Please tell us a bit about yourself and your career path.
I am the middle child of a 7th generation farm family. I am very fortunate to be able to farm alongside my husband Joe, and our 4-year-old daughter Nadine, and my family. I grew up working on my family’s dairy farm in Brampton where my only farm friends were from 4-H as everyone in my high school was from the city. After finishing at the University of Guelph I was herdsperson at a dairy farm in Tavistock for 4 years before joining my family as partners of Heritage Hill Farms in New Dundee, ON.
Tell us about your role and what your "typical day" looks like.
I co-own Heritage Hill Farms with my husband, brother and parents. I start the day milking cows which finishes in time to get my daughter on the bus. The rest of the day will vary depending on what needs done with the cows or fields, and I also manage the business’s finances. My husband meets the bus while I’m just starting the evening milking, and Nadine hangs out at the barn with us while we finish working. Eat, sleep then repeat.
What’s the biggest professional/personal challenge you’ve had to face? And what did you learn from that experience?
In 2010, we moved the cows away from our home farm where I am the 7th generation Johnston working that land. There were so many decisions to be made from where to move, what style of barn to build, and if we all can work together as a family. We really had to learn how to communicate to make the right choices. Going through that big process was a steep learning curve but now I feel we are really good communicators and we can make decisions faster and feel confident about them.
Who is (or has been) your biggest influencer/mentor? What have you learned from them?
Growing up in Peel County, I was surrounded by many successful farm women; it never crossed my mind that I couldn’t farm because I was female. My family expected that we help out, that could be in the house or in the barn but there was no gender roles division of what we were supposed to do. I’m very thankful for my family and our team of vets and nutritionists et al. that we work with for supporting me and never questioning that there is a place for me.
Learning from our mistakes is an important, but sometimes tough, part of life. In the spirit of these profiles helping others, are you willing to share a mistake you made but taught you something important?
When we first started working together as a large family, I struggled, believing that everyone should think like me. When making a big decision affecting the whole family, my husband and I would already have discussed it at length and had a firm opinion. When we would talk about it as a group I was expecting everyone else to make a decision on it quickly because we had already done the research, but that is not what everyone else needs to process the information. We now have an ongoing ‘agenda’ of things we need to discuss so that everyone can do what they need to do to come to the answer. Topics are brought up, group-brainstormed, there is time to process information individually and then there is another group discussion. This works for us.
What do you think is the most important topic in agriculture right now? Or what should be?
Trust is a very important topic in agriculture right now, the consumers need to be reassured that we are growing/raising safe, healthy, sustainable, ethical food. There has been a great trend of putting a face to agriculture, and farmers need to get out there and meet consumers. Growing up in Brampton, all of my school friends were from the city, and everyone was always interested in the farm. That being said we can’t expect everyone to know or care about agriculture. They don't have to know what a cultivator does or the difference between a beef or dairy cow, they just have to trust that Canadian farmers are working hard to produce top notch products that they can feel good about eating.
As one of the AWN leadership team, tell us a bit about what encouraged you to participate in the network?
I joined the AWN as a way to meet other women in the industry. I was often the only female in the room at industry meetings and I wanted to connect with women who shared similar experiences. I have really enjoyed working on the Leadership Team as I really believe in our mandate and it’s so amazing to be part of the virtual and in-person events and see so many successful driven women in our industry interacting and learning from each other.
What is your vision for the future of AWN?
To be able to have more virtual events that can connect women from a wider area, and to have more members join an action team to help run the in-person events. An AWN member can approach the leadership team with the idea for an event in their area and an action team can be created to help them with the process, this way events can reach a wider area, and members can get a taste of the AWN process and join the leadership team in the future.
Do you have a piece of advice for young women starting their career in agriculture?
Have an open mind, make every experience a learning opportunity. Reach out to those who are more experienced, and surround yourself with a network of people who want to see you succeed.