It was the hottest October week on record. I was standing in the Waurn Ponds Bunning’s, two days before our wedding, picking up some last minute bits and pieces. This was my chance to prove to my almost husband that I could be helpful in bringing together the massive feat that was our DIY wedding, on my family farm near Dunkeld. Most of that ‘preparation week’ I’d been observing him string up festoon lights and build an entire stage, while I’d been standing in the entrance to the cottage − the only place with decent mobile reception helping out with phone interviews for the Future Farmers Network (FFN) Board positions for the coming year. It was while I was at Bunnings that I got a call from DEDJTR asking if I would accept the position of Chair of the Young Farmer Ministerial Advisory Council (YFMAC). Turns out that first week in October 2015 was a pretty big week for me!
YFMAC was an election promise by Victorian Minister for Agriculture Jaala Pulford. Its membership of 11 represents rural regions and industries across Victoria, as well as a huge amount of experience. Our role is to provide recommendations to the Minister and her team on opportunities and actions to support young farmers and young people in Victorian agriculture.
Once the initial excitement of being offered the position of YFMAC Chair started to wear off; somewhere between the paint isle in Bunnings and the car park, I was soon facing a crisis of confidence. Did I have enough experience?
I define mentoring as an informal but mutually beneficial relationship, where a more experienced person helps to guide a less experienced person
What could I bring to the role? Why did they ask me? I’ve never done anything like this before. The ten or so years in agribusiness after working on farms since I was a child, being involved in the Scottish Young Farmers Club, gaining a degree in Farm Management, being a Future Farmers Network Board Director, leading a farm tour around Europe and co-founding a networking group for young people in Agriculture based in Melbourne, had suddenly escaped my mind.
Despite the reality of balancing many competing roles including family and community, many women in agriculture confront similar feelings of self-doubt that I experienced when considering leadership roles. Mentoring and networking have been very influential in my career pathway. I define mentoring as an informal but mutually beneficial relationship, where a more experienced person helps to guide a less experienced person. I’m very grateful that I’ve had the support of some fabulous mentors who have helped me navigate many different situations in my professional life. I came to understand the value of mentoring at a time when I was struggling in a job I wasn’t enjoying and looking for a new challenge. Around this time I reached out to my very first mentor – my mum − and she encouraged me to work on my network.
Being based in Melbourne I was keen to find other like-minded young people working in agriculture. With so many agribusiness head offices such as Landmark, The Weekly Times, John Deere, rural banks and grain traders being city based, I felt certain I wasn’t the only person in this position. Eventually with my good friend Belinda Bassingthwaighte, we established a successful network for young people based in Melbourne. Called AgNext, the network brought together young people working in agriculture but also passionate about the industry.
The informal guidance and support of mentors helped us to deliver this initiative. Today the VFF Young Agribusiness Professionals (YAPs) hold their Metro Muster events in Melbourne, as well as their regional forums. It is great to see these networking opportunities available for young people in the industry, no matter where they are based.
Victorian Agriculture has many amazing women, and men involved in a range of industries, in many roles. There are many ways people can find their voice, find a mentor (and be a mentor) and to build valuable networks. What a great opportunity, let’s grab it!
Networking opportunities in any capacity are especially important for rural people who face the many and varied challenges of farming, in conjunction with social isolation. A good example is an online network formed in the midst of the dairy crisis in 2016: the Facebook page and hashtag Show some #dairylove. Instigators Di Bowles and Cath Jenkins created the page as a ‘positive and happy place’ to share some love for the dairy industry at a time when it was hitting rock bottom. Over a year later the page now has a following of over 12,000.
Each YFMAC member also has a fantastic story and is doing great things in their industry and/or local region. Joining the network that has become the YFMAC has been a rewarding opportunity. The group and their commitment to agriculture constantly inspire me.
The young women on this Council are exceptional. For example Sarah Thomson, currently an Extension Officer with Murray Dairy, started out with no agricultural background but has successfully worked her way up to this position. Stories like hers need to be shared when the industry needs to attract new people: you don’t have to grow up on a farm to work in agriculture.
YFMAC and Victorian Agricultural Advisory Committee (VAAC) member Prue Milgate ensures both of these groups work in collaboration. She is a farmer, a new mother and has given a huge amount to the industry in different roles over the years. These are just two of the committed YFMAC members and industry advocates. We are so fortunate to have these and many other talented people on our side. Finally, it’s great to see the Victorian Rural Women’s Network being re-established and events like the Rural Women’s forum taking place. Victorian Agriculture has many amazing women, and men involved in a range of industries, in many roles. There are many ways people can find their voice, find a mentor (and be a mentor) and to build valuable networks. What a great opportunity, let’s grab it!
Follow Caitlin Scholfield @CJSchoey