Speed Mentoring Excellent to Inspire & Motivate


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 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.


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.


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

In the “Spirit” of Continuing Education & Advancement


On Thursday December 3rd, we hosted one of our largest events to date at Dixon’s distillery in Guelph, Ontario.

In spite of being only one of six microbreweries in Ontario, and only a year and a half old, Dixon’s owners Vicki, JC and Kevin offered a wealth of knowledge and expertise on their business and their industry. The distillery has long been a dream of the owners. The trio has spent the last three years building and renovating the building by hand, only contracting out pipefitters for the most major equipment installation. All three maintain full-time employment outside of the distillery and spend evenings and weekends renovating and trying new recipes.

We were first taken on a tour of their impressive facility and given an in-depth description into how spirits are made. Dixon’s were very happy to share with the group that their grains are all locally sourced from the Guelph-Wellington County area.

We were also given the opportunity to taste a variety of the different spirits. Dixon’s currently makes gin, moonshine, vodka and a variety of flavoured liquors that range from chocolate tea, pumpkin, and spicy Caesars which are all made in small batches to highlight their uniqueness.

Following the tour, our awesome panelists answered a variety of questions from our moderator and audience.

The discussions surrounded the synonymous nature of education and advancement.

The panelists came from a variety of backgrounds and educations and had a wide breadth of knowledge to share with the group, which also consisted of a variety of backgrounds and experience. Education, especially in the agriculture, creates a very important knowledge base. However, the panelists could all agree that continued pursuit of new knowledge and skills has also been a driving force in their careers.

The women wove through a variety of topics that ranged from taking professional designation courses, to certificates, one time classes and even the importance of mentorship in education. Heather Hargrave, Industry and Member Relations Coordinator for Farm and Food Care spoke of the unintended consequences of education, such as networking and building friendships.

“There are many different types of mentors – family, personal, work and peers. You always get more out of your education and experiences than you think”, said Hargrave who was recently in the wedding party of a friend she met through AALP.

It should be noted that if you had asked 2 of the 3 panelist where they intended to be when they started school, they would be miles away from where they are now. Stephanie Craig, grew up on a farm, but started her education at Ryerson in an attempt to get as far away from the farm as possible. Mel Curtis, didn’t really have any intention of school, and only really wanted to go back to the farm. Starting in marketing with an animal science background, she now leverages her additional education for promotions within the marketing and communications industry. Working for an AG PR firm, she has also started her own business as an animal photographer. These women have found careers outside of their original designation by leveraging their continued education.

Moderator Kathryn Doan also brought words from Allison West regarding leveraging educations to make pivots in your career.

“Figure out what you want to be doing right before you retire and figure out a way to get there” said West, “Don’t let the pivot get chosen for you.”

The group was left with lasting words of encouragement from the panel and from within the audience. Education will always give you the confidence and perspective to pick your path and make those positive pivots in your career and life.

As always, we would like to thank our panelists: Stephanie Craig, Mel Curtis, Heather Hargrave, and our moderate Kathryn Doan.

We would love more feedback! What great AG continuing education opportunities have YOU heard of or participated in which were valuable to you?

AWN Profile: Stephanie Lee Berger

Stephanie Lee BergerStephanie Lee Berger is a woman with an interesting past. Before joining Green Tractors John Deere in Nobleton, Ontario she had a unique career in film. She followed her father’s footsteps after completing her degree at Seneca College in Business and Marketing and became an armourer showing film stars how to use firearms. In both careers she has faced opportunities and challenging situations. Together these experiences have made her the woman she is today. Stephanie now lives with her boyfriend on his family’s dairy and cash-crop operation in Loretto, Ontario. If you’re interested in connecting with Stephanie after reading her profile, contact her via Twitter (@stephanieleeb) Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/StephanieLeeBerger) or through email (stephanieleeberger@gmail.com)

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

I grew up in a unique and inspired household. I am the third generation of women born in Nobleton, Ontario. I have two incredible people that I am very proud to call “Mom and Dad”. My father is from the South of France – so that is where I get my love of good cheese, wine, art and fashion. I am bilingual, as a result, and am of both Canadian and French citizenship. His career was in the film and television industry, which I’ll explain more later. My mother has been totally blind since I was four years old. She’s incredible. She has taken a massive inconvenience, and turned it into an avenue to help others. She currently walks alongside her fifth Dog Guides of Canada Canine Vision Dog Guide, Lotus. Together they travel the continent spreading awareness about the importance, and gift, that a dog guide is for people with disabilities and ailments. She also has raised my younger brother (who is also legally blind) and I to be strong individuals and to be brave.

My closest friends would tell you that I take too many pictures, bring too much food to parties, bake too often and have too much mascara. But they may also tell you that I have a creative, craft-nerd soul, a big heart, go for long drives to clear my head, and love the roar of a diesel engine. And that it’s rare to find me wearing any footwear other than cowboy boots. I have nineteen pairs!Stephanie's Boot Collection

I am a dairy-woman in training, and have certainly embraced the work, the dedication and the passion. I’ve finally found where I need to be.

Before working in agriculture you had a career in film. Please tell us more about that.

My father has been a very influential player in the Canadian film and television community since 1955. He started as a horse-wrangler and cowboy for films, then became an actor and stuntman (Canada’s FIRST!), then moved on to work as a property master, special effects, and eventually foresaw the trend of the use of firearms in productions. From this our family business, “Shooting with the Stars” was born.

As an Armourer, our job was to provide safe training to actors and actresses to properly (or improperly – whatever their role may call for) use a firearm on film, and provide the equipment as required on-set.

