The CONNECT Celebration of Women in Farming inspires and empowers women in agriculture.

Last year, a new event emerged that shone a spotlight on the often-unsung backbone of the agriculture industry: the women – mothers, wives and family members – who often play a key role behind the scenes.

The CONNECT Celebration of Women in Farming is a two-day conference hosted by Emerge Ag Solutions in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The event draws attendees from all over the province, as well as a handful from other parts of Canada, and aims to engage, educate and empower the women who work in and alongside agriculture operations.

“For me, I’ve always been passionate about agriculture because of my background, growing up with my mom and grandma being strong farm women,” says Lacey Owens, co-founder of CONNECT and communications officer at Emerge. “This event is an appreciation of what farm women do behind the scenes.”

Celebrating Women’s Contributions to Agriculture

Now in its second year, CONNECT was conceived when Owens, along with her husband Matt, CONNECT co-founder and head of marketing, innovation and business development at Emerge, noticed that the female contingent of their customers didn’t have the same level of industry engagement as others.

“With the other grower meetings we host, we find a lot of times that very few women come out to them, and yet they are playing a major role on the farm and doing a lot of decision making and cheque writing,” says Owens.

“With this event, we kind of wanted to create a platform that was welcoming for women to come out and learn a little bit more about our industry, and at the same time give them a celebration that they’ve never really had for the roles that they play.”

Owens says that although she has been to other conferences geared specifically towards women, she found they were focused on those more heavily involved in the industry. The idea for the CONNECT Conference was to offer women at all levels of involvement in agriculture the opportunity to meet others and learn new things.

“There are a lot of farm women who don’t have as much involvement on the farm,” she says. “So we try to welcome them and bring them out to it so they can learn a little bit more and be proud of the industry. In that sense, I feel it helps new people become interested in agriculture, promote it and be proud of it.”

A Powerful Voice

Pride is something Owens says she hopes all women take away from the conference this year. One of the major topics that will be covered is how to engage in conversations about agriculture with those who have negative views of the industry or who don’t have any knowledge about it at all.

“CONNECT is all about promoting agriculture and trying to connect with consumers and find different channels to do that,” Owens explains. “We feel that farm women are one of our best resources when it comes to education and telling the story about agriculture, because they’re the ones who are primarily purchasing food and talking to other moms.”

“All of these conversations come up surrounding modern agriculture, like genetically modified seeds and pesticides versus organic, and those are conversations that I feel happen more with women than with men. We felt that farm women are our first avenue to educate so they are able to answer these questions and tell their story, and be proud of where they come from and what they do, so they can share that with other people around the world.”

Taking Part in the Conversation

One of the speakers at this year’s conference will be providing information on the best ways to have those sometimes difficult conversations. Cherilyn Nagel, a grain and oilseeds farmer from Saskatchewan, speaks to farmers regularly through Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan sessions on ways to participate in the conversations surrounding agriculture.

“We’ve kind of forgotten about telling the story of agriculture to consumers,” Nagel says. “We’ve been so excited about the new technology and about how fast things are growing and all the really exciting stuff that’s happening on the farm that we forgot to tell the consumers about it. And that’s really what we’re seeing: this tremendous disconnect between the consumers and their food and the people who grow it.”

According to Nagel, there are opportunities for everyone in the industry, including women who may not necessarily be hands-on around the farm, to participate in educating consumers and promoting agriculture. Her plan is to inspire CONNECT attendees with her presentation, but also to leave them with some information they can use in the future.

“I want them to take away encouragement that yes, they have a role to play,” she says. “Maybe even a little bit of peer pressure. Everybody has to participate in some way. But also, I’d like to send them home with resources. If they feel unequipped to have a conversation or to put on a presentation, I want to showcase for them what resources are available, especially through Farm & Food Care Canada and Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan, and how they can use that team of people to help them find a way to participate.”

Connecting at CONNECT

While there will be a heavy emphasis on education and motivation during the conference, the event is also meant to allow women to mingle and have some fun. Heather Boensch, director of business resources at United Suppliers Canada, attended the first CONNECT Conference last year and says she would recommend the event to other women.

“The CONNECT Conference covered a broad range of interesting topics and speakers,” Boensch says. “The organizers did a great job of creating opportunities for participants to network and get to know each other. Listening to people connecting and talking about their experiences was so great to hear. It’s great to have that opportunity where people all get together and share their experiences and their passion for agriculture, and I honestly think that the conference is great for doing exactly what it’s called – it’s connecting people.”

Last year, over 300 women attended CONNECT, and Owens says she is expecting to sell out the 470 available seats this year. She says the event was met with great enthusiasm from participants last year and she received positive feedback via Twitter and email.

Inspired by the success of this conference, Owens says that Emerge may continue to look at other ventures to help bring together the Canadian ag industry in the future.

“One comment that we got about the CONNECT Conference last year was that we filled a gap that nobody even knew was there until now,” she says. “That’s kind of what we’re looking for. We’re trying to fill those gaps. So whatever we do, we want to make sure that it’s going to be very worth it and it’s going to be great.”


 

CONNECT Conference 2016

The Heart of the Farm: Celebration of Women in Farming

Date:     November 2 and 3, 2016 (opening reception and early registration taking place November 1, 2016 at 7:00 p.m.)

Location:     Sheraton Cavalier, 612 Spadina Crescent East, Saskatoon, SK

Cost*:     $395 per person, $3,000 per table of 8

*Until November 1, 2016

This year’s speakers will cover a variety of topics important to farm practices as well as a healthy work/life balance. Curtis Weber of High Voltage Consulting will speak on farm safety, Cherilyn Nagel will promote active conversations about agriculture, Amanda Hudye of Sleepwell Consulting will discuss healthy sleep habits, Karen Turner will speak on time management and Katie Dilse will leave the audience inspired and exhausted by laughter as she shares some of her experiences as a North Dakota farm woman. Chris Soules, an Iowa farmer and participant on The Bachelor will attend as a celebrity speaker.

Other activities will include a private tradeshow shopping experience, cooking demos and a fashion show. For more information or to register, visit www.connectag.ca.

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