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 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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 (email@example.com).
To 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.
Learning 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.