Steering agriculture in the right direction
Whether driving a livestock truck or guiding a board of directors, Christine Schoonderwoerd is paving the way for women in ag
Christine Schoonderwoerd is a farmer and mom of four who's also a professional in the Ontario agriculture industry.
In her spare time, if that's even a thing for working farmwomen these days, Christine leads one of the most well known boards in the industry. She chairs Farm & Food Care Ontario and she's the first woman ever to do so.
In between work, family and volunteer responsibilities, Christine agreed to be profiled for this column and I am glad she did because I think her story is one that others will relate to.
Yes, she's a woman in ag who does a lot and has many roles but at one time she wasn't sure if the industry was even the right place for her.
It was a job working as a livestock transporter, of all things, that showed Christine agriculture is where she was meant to be.
That part right there had me intrigued. I mean, how many female transport drivers in agriculture do you know? The rest of her story was pretty great too.
The following is an edited transcript of my interview with Christine as told from one woman in ag to another.
Q: Can you tell me a little bit about your background?
A: I grew up on a hog and grain farm near Mitchell with one brother who was 14 years older than me, and a sister who was 13 years older.
I wasn't involved in the farm growing up. I really had no interest in it.
That being said, I went to Ridgetown College for my diploma in agriculture. I then attended the University of Guelph and earned a Bachelor of Science in agriculture and a post-graduate diploma in agricultural communications.
Q: Why did you choose to stay in the agriculture industry as an adult?
A: I took a job after high school driving truck for a local livestock transportation company. It was then I realized how much I loved agriculture and I still can't imagine working in any other industry.
Q: What was it about that job that made you realize your love for ag?
A: I think growing up on a farm, maybe I took it for granted or didn't care and of course as a teenager, you listen to everyone but your parents.
Driving truck wasn't a traditional path for me to take and I got a lot of really weird looks driving a livestock truck at 17 years old.
I would see farmers throughout the day and I got talking to them and it struck me the passion they had in their work.
I loved animals but I didn't know what I wanted to do so that job gave me direction. I realized I loved interacting with farmers so I decided that was how I wanted to spend my days working.
Q: Tell me about the work you do today.
A: For the past 10 years, I've worked for Wallenstein Feed & Supply.
I started out in marketing and communications but since returning from maternity leave last year, I've transitioned into the role of assistant manager of the WFS ruminant division.
WFS has been very supportive of me throughout my career, in particular to challenge myself to take on roles I might otherwise be too shy to attempt like becoming chair of Farm & Food Care Ontario.
The company actually nominated me to be on the FFCO board in 2015
Christine with her husband Darrell and their four children Cameron, Julia, Henry and Della
Q: Can you tell me more about what you do with Farm & Food Care Ontario?
A: I joined the board in 2015 as a director and eventually was nominated for vice-chair and now chair.
I am the first female chair of the board and I do all sorts of things like facilitate meetings, work with member groups, and set policy with the directors.
Being chair, I am very passionate about earning public trust in food and farming. I believe we are at a critical time in making this happen, and I am a huge believer in collaboration within the
Q: Do you think there is a lack of women in leadership roles on Ontario agricultural boards?
A: I personally think we've seen a major shift in that.
We sometimes hear a lot of negative things about how women are suppressed on boards and don't get opportunities and that's hard for me to understand because I've never experienced that.
I have felt so utterly encouraged by the men and women sitting around the board. They thought I was the best person for the job, not necessarily the best woman.
Q: What kind of experience have you had being a woman in agriculture?
A: I feel very fortunate to say I have never felt discriminated against as a woman working in agriculture.
In my career, I have had both men and women encouraging me and I feel thankful for that.
I honestly don't feel that I have faced many, or any, challenges because I am a woman.
Q: Can you tell me about your involvement with the Ag Women's Network?
A: I joined AWN pretty much as soon as it started. Jen Christie (AWN's founder) was a classmate of mine and she invited me to be a part of the group.
It interested me because I hadn't seen anything like it before and I thought 'how cool.'
As a member of AWN, I like to follow along with what other women in the industry are doing.
I like reading the profiles and I love seeing people developing in their own areas of specialty in agriculture.
I think it's really cool to see what old classmates are doing and hear about the different directions we've all gone in.