Originally from Northeast Saskatchewan, Sonya Fieldmeier is a research associate for Ag Quest in Saskatoon. Sonya generously agreed to share about her career in agriculture, discovering her lesbian identity, and her perspective on how we can create a more inclusive industry.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up on a grain farm in Northeast Saskatchewan near a village called Ridgedale. My primary schooling was taken there in a school with 65 kids K-12. Our small school was closed in 1998 and we were sent to Tisdale for high school. I attended the University of Saskatchewan and got my degree in Agronomy with a minor in Agricultural Economics. My father and his brother had grown the farm into a large operation by the time I finished my education, and I came home to work with them for a couple of years.
Tell us a bit about your career path and your current role.
I decided to leave the farm due to my aversion to risk. My wife and I then moved to Saskatoon and I started off as a retail agronomist. I found that sales are not my strong suit and quickly began looking for a more hands-on career. I found a position covering a parental leave with an independent research company called Ag Quest and have been there for 7.5 years now.
When did you identify you were a lesbian, and when did you share this with your community (or family)?
I always knew I was different from my friends, but there were no openly LGBT folks in my community, so I didn’t even realize that it was a thing until Ellen came out on TV. There were a couple of teachers in my school everyone knew were gay, but refused to acknowledge it. This made me think it was something shameful that should be hidden. So I thought, “surely that’s not me, I’m a good person.” It took a while for me to accept that it wasn’t a bad thing, just different. I came out while in university. I told a few close friends and my family who were all very supportive. The rumour mill took care of making sure everyone else knew.
Have you found your community to be accepting and supportive?
Ridgedale is a wonderful community. My wife and I were married there in the town hall. The Co-op put out a donation box, same as they do for any local event, and we received a lovely gift of cash and a card signed by everyone in town. When we moved to the city, they had cake at Coffee Rowe to wish us luck. We hope to move back there in the near future.
Has your LGBTQ+ identity influenced where you’ve chosen to live and work?
Its hard to say whether this is just due to my personality, but I’ve always been really nervous doing cold calls to farms. My appearance is quite androgynous so there is often an awkward moment when I’m mistaken for a man. I’ve become used to it and it doesn’t bother me much anymore, but that may have influenced my choice to work in a career that limits the amount of interaction I have with new people.
In your opinion, how could the agricultural industry (or any industry) be more supportive of LGBTQ+ individuals?
Company’s need to ensure that all employees are aware of their human resources policy and also ensure that it is enforced should any discrimination occur. It is important for LGBTQ people to know that their employer will protect them from hate.
In your opinion, how could the agricultural industry encourage more diversity and be more inclusive?
I would like to see employers ignoring the name at the top of a resume, and instead focus on the education and experience of the candidates only. I also believe that media has a big role to play in shaping public opinion. Seeing more diversity in coverage of agricultural events or farm focused advertising in magazines, TV and online will help everyone realize that there is a place for all people in this industry.
What solutions, tools, or processes do you think could be put in place to help advance Canadian women and specifically Canadian women in agriculture?
I think the agriculture industry has been doing very well in this regard. Enrolment at the U of S College of Agriculture and Bioresources is majority female now, and it seems that a nearly equal number of men and women are employed by many ag companies. Of course we all know about companies or organizations that are still the “old boys club”, but hopefully we can see them opening their doors a bit more soon.
Do you have a piece of advice for young women starting their career in agriculture?
Lead with your knowledge. The most successful women I know are always able to impress when they reveal their expertise up front and refuse to let anyone undermine their strengths.
Who is (or has been) your biggest influencer/mentor? What have you learned from them?
My dad, he taught me the value of patience. He raised me to appreciate the magnificent diversity of nature and how each plant and animal has a role in the ecosystem. I’ve chosen to make my career in the agriculture industry because of my dad’s influence. As a kid, I spent as much time as possible out with him on the farm and he encouraged me to get my degree in agriculture.
What do you think is the most important topic in agriculture right now? Or what should be?
Misinformation and education regarding science, agricultural technology and food safety.