Industry Profile - Stephanie May
Stephanie May has been in the workforce for five years and has shown she is not afraid to make career changes. Her experiences showcase the importance of adaption and taking advantage of opportunities (as different and alternative as they may be). Through embracing these opportunities, she has redefined her personal and professional happiness. Stephanie now works with South Central Ontario Region Food Hub project that connects farm products directly with schools, hospitals and nursing homes. Her flexibility has brought her to an exciting and rewarding role that focuses on both producers and consumers.
If you’re interested in connecting with Stephanie, contact her via Twitter @Steph__May or through her work email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
To start off, please tell the Ag Women’s Network about your background.
I grew up outside Tavistock, Ontario on a dairy farm. When I was 12, I started riding horses competitively. My dad made a major life changing decision when I was 13 to sell our quota and exit the industry. In my teen years, I was fortunate that my dad allowed me to convert our barn from cows to horses. We had a small handful of boarders, and during my University years, I taught riding lessons to neighbourhood kids.
In 2012, we sold the family farm so my dad could enjoy his well-deserved retirement. It was a heartbreaking decision, but ultimately the best for our family. Now, in my spare time, you can find me either riding my horse, at CrossFit, or helping out on my boyfriend’s dairy farm outside Woodstock.
Tell us about your career path so far.
I graduated from the University of Guelph in 2011 where I received a Bachelor of Commerce degree, majoring in accounting. I worked for two years at Agricorp as a Claims Adjudicator on the AgriStability and Risk Management Program. It was here that I learned that what I loved most about my job was interacting with farmers. I was always very curious about their operations, and often got side tracked in conversation with them while on phone calls. I became restless in my job, knowing that I wanted to do more. I just didn’t know what that was. I decided to go back to school and pursue my Certified Management Accountant designation. During this time, I worked for Collins Barrow KMD, a chartered accounting firm in Stratford, Ontario with an agricultural clientele. I had a great experience with the firm, but upon finishing my designation, it was time to move on.
I am currently working for Whitecrest Mushrooms Ltd in Putnam, Ontario. My boss is incredible. He is very progressive in his farming practises and is continually innovating. My main role is to help to manage our US customers and assist with marketing; a role that is very new to me. My boss is a member of a steering committee group for a local food hub initiative with the South Central Ontario Region (SCOR) Economic Development Corporation. Last May, an opportunity arose for me to begin working on the Food Hub project. I am still employed by the mushroom farm, and maintain my duties there, but I contact my services to SCOR full time.
Tell us more about the Food Hub project with SCOR.
The SCOR Food Hub project (link: www.scorfoodhub.com) was designed to assist small to medium sized producers in getting their products to local markets, particularly broader public sector institutions. This is achieved by providing a connection between local producers and customers through an online marketplace. Producers are able to sign up on the site and list their products. Customers order online and each producer gets an email detailing what they need to deliver that week. The orders are aggregated at one of our Hub sites, then delivered to the customer.
We focus on distributing local products through the Ontario Student Nutrition Program, University dining halls, hospitals and long term care facilities. I am responsible for sales and helping to expand the Food Hub network. Part of my duty is to make connections, and provide support in building the local food economy. We also provide educational material on the products that go through the Food Hub.
My job is constantly evolving and every day is different. To me, the local food movement is about supporting Ontario farmers, producers, rural communities, and building a brighter healthier future for all consumers. I love being able to support farmers to grow their businesses and acting a resource for them.
You’re a Certified Management Accountant, what does that mean?
People hear the word “accountant” in Certified Management Accountant and that is all they think of. Being a CMA to me means so much more than being an “accountant”. It means being a member of an esteemed group of professionals, and having the skills, knowledge and analytical ability to make informed decisions. It has given me the tools to make informed decisions to propel businesses forward while taking into account the operational, financial and sustainable integrity of an organization and its people. I love the way the program challenges me to think outside the box and push the limitation of the business world to allow for adaptation and growth.
What’s the biggest professional/personal challenge you’ve had to face?
Not knowing what I wanted for my career. I was never that kid that you could ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and get a consistent answer. Even through university, I felt like a wanderer. I took business because that’s where I excelled in high school. Business concepts came fairly easy to me, but I never really thought about what would happened when I was finished. I had no set career in mind. When I graduated and was in my first job, I felt myself searching for more. I wanted to find that job that I was truly passionate about. I was looking to find my fit. I had no idea what that meant, I just knew I wanted it.
What did you learn from that experience?
In the past two years, my personal and professional life have transformed so much. As I neared the end of the CMA program, I knew the accounting profession wasn’t exactly where I wanted to be and I needed to make a change. I left my job at the accounting firm to work for a family friend who owns a mushroom farm. People thought I was crazy when I told them what I was doing.
It was the most liberating thing I have done. For the first time in my life, I stepped outside my plan and stepped into the unknown. I took the time to do some personal development. I stopped constantly living for the future and learned to live in the present. I can confidently say that this has led to be the happiest I have ever been. If I could share one piece of advice with people from this experience, it’s that it is okay to be lost for a bit, because the journey finding yourself is the most amazing thing to experience.
What do you think is the most important topic in agriculture right now? Or what should be?
Farm and food education. There is a significant gap between agriculture and urban communities. I cannot believe some of the misconceptions about food and farming that I have encountered this past year through my job. Many people are misinformed, or genuinely do not know about common agricultural practices. At the same time, people are starting to question where their food comes from and how it is grown. We are facing a shift in our food economy, and now is a critical time to get people educated on farming, and where their food comes from.