Advancing Women in Ag Wrap-up

This blog post was written by Anna Roberts, who won a free registration to the Advancing Women in Ag conference with her entry about why women need a voice in agriculture.

A brief prologue;

Hi, my name is Anna. I am an Ontarian, a parent, and an avid ‘let’s try this’-er. I am also a farmer.
Oh…and I’m a woman!

A few weeks ago I had the extreme privilege to be invited to attend the Advancing Women in Ag Eastern Conference in Toronto, and was included within an inspiring group of 450 women who are also involved in agriculture.


It was such diverse group of ladies, from those who still remember the smell of ‘purple paper’; who can tell a bull calf from 50ft. away, or recite today’s market prices off the top of their head, to those of us who’s dreams of lush green pastures and 20-hour days are just beginning to unfold.

But the best part… how each woman had her own story.

Bonnie Schmidt reflected on how life is a contact sport; it’s not about what you know, it’s about what you can do. Jeff Leal reminded us that each challenge is an opportunity, while Cheryl Fullerton encouraged us to be purposeful, embrace (our) ambition, be proud and believe (in ourselves). Dr. Marla Shapiro pointed out that our core values do not change, our priorities do, so that we may always know the difference when trying to find balance in our lives. Susan Blair mentioned that perfection is subjective and noted how we must expand our thinking and allow ourselves to view things differently if we wish to grow. Finally, Kathleen Wynne urged that strength is intellect. It is education. It is creativity, and that, as women in agriculture, we must be strong.

Premier Wynne and Anna Roberts

Premier Wynne and Anna Roberts

Jennifer Christe (AWN Lead) and Anna Roberts

Jennifer Christe (AWN Lead) and Anna Roberts

Looking back; after days of chores, hours of school work, time spent trying to save a sick calf, fix mixers, stay awake during over-nights at the dryer, and finally making it home only to reheat left-overs before I head back out for the morning milking… the message is clear:

Do what you love. Follow your passion. Embrace your ambition.

Never apologize for who you are.

Lessons that may apply to anyone, yet, provide a special significance to those women working within our male-dominated agricultural industry. Lessons encouraging us to embrace our differences as women, and lessons that I may not have taken to heart had I not been given this chance to peek inside the hearts & souls of these speakers.

I will always look with admiration to those who have followed their passions, admitted their weakness, shown their strength, & celebrated their uniqueness as women – who continue to give me hope that it is because I am a woman, that I will go on to move mountains.


What is the Advancing Women Conference?


Earlier this spring I attended the Advancing Women in Ag Conference in Calgary on behalf of my employer and along with three of my colleagues.  I was a skeptic. The thought of attending a women-in-agriculture conference was not on the top of my things-to-do list, but I was strongly urged by my boss to attend.

“It will be a great networking opportunity,” he reminded me.

So I went. The speaker line up was intriguing, I had to admit. Where else can you hear Kristine Stewart, the head of Twitter Canada speak one day and Debbie Travis speak the other? Both interesting women with a great story to tell.  And it really is all about telling stories. Everyone has a story to tell and sharing those stories helps everyone. It reminds you that no matter what you are going through, someone else can relate. That is one thing I took away from this conference. Each speaker had great advice or was a source of inspiration for the approximately 600 female agricultural professionals in the room. There are themes from the conference I still think about; chase your dream, just ask – give people the option to say yes, never say no out of fear and my ultimate favourite, from Debbie Travis: Dream it, Do it, Live it! Debbie Travis was by far the highlight speaker for me, and I just may have found my next vacation destination at her new Tuscan retreat in Italy!

The conference presented topics for discussion that are typically overlooked when talking about careers in agriculture. Susan Blair tackled one such topic head on, which was also an important one for me. A Saskatchewan-raised farm girl who is now the Executive Director, Animal Health for Boehringer Ingelheim, spoke about the tough choices she had to make to leave the farm and take a job in corporate agriculture. She reminded the attendees that it’s alright to make those tough decisions and to do what needs to be done. Those jobs are very important to the agriculture industry and people with hands on experience are needed to fill them.

The two days turned out to be an important experience for me. While I was there, I was in the middle of a major life-altering decision, and it made many of the messages from the event resound with me and even help me have confidence in the decision I was making. Check out the #AWCWest2015 thread on Twitter for updates from the conference. I was also able to catch up with colleagues, acquaintances, some old friends and do a fair bit of networking. I hate to admit it but my boss was right…but please don’t tell him I said that!  Look for me at AWC East in October. I’ll be there and I am looking forward to doing it all again!

– Cheryl H.