIn ( or through email (

Cathy Dibble 1To start off, please tell the Ag Women’s Network more about yourself.

I wasn’t raised on a farm, but had many farming family members. Then I married a beef farmer, and loved the life. I loved helping in the barn and the fields when I could. I took on the job as secretary/treasurer for our local soil and crop association 16 years ago, just for something to do while still helping on the farm with two small kids. Shortly after that, the opportunity came up for me to assume the regional communication coordinator position for the Thames Valley Soil & Crop region and things just escalated from there. I was invited to become the local OSCIA funding program representative and was nominated as the OSCIA Regional Communication Coordinator Lead by my peers in 2009. Whichever hat I happen to be wearing, I love being able to help others. In 2004, we moved to a broiler chicken operation, downsized the cropping end of things and now have more free time to dedicate to other areas of our life.

What do you do in your current position with the OSCIA?

As Thames Valley Regional Communication Coordinator ‎(RCC), I produce six newsletters for our region’s members each year, manage our regional website, coordinate field projects and grant applications, assist in planning events, and encourage inter-county plot projects, networking and communications. As Lead RCC, I provide IT and HR support for the rest of my team (10 of us in all), represent the group to our provincial board of directors, organize semi-annual training sessions, and other fun stuff such as organizing OSCIA member benefits like our new discount on soil sample analyses. I have had opportunities to work with Ontario Agri-Food Education and Farm and Food Care (Ontario) on different projects. I am also OSCIA’s only dedicated Project Inspector for the funding programs we deliver, so I have the great opportunity to travel all over most of southwestern Ontario. I visit producers from all commodities to see the great projects they are completing through Growing Forward 2, the Species at Risk Farm Incentive Program and others. I also tweet on behalf of all my hats on any given day.

Professionally we are often seeking success. How do you define personal success?

I think personal success is being satisfied with what you do. It’s about enjoying your work and even the challenges it presents. In my mind knowing you did your best at the end of the day, even if the results were not exactly what you wanted, is one of the most important aspects of success.

What’s the biggest professional challenge you’ve had to face?Cathy Dibble 2

Not getting a position I really wanted. It made me face my weaknesses and realize I need to try harder to overcome these stumbling blocks. It’s something I keep working at, but still find very challenging. Maybe I can’t do everything, but I’m not going to stop trying.

Who is your biggest influencer/mentor?

A former colleague who always encouraged me to keep going, push my limits, never give up, try new things and supported me in every way. I gained more confidence and knowledge, and became a stronger person.

You spend a lot of time volunteering. How do you manage all of this with your work and farm commitments?

I assist with planning the Oxford Federation of Agriculture’s Excellence Awards, sit on the SouthWest Ag Conference steering committee, volunteer with our saddle club and other local initiatives. Since I work from home, it is probably easier to manage my volunteering around work, farming and family schedules. With our operation, we can be fairly flexible on chore times and can usually count on our kids to help with chores if needed, even though they both work full time off the farm as well. I think the most important part of volunteering is to not extend yourself beyond your time and commitment capabilities. Even just playing a small but dedicated part of an organization is helpful, so don’t sign up to do it all!

How do you define agriculture?

The science of producing (primarily) food for others – humans and animals alike – by using science and technology to do so as efficiently and economically as possible.

What do you think is the most important topic in agriculture right now?
Agvocacy. It is so important for the general public to know what we do and why we do it, whether it is crop or livestock related. We care about the food we produce. The products we use are safe and effective and allow us to do the best job we can for everyone’s benefit. Decisions need to be based on science, and since public persuasion appears to determine so many decisions, it is important the public knows the real facts about agriculture. It is a huge task, and I think we all need to keep working at it.

Why are you interested in being a part of the Ag Women’s Network (AWN)?

I enjoy helping others. If some of my experiences can help other women in some small way, that’s great! And, I’m always keen to learn from others too. We all face challenges and sharing experiences and insights is a benefit to everyone.

