Dairy farmer makes history by joining EastGen board

Amanda Jeffs began her three-year term representing Zone 5 in April

Amanda Jeffs is a dairy farmer from Stirling, a small town located in Hastings County in Eastern Ontario.

The young woman farms full-time with her parents and brother, while also running a separate 100-acre farm with her husband Luke Skinkle and their two children, Natalie and Brent

Jeffs made history recently by becoming the first (and only woman to date) to be elected to the EastGen board of directors. She began her three-year term this past April.

Around the same time, Jeffs joined the Ag Women’s Network and agreed to talk to Ontario Farmer about what it’s like running a family farm, being a woman in ag, and acting as a female representative at the provincial board level.

Q: Tell me about yourself and your background.

A: I grew up on a dairy farm in Stirling and am the oldest of four children.

I worked on the farm from a very early age. I started feeding calves and once I could reach the pipeline, I started milking.

After high school, I attended the University of Guelph and studied animal biology.

I always wanted to come back to the farm but you never know if that’s going to be an option so I took a course to help me whether I went that route or not.

Q: What does your operation look like today?

A: My husband Luke and I bought our farm in 2010 and moved in two years later. We did a rent to own agreement.

Our farm is technically ours but it’s interlinked with my family farm.

On my family farm, we milk 58 Holstein cows in a tie-stall, twice a day. My role is primarily herd management.

Q: Tell me about joining the EastGen board.

A: I joined the board this past April.

I saw a request for nominations and thought it would be something I was interested in but figured I was too busy so I let it go.

Then another call for nominations came out and that time I wasn’t so doubtful.

I ran and was nominated as director for zone five for a three-year term.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish sitting on the board?

A: I hope to learn the ins and outs of the EastGen business. I’ve sat on other boards in the past but nothing of this magnitude.

I hope that I am able to represent the farmers in our area. I want to go into the role with a very open mind. There is a huge amount of knowledge to learn.

Q: What’s it like being the first woman ever to be nominated to the EastGen board?

A: Knowing that I am the only woman on the board, and the first woman ever, does mean something to me. It puts more pressure on me.

When I joined the board, I didn’t set out to be the first woman, I joined because I hoped and I thought I could contribute.

It’s been noted that I’m the first woman director; all of the senior management have pointed it out. Other board members have been excited as well.

Q: Why do you think there haven’t been any other women on the board until now?

A: I don’t really have an answer on that but I can tell you why I questioned going on the board.

I questioned whether or not I could commit enough time and energy.

If you are going to join something, you need to be willing to commit 100 per cent so once I decided to do it I made that commitment.

Now, I feel like it’s shown my daughter and son that it’s good that I go away and come home.

As farmers we spend a lot of time with our families and I don’t think it’s a bad thing for my kids to realize I have other commitments.

Q: Why do you think the majority of agriculture boards have very few women on them?

A: I think it’s been that way for a very long time and with everything, change isn’t always easy.

That being said, I feel the ag industry is starting to embrace change.

It’s valuable to have women on boards but it’s hard to get them out there. It’s a big time commitment and motherhood might tie into this.

I found it difficult deciding to spend that much time away from family. It wasn’t just my kids; it was husband and the farm too.

Q: How do you think the ag sector could get more women on boards?

A: Having role models out there and promoting the benefits of being on boards would help.

The Future Leaders Development Program [led by the Rural Ontario Institute] is probably going to help with this. When you look at the participant list there are a lot of females.

The three new EastGen board members, including myself, all took the course.

Q: What kind of experience have you had being a woman in agriculture?

A: It can be a challenge. If you ask any woman if they’ve been judged, ignored, or treated differently, they’re going to say yes. It might be one story or it might be a lot more.

It’s not really worth my time to dwell on those stories and the majority of my experiences have been extremely positive.

I’ve had so many people that are welcoming and helped me on my journey.

Q: What is challenging about being a woman in agriculture?

A: It’s not always in me to speak up and sometimes that’s good and sometimes it’s not. Some things are worth fighting for while others are not.

I think more than anything money talks and if I don’t feel like I am getting the respect I deserve, I just won’t go that way.

Being a woman in agriculture, it definitely helps you to become more assertive. There is no doubt, at least in our area, when you go to a meeting; there are not too many women there, which is really unfortunate.

Q: What would you tell other women about being a farmer and having a career in agriculture?

A: It’s a very rewarding career and it’s a great way to raise your family.

I’d also say it’s definitely a challenge and some days might seem impossible but once you get through them you’re that much stronger.

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