Multi-tasking skills prove valuable on farm boards

Making space for women at the farm association table is something Anneke Stickney is passionate about.

Whether it’s around the kitchen table or the board table, Stickney has either balanced a baby bump or a baby on her hip for six years, while building a reputation for herself as a farmer, mentor and leader.

At one of her first meetings her oldest son, was a baby on her hip. She and her husband sat a table by themself; it wasn’t until all the other tables were full that someone else joined them.

“Now six years later, every meeting I attend, there is a baby or there are young kids present,“ she said. “Every (egg producer) meeting I went to I was either pregnant or I had a baby with me.”

Stickney said after seven years, and four children, Alexander, 6, Blake, 5, Colton, 3, and Dawson, 1, she went to her first meeting without being pregnant or holding a baby, but there were still two babies present and no one batted an eye.

It may be a simple change, but it’s an important one on the road to recognizing women are capable of running a farm business and contributing to the industry on many levels while balancing family.

“I think it’s opened the doors and given (women) more opportunity to be in that leadership role . . . knowing that their life also involves their family and their kids,” said Stickney. “They know that that person is still very capable of being there, being present and doing what they're required to do.”

The 34-year-old, although raised on an egg and broiler farm with her two sisters and brother, didn’t see farming in her future. Instead, she branched out into the business and finance world graduating from the University of Guelph-Humber in 2007 with an Honours degree in Bachelors of Business Administration and a diploma in business administration with a specialization in small business.

“I was working for the bank as a teller when I was in school and always had a desire to be in the lending industry or the business industry,” she said. “Seeing my parents always deal with the banks – that’s kind of the route I was going.”

In 2011 she married Corey Stickney and a year later her parents, John and Anne Donkers, approached them with the opportunity to purchase the homestead where the built their layer operation after they emigrated from Holland in the 1980s.

After much discussion, the two bought the farm and began building Stickney Poultry Farm’s reputation and raising their own family in the same house Stickney grew up in.

“We both quit our jobs, he left in May I left at the end of June . . . and went from newly married to newly working together and spending 24 hours a day with each other,” she said, laughing. “The lifestyle is completely different. You're literally running your farm and your family 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

Within a short time, the Stickney’s expanded their operation to include broilers in addition to the approximately 50,000 layers they were already managing.

As her family grew so did Stickney’s involvement in a the Egg Farmers of Ontario (EFO) association where she’s served six years as a Zone 7 councillor and has coordinated the hard-boiled egg donation program which provides approximately 20 schools within Grey-Bruce, Dufferin and Wellington Counties with the nutritious snack. She was the EFO’s 2019 representative for the National Young Farmers program and is an active member of the Ag Women’s Network (AWN). In her spare time, she volunteers at her children’s preschool and is currently nominated as a broiler district representative for the Chicken Farmers of Ontario, which will be announced later this month.

The key to Stickney’s balancing act might be she puts her family first and incorporates her parenting reality into every aspect of her life, without apology.

“Moms always have that mom guilt, it's how do you run your business, build your leadership skills or be able to get involved without feeling guilty?” she said.

Stickney said AWN plays a big role in keeping her on track because they understand the guilt but also the desire to continually move the bar for women in the industry.

“Everyone’s goal is the same; we all want to be successful but we all want to support one another and to the best of our abilities,” she said. Stickney joined the group in 2017 and has served as board treasurer for three years

“When I joined there was a big push, a movement for advancing women in leadership roles,” she said. “This network kind of gave us an opportunity to bounce back ideas off other females and ask what other events are taking place that we can participate in.”

The face-to-face meetings are one of the things Stickney enjoys the most, and said one roundtable involving past, present and future women directors had a huge impact on all those who participated.

“Part of the meeting was everyone telling their story, but giving everyone else the confidence they can do what they want to do,” she said.

Stickney isn’t close to reaching the summit of her “to do” list, this month she’s headed to Prince Edward Island to participate in the Know Your Numbers campaign through Young Farmers of Canada and RBC world bank.

“We’re at the point where we're trying to make a transition in our farm,” she said. “I think this will allow me to dive into the financials of how that transition is going to impact essentially our bottom line, or what changes can I do to make that transition?”

Stickney is aware that her four boys are watching her and her husband the same way she used to watch her mother and father run a business together while balancing and nourishing a family.

She said even though the boys are young every decision they make is part of a long-term goal of providing them with a future in farming if that is the direction they chose.

It’s also about ensuring the see how equal the partnership is between their parents when it comes to building the farm business.

“I hope they realize in their life that whatever a male can do a female can do and to know there's no divide between a man's job and a woman's job,” she said.

Anneke Stickney is a businesswoman, a farmer, a daughter, wife and mother, a mentor, volunteer and an agvocate for agriculture and the women in it.

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