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 (


Member Profile: Emma Harris

A quick introduction: My name is Stephanie Craig and I a 29-year-old communications professional currently working for the Ontario Agricultural College of the University of Guelph. I’ve been thinking about mentorship through the sharing of experiences for a while now, ever since I read a book called “The Mom Shift” by Reva Seth. It explored the professional successes of women after they became mothers and is filled with case study-styled stories about women and their personal and professional journeys. I want try to produce something similar for the Ag Women’s Network (AWN). I believe that by sharing the experiences of the AWN members, we can all learn, be inspired and encourage one another. The focus of the profiles I will be submitting to the blog will be on women who primarily work off of the farm, although many will also be primary producers.

If you know of a woman whom you think would be a great person to profile, please send your suggestions my way via email (
For my first profile, I’m thrilled to introduce the AWN to Emma Harris. Emma is an Aggie at the University of Guelph. A more correct label would be calling her a “Suburban Aggie”, which is also the name of her personal blog ( In agriculture we often talk about communicating with the urban population, but for Emma that’s what she does in her everyday life. She was raised in suburban Oakville, ON, but is in fierce pursuit of agriculture knowledge. If you’re interested in connecting with Emma after reading her profile, contact her via Facebook ( or through email (

Emma Harris, OAC StudentTo start off, please tell the Ag Women’s Network more about yourself.
I’m a fourth year agriculture science student at the Ontario Agricultural College (OAC) of the University of Guelph. I’m 21 years old and just dipping my toes in the agricultural world. I grew up in a suburban neighborhood, in the middle of Oakville, ON. I was very interested in environmental science and studies since I was a little kid. Those interests eventually led me to studying agriculture at university! It’s been a fun adventure so far, and I learn more every day.

Right now you are studying at the University of Guelph. Tell us more about your program.
My degree is a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture, majoring in Honours Agriculture. This means that I take a core set of agriculture-related courses, including plant and animal ag, but I also have the freedom to take electives in any area of interest I wish! I’m choosing to take a lot of economics, communications, and policy courses, which all have an agriculture focus. I’ve chosen this path for school because I want to influence education policy concerning agriculture and environment, and these courses can help me develop my skills and knowledge even before I graduate. I was originally studying environmental management at the University of Guelph’s Ridgetown Campus, but didn’t like the options that program would have given me. Many of my friends were studying agriculture at Ridgetown. It seemed like a new and exciting field of study for me, so I made the switch after one year!

What are your career aspirations and how do you plan on getting there?
I want to work in education, though I’m not quite decided on which facet. I’d like to either write school curriculum that includes agriculture and food literacy at all levels, or open up an educational farm that will bring kids outside to learn about agriculture hands-on. Or, maybe I could do both! My first step is finishing my degree at Guelph. After that, teacher’s college is definitely on the horizon. Along the way, I’ve met a few people who do what I want to do, so I’d like to reach out to them for some work experience to help me on my journey.

What’s the most burning question for you right now in your career?
At the moment, the biggest question is, “How do I get started?”. I have an end goal in my head of starting my own hobby farm that would hopefully turn into a teaching farm for classrooms. Does anybody have any advice on using their farm as a teaching tool? Do you change your practices to accommodate for classroom groups to come visit?

Professionally, we are often seeking success. How do you define personal success?
To me, personal success is being happy with your life and the goals you’ve set for yourself. It sounds a bit cheesy, but it’s true. I’ve always been one to set big goals and work toward them in small steps. Each time I complete one of these steps, I feel like I’ve accomplished something. Right now, my big goal is to move out East, go to teacher’s college, and establish a small hobby farm. Every time I do something to reach this goal, I feel a little bit closer to my dream life. This idea of personal success is what I keep striving for.