This was my first taste of being a female in a very male-dominated workplace. My knowledge and expertise, and young age, were questioned from time to time, but I learned very quickly to take it in stride. In retrospect, I feel that being a woman made the actors feel more at ease and open to learning. It was my job to make sure they felt comfortable and of course, look natural.

I’ve been so fortunate to work with the likes of Sofia Loren, Mark Wahlberg, Robin Williams, Bruce Willis, Al Pacino, Danny DeVito, Jackie Chan, Diane Lane, Colin Farrell, Mickey Rourke, 50 Cent, Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Love Hewitt… to name a few.

My truest honour was to work alongside my father. When Dad was in his 73rd year he had some serious health issues, and I had to make the decision for him to slow down. As long as I stayed in the business, he would too, and I wanted him to bow down gracefully and enjoy his life, since he had given us so much. This was a heartbreaking decision for me and one of the hardest I’ve ever had to make. But, just months later, he had a stroke and a seizure, so it was a blessing in disguise that I left. At 83, he is now in great health, and is enjoying retirement with Mom and the dogs.

What was the transition like between your career in the film industry to agriculture?

The transition was a challenge, I felt like I had no direction. I worked for an incentive marketing company in the city, but felt that the corporate environment wasn’t exactly what I wanted, especially after my experience in film as a freelancer. One day, on a whim, I decided to visit our local Green Tractors John Deere dealer in Nobleton. The Davis family had been friends of ours for many years and I ask if they needed anyone “to wash tractors”… That is literally what I asked. A few days later, I started at our Brampton location in sales. I will admit I had no idea what I was doing. I had always been a bit of a gearhead, but I had to prove myself, especially since I was a woman. I learned about the parts department while I was there, which was one of the most beneficial things I have ever done; I learned the equipment, inside out. I worked there, selling small stuff for about a year. Little did I know, that I was being groomed to do marketing, advertising, and sales for our (then) three stores. I moved to our head office in Nobleton, and just celebrated nine years with the company.

What do you do in your current position?

We now have seven locations all over Ontario. I do all of our market forecasting and planning, budgeting, advertising campaigns, promotions, events and clinics, sponsorships, customer experience and about a million other things. And I still sell equipment. It’s quite a task to balance, but I like the challenge.

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

Personal success is finding something you love to do every day – and loving it so much that it doesn’t feel like an obligation. I feel that success comes to everyone in different ways – whether it be professional or personal. Important steps for me are: 1. Know who you are; 2. Learn what you want from life (it takes time!); 3. Find unconventional ways to get there! 4. Make time for yourself. Not your family or spouse or children – just YOU; 5. Celebrate the little hills, as much as the big mountains; 6. Constantly create new goals, whether it be mastering a new recipe, a yoga pose or the perfect solution to handling emails. And celebrate them!

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

The biggest professional challenge I’ve had to deal with would definitely be making the choice to leave the family business. I’ve also dealt with a lot of adversity in both of my careers since I am a woman who chose “non-traditional” roles. There were times that I would get defensive and angry or sad, or feel defeated, because I was being treated differently or questioned because I am a woman. But each time that would happen, I used that energy to learn from it. Rather than lash out and use the “girl card”, it tasted so much better to simply “prove ‘em wrong” by doing an amazing job. As time went by, in film, I created a name for myself and I went to work, did my job gracefully, and always got called back. Just like the guys did.

Stephanie Lee BergerSelling equipment, as a woman, is a different story altogether; that would take days to summarize, but I will say this: There are some people that question my knowledge, because I am a woman, not because I am me. But once they feel my firm handshake and let me help them find solutions – those misconceptions tend to melt away. A talented, good person is a talented, good person… regardless of their gender.

Who is your biggest influencer/mentor?

My mother, Beverley, and my grandmother, Lillian. Before she lost her sight, Mom sold vehicles for the Ford Motor Company. In the 1970’s, it was rare to see a female salesperson at a dealership. She faced a lot more judgment than I ever will, and she always approached it with grace and a smile. I also admire my Mom for raising two kids that she could not see. She likes to say that we “challenged” her. I take that as a compliment, because we gave her the drive to get up and to move past her disability and carry on with life.

My Grandmother sold industrial steel in the 1960’s through the 1980’s, which I can imagine being nothing short of a challenge. She worked hard, kept great business relationships, and was efficient and organized. She retired as a well-respected and successful lady. When I feel frustrated by that guy who said, “Oh, you can’t know anything about tractors…”, I remind myself of what Mom and Gram had to plow through to pave the way for us all today, and I smile, and respond with “How can I help?”.

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

I am at the point in my life that I will soon be ready to think about starting a family and I often ask myself how I plan to deal with that. Will I continue on or will I be on the farm full-time to raise a family? It’s a huge decision.

How do you define agriculture?

Agriculture is the art, science and business of tending to the earth, cultivating crops and raising livestock, for food and other products. I also define it as a labour of love and a series of constant, ever-changing experiments.

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

I enjoy the idea of being in a group of women who are tied to agriculture in so many different ways. We all have a story to tell, and so much experience and knowledge to share. It is very empowering to see lenders, reps from seed companies, writers, a lawyer, mill marketers, livestock association staff, researchers, communicators, Nuffield Scholars, primary producers, vets, an architect, equipment marketing managers, salespeople, retired schoolteachers and Aggie students alike, all in one room – coming together thanks to one common thread: agriculture. I like that when I leave an “AWN” meeting, I feel energized, and my brain is rolling for days with ideas and inspiration. I am happy to MAKE time for these events.

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

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 (contact.scraig@gmail.com).
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 (https://suburbanaggie.wordpress.com/). 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 (https://www.facebook.com/emma.j.harris) or through email (eharri08@mail.uoguelph.ca).

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.