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.

Can we be advocates for ag, too?

On September 1, 2015 in the New-Life Mills boardroom in Cambridge, Ontario, 35 members of the Ag Women’s Network met with Owen Roberts, journalist and director of research communications at the University of Guelph, for an event unlike others we’ve held in the past.

Owen Roberts spoke to the Ag Women's Network about communicating to the media and becoming advocates for agriculture.

Owen Roberts spoke to the Ag Women’s Network about communicating to the media and becoming advocates for agriculture.

Instead of addressing issues we face as women in agriculture, Roberts challenged us to become advocates for the industry and use our collective voices to raise the profile of major ag issues. He went on to explain that we need to be proactive and reach out to the source-hungry media with our local and women’s perspectives and provide a clear message of “so what” and “who cares”.

“I hope you want to have a voice with the media,” Roberts said. “The ag industry needs your help to get coverage on the tough stories.”

Getting media coverage for agriculture isn’t easy – our competition is likely more provocative and entertaining – but using our passion and emotion for the issues that impact our industry is exactly what journalists are looking for.

How to do this? Roberts has some suggestions:

– As a group, we should put out news releases commenting on major ag topics/issues. He thinks this is a great opportunity for us to share our collective thoughts.

– Everyone should have a Twitter account and a blog to share their thoughts and be accessible. There are things we can say that are interesting to a lot of people. Although this means making more time for communications, he warns it should become and additional part of your job. Roberts has a blog post on how to write a blog (halfway down the course syllabus page) and a webinar on better blogging (sign up at Farm Management Canada to access).

– Pick up the phone and call the media. As Roberts explains, when a farmer calls the media, the room hushes because it’s such a rare occasion. And when they do, a reporter knows it’s a real story. He says that calling is very effective, and even though it won’t always result in a story, it results in a relationship since it takes human emotion and confidence.

– Change the stigma of agriculture as a “victim” industry by being proactive and shaping the story, instead of waiting for the media to reach out to us.

– Hold “how to” workshops with the Ag Women’s Network to encourage more outreach and advocacy with topics like how to structure a blog and dealing with media calls.

– Look into writing for your local newspaper. They likely have a community editorial board and are always looking for fresh content and a new angle.

So, members of the Ag Women’s Network, are you up for the challenge?

Ag Women’s Network: Communication, Networking, Collaboration

Kelsey Banks attended her first Ag Women’s Network event this week and she writes about it on her blog. Our guest speaker, Owen Roberts, addressed a room full of women, keen to learn more about how we can make our voices heard to tell agriculture’s story.

Read more on Kelsey’s blog:


Last night I attended a very thought provoking, insightful, and amazing evening meeting many women who are involved in the agriculture industry. The evening lasted for approximately three hours and involved three of my favourite things – talking about agriculture, networking with other women in agriculture, and food. The last one I had to throw in there because everyone loves food and a huge thank you goes out to New Life Mills for providing the great dinner!

After sitting down with a few women in agriculture I had met originally through Twitter, the main speaker, Owen Roberts of the University of Guelph, began his talk about how to communicate with media and even between each other about agriculture. It really had everyone thinking from different angles.


One of Owen’s main points, and an important one, is that when telling a story ask yourself, “So what?” and, “Who cares?” For a…

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