Emma HarrisLearning from our mistakes is an important, but sometimes tough, part of life. Can you tell us about a professional mistake you made and what you learned?
In terms of agriculture and my education, the biggest mistake I think I’ve made was holding back. When I was studying environmental management at Ridgetown Campus, I was scared to be involved in agriculture because of what it might say about me; back then, I had no idea about the wonders of agriculture! I hesitated to switch into agriculture science. Looking back, I can see all the opportunities I missed out on. I now know that getting involved and putting yourself out there is important in agriculture. That’s how valuable connections are made. Now, when the opportunity for me to get involved and learn comes up, I don’t hesitate. I take every chance to be a part of the agriculture community.

Who would say is your biggest influencer/mentor?
It would be too difficult to pick one single person. The short answer would be that my biggest influencers (and mentors!) are my classmates. The OAC is filled with young people who have grown up in agriculture. Each day, I get to learn from people my age about the industry. The biggest thing I’ve learned from my classmates is that youth can make an impact – many of my friends and classmates are the main operators of their farms, and have strong voices in the public through their local fairs. It’s inspiring to know that the foundation of the agricultural sector is made up of people my age.

Why are you interested in being a part of the Ag Women’s Network?
For me, the AWN is an invaluable resource. Women from across Ontario and Canada, each with their own experiences, are able to share their knowledge with others in their sector. It’s an incredibly supportive place. It’s nice to have a group like this to support each other, where I am able to learn from others who share the same interests as me.

How do you define agriculture?
To me, agriculture is a lifestyle. Agriculture is something that you pour your heart and soul into, whether it be in production, business, research, or another area of the industry. Agriculture is a unique industry because the people who work in it, live it. Especially when it comes to producers, agriculture is not something you put down at quitting time. It’s a passion.

What do you think is the most important topic in agriculture right now? Or what should be?
I think agriculture has gained a lot of ground in the eyes of the public in the past few years. It seems that the negative stigma that traditionally surrounds agriculture has started to ease up, and more people are accepting agriculture as a positive part of our country. I think that should be our focus moving forward as an industry. There will always be the odd few that try to fight against agriculture, but I believe that we can, and will, continue to shed positive light on our industry. Using tools such as Facebook and Twitter, we can connect with the public and show them what farming is really like.

Designing a company for working moms

Norah and I in May.

Norah and I in May.

The spring I took part in an essay contest that asked women to write about balancing family and their career, and what can be done to help. I took a lot of input from the events and comments from the Ag Women’s Network (thank you!), and I really enjoyed putting my experience in writing. I didn’t win, but I wanted to share my “so what” part of my essay with you, and I’m interested to hear your thoughts!

…”Even though all corporations hope to make money, not necessarily raise families, I don’t think it’s a lost cause. Just as Google is the gold standard for employees who value work-life balance, there is a ripe opportunity for employers to become the ‘Google’ for women with families. A smart company could make generous parental leave polices a selling feature to attract top talent.

If I could design such a forward-thinking company, it might look like this: Full top-up pay for the duration of maternity leave. Offer subsidized day care support, and flexible schedule options. Reduced travel demands on parents with young children, or shorten the length of out-of-town work trips.

This company would also support and encourage fathers to take more active parenting roles, and offer a matching parental leave for dads. Managers would encourage and pay for employees to attend networking events and professional development courses while on leave.

Ideally, young men and women would be given multiple opportunities to learn about their maternity and parental leave options. Employees would be encouraged to openly discuss their family plans with their managers and design a career plan that would compliment it.

New parents would also be permitted to keep their company phones, computers and email accounts while on leave, so they can stay connected if they choose.

It may not make their brochure, but small improvements such as reserved parking for pregnant women could help, too.

Most mothers understand that choosing to have a family can mean sacrifices in other areas. But employers could take many steps to soften the impact child rearing has on their employees’ careers, and instead make the experience as joyful and fulfilling as it should be.

Four months into maternity leave, I’ve tightened my purse strings and am surviving on a reduced income. I’m taking part in networking events as much as possible, and meeting up with my colleagues as often as I can. I’ve subscribed to industry newsletters and read blogs to stay sharp, too.

