LEADERSHIP, STORYTELLING, AND mental health were among the key topics discussed at Grain Farmers of Ontario’s second Women’s Grain Symposium. The event brought together 30 female farmers and grain industry representatives, along with female staff members for two days of networking and learning through the sharing of experiences.
The highlight of the first evening was an address by Lisa Thompson, Minister of Education and MPP for Huron — Bruce. Thompson spoke about how her mother was always an example of leadership within her community and how the support of her family helped her succeed in politics. She also shared how she has been able to get action on issues of importance to her and her riding.
“You find your like-minded people and you build consensus,” says Thompson. “Whether on your farm or with the organizations you work with, you may come across a time when not everybody agrees with you, but then you take a step back and you figure out, ‘how do I bring people on side so they understand where I am coming from and why I am so passionate about this one initiative’?”
Donna Rogers can relate to having a strong female influence in her life.
“Growing up my mom was very involved in our farming operation but during that time she was very alone because she was so involved. She worked more with the men because there wasn’t that many women that were so directly involved,” says Rogers, a farm brand ambassador for Heartland Farm Mutual and a participant in the Women’s Symposium. “I love hearing how women now are so involved and are so open to telling their story.”
Storytelling was a key component of the Symposium, and Rogers appreciated the tools that were offered to help improve her communication and marketing skills during a session conducted by Heidi Davidson and Jeff Gadway of Galvanize Worldwide.
“Either good or bad, there is someone out there that can relate to your story and will seek you out,” says Rogers.
Davidson and Gadway, explained the most effective communicators start with the ‘why’ when sharing what and how they do things. It’s important to have an emotional through-line which keeps people engaged from the beginning to the end.
The Symposium also focused on networking and provided time for the participants to get to know one another better and encouraged them to continue these relationships going forward.
Marguerite Guilbeault, a delegate from Grain Farmers of Ontario District 1 (Essex), admits that networking isn’t her strong suit, but she saw other women pushing out of their comfort zones and that inspired her to do the same. She also appreciated that the Symposium gave her the time to get to know several women from her community better.
“We all commented on how we know each other, but we don’t see each other on a regular basis because we are all busy working in our own businesses,” says Guilbeault. “Two of them weren’t familiar with Grain Farmers of Ontario and this event allowed me to introduce them to the organization.”
Guilbeault wants to see more new faces attend the Symposium the next time it’s offered and hopes that other participants put their new skills into action and can continue to interact and be a peer support network online.
“Grain Farmers of Ontario wants to encourage more women to take more active roles as delegates and participate in the organization,” says Maegan MacKimmie, communications lead and Women’s Symposium coordinator.
The line up for the Symposium also included discussions on management, business resources, reaching out to consumers, leadership, and mental health.
“We utilized a focus group to determine how we could best support our female farmer-members. We selected our speakers based on topics we thought would be beneficial to them and provide a learning opportunity they might not otherwise get elsewhere, MacKimmie adds.”
Grain Farmers of Ontario plans to hold the next Women’s Symposium in 2020. Female farmer-members are encouraged to attend their January District Meeting to learn more about how they can become involved.
This article features a program coordinated by Grain Farmers of Ontario Member Relations. •