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 (


Striking a balance between farming and caregiving

This article is the first in a monthly series that will highlight members of the Ag Women’s Network. AWN is an online group dedicated to connecting and empowering women in agriculture through sharing, learning and personal development.


How one farmwoman is juggling the responsibility of caring for loved ones on the farm and off

By Courtney Denard

Ontario Farmer

CD_Deb KnaptonDeb Knapton is a dairy farmer from Eastern Ontario but like most women in agriculture she’s a lot more than that.

A loving wife and a mother of two adult children, Deb didn’t grow up on a farm but by the time she was a teenager she knew that’s exactly where she wanted to be.

Deb had always been into horses. She started riding when she was just eight years old. At 17 she made the life changing decision to stop riding competitively and take work on a neighbour’s dairy farm.

That decision would go on to change her life in ways young Deb couldn’t even imagine at the time.

“I loved working with the cows so much that it steered my decision to study agricultural business at Centralia College,” Deb says.

Deb calls her two and a half years at college “awesome.” She was involved in student council, sports, and Junior Farmers. It was the latter organization, in fact, that introduced her to her husband Merlin, a dairy farmer from St. Mary’s.

With a similar dream of becoming a farm owner, Deb and Merlin started out by renting a farm in Shakespeare and eventually bought an operation in Almonte in 1989.

“We began by milking 15 cows and shipping cream,” Deb explains. “But it wasn’t enough.”

Sadly, Deb and Merlin were left with no choice but to eventually sell the cows and quota and continue their off-farm work.

It wasn’t the happy ending they had envisioned but the couple kept the farm, a few of the livestock, and the hope that the dairy would be operational once again.

Ten years ago that hope became a reality. Thanks to a lot of hard work and determination Deb and her husband purchased new quota in 2005 and started milking 20 Holsteins.

Today, Deb divides her time between running the farm in a full partnership with Merlin, continuing to work full-time off the farm, and taking care of her family.

She is also the secretary-treasurer for the Lanark County Dairy Producers Committee and has been a dedicated volunteer with 4-H Ontario for the past 15 years.

Like so many farmwomen, a typical day for Deb is never typical.

She has no set schedule and has responsibilities coming at her from every angle. This summer when her 90-year-old father took seriously ill, her load got even bigger.

“It’s really tough,” Deb says. “Until this summer both of my parents were in good health so I had no appreciation. It takes over your whole life.”

“Not that you’re not glad to do it,” adds Deb. “It was just a real wake up call.”

Many farmwomen are facing the same struggle. As aging parents are living longer, it’s not uncommon for women to transition almost overnight from mother to parental caregiver.

Deb says seeking support from other family members and taking it one day at a time helps. Staying connected to the things she loves, like agriculture and farming, is beneficial as well.

This was one of the reasons Deb joined the online Ag Women’s Network (AWN). Coming from a family that doesn’t farm and working from home makes it challenging to reach others in the agriculture community.

“It’s nice to have people who understand where you’re coming from,” says Deb.

Joining the AWN also gave Deb the push she needed to seek a full-time position in the agriculture industry.

After working for years as an accountant and owning her own business, Deb wanted to make the move back to agriculture so when she saw a job opening with the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) she went for it.

“I thought no one would hire a 49 year old woman who hadn’t been in the industry for such a long time,” Deb admits, but that wasn’t the case.

Deb has been working as an OFA member services representative since January and loves it. “It’s the best thing ever!” she says about her job and it allows her to work from home, which is a critical part of managing the juggling act she calls life.

“I don’t have all the answers but I’ve got a supportive husband and I love what I do so that’s half the battle.”