Significant changes may take time, but I believe progress can happen while I’m in my child-bearing years. By my next pregnancy, I know I will still be willing to go into the office on the day I’m in labour. But I hope, if that happens, it will be a moment to celebrate for both my company and myself.”

The winning essay can be found here.

-Kate Mercer

Moms with (ag) Jobs

No more canning!

On Tuesday, February 17, fourteen women gathered in a meeting room at the OMAFRA building in Woodstock, ON to talk about maternity leave and how it impacts the agriculture industry.

Although extreme temperatures meant our guest speakers were unable to attend (barn freezes abound!), we were fed a delicious hot meal of lasagne and had an excellent open discussion and were able to reflect on the results from the recent survey that aimed to get a pulse on maternity leaves in the ag sector.

The audience was fairly diverse; two full-time farmers and twelve members of the ag industry, of which four were mothers.

Some interesting issues were brought up from a farmer perspective:

  • There is flexibility to choose whether to continue working on the farm or taking time off and still living on the farm, but many choose to continue working. This means babies and toddlers are taken out to barns and fields alongside their moms.
  • Isolation can become an issue. Mom & Tots events are not easy to attend when you live in a rural area. It takes more time, and also means leaving your work on the farm. Drop in events are easier to attend than scheduled ones because they provide you with flexibility to deal with farm issues as they arise.
  • Ask other families and farmers about rural community programs and co-op child care options.

From an industry perspective, it was fairly clear that most felt uncomfortable broaching the subject of maternity leave policies with their managers or Human Resources, and instead would welcome the HR groups to be more proactive and transparent in their communications with employees. Perhaps giving employees the option to ask questions anonymously would be a good start.

There was overwhelming support from the group to standardize a maternity leave policy across the industry to be more family centred. Agriculture could become the “Google” of maternity leaves – in-office child care, top up support, flexible hours, short weeks in the low-season, job sharing, and more. It could give the industry something to advertise about and tell women from outside of ag, “you want to work here!”.

We also discussed the pressure faced by women in client or customer-facing roles who have to entrust their relationships with someone else for the year they are away. Thanks to social media, customers can still keep in contact with you over your leave, but it also invites them to add pressure for your return. It was mentioned that a more team-based approach to customers could help relay this concern, opposed to a solo-contact approach.

There was an interesting question posed as to how will the rise of contract work (versus a full-time position) alter maternity leave policies. In some organizations, full-time roles are getting reduced and with that maternity leaves. However, other businesses are investing heavily in their people, as they recognize the competitiveness of the industry and wanting to retain as much talent as possible. The next few years will be interesting to watch as the economy flattens and commodity prices stay low.

A comment was made that women who don’t have children need to advocate for those who do, the same going for men. We all want to have the best talent in the industry, which means supporting women who choose to have families and careers in agriculture. This also means women need to stop judging other women’s family decisions, such as going back to work or not going back to work and using the full year of maternity leave or not. Let’s just support them however we can!

As the first generation of women who come back to work after maternity leaves, there are opportunities that need to be explored and capitalized on. It’s no longer an Old Boy’s Club.

We are seeing more men take active roles in parenting which should help reduce the stigma of women being able to have a career and a family.

So, where do we go from here? We need to hear more from women who have had families and returned to their same roles. How did that feel? How were you received? If you had another child, what was the reaction from your employer when you told them you were expecting again?

We also need to make use of support groups such as Women in Heels (please send a link if anyone has local connections).

We can add topics specific to women at ag events and shows such as FarmSmart, for example, how to navigate Employment Insurance while on maternity leave, family planning or child care on the farm. Let’s leave the “canning” and “cross stitch” topics out, though!

Providing a mini-orientation to a woman after returning from maternity leave would help her get reacquainted with any changes that may have occurred over the year and ease the transition for the person who was covering her role, too.

We can also take the opportunity learn about other regions and sectors who have supportive maternity leave policies and share these with our HR groups. We can help develop the systems for us and women who want families in the future.

So, please add your comments if you couldn’t attend and if you have experiences that would help us. The survey results can be found here.

-Kate Mercer