Why 'STEM' Should Be 'STEAM'

Today marks Agriculture Day in Canada.

I’m not sure how many Canadians knew this day was being celebrated by people like myself - a dairy farmer's daughter whose passion for agriculture and communications (with politics thrown in there) led to an agricultural communications role working in provincial politics at Queen's Park.

Agriculture is an industry I really love working in.  

According to my Instagram poll late tonight, which includes a mixed audience of both those in and outside of agriculture, thankfully 67% (or 130 respondents) knew it was #CdnAgDay.

Whether you knew it was Ag Day or not, or work in agriculture or not, we all have one major thing in common - something we can relate too - and that is food.

The other thing we can all most certainly relate too, is having a job.

We all need food to eat and most of us have a job or aspire to have a job. So there, we at have at least two things in common now to continue this productive conversation.

On a day like today, in some instances, it feels like we in agriculture across Canada are a passionate group of people..... who preach to the choir.

It is on days like today, I am reminded of how our industry needs to position ourselves in a way that catches the attention of the 98% of Canadians who do not come from a farm or know anything about agriculture-food.

We need to sell our agri-food industry in a way that is cool and makes young graduates and people WANT to come work with us, much like how the STEM movement has captured the attention of many soon-to-be high school graduates and young career professionals.

Its why I think the movement around STEM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Math) should actually be called STEAM, with the 'A' proudly standing for Agriculture.

I am fascinated by the conversation around STEM-related careers. Even here in Canada, we have made it a trendy topic, promoting STEM jobs to Canadian youth. Our Canadian government even launched a campaign in 2017 to encourage young women to choose science. Bravo!

In a fast-paced digital society that is becoming more of a knowledge-based economy, attracting top talent to our agri-food sector will be imperative to fill the more the more than 100,000+ jobs we are going to need to fill in the next decade.

The crazy part? The demand for students with an agriculture-related degree far outweighs the supply of graduates! Just read this University of Guelph report that states "there are 4 jobs for every OAC graduate entering Ontario’s food and agriculture sector."

In all the excitement discussing STEM, we're missing a critical industry that continues to push the envelope in innovation. Agriculture.

An industry that really, in some instances, combines science, technology, engineering and math ALL in one. Agriculture and food combines practical know-how, research and application to create things that we use every day and perhaps take for granted. Things like environmentally-friendly coffee pods, the Yukon Gold potato and for some Canadian dairy farmers, an app for their smartphone that helps farmers monitor and treat ketosis in their dairy cows. How cool is this?!

[Side note, people maybe don't even realize just how tech-savvy farmers really are and how actively they use their smartphone to do business and participate on social media! If you're looking for some examples, just ask me for some savvy farmers and agri-food professionals, I'd be happy to share]

These examples above are just a few that showcase leading-edge technology, research and innovation that takes place every day in our Canadian agri-food industry that consumers and industry benefits from. Examples that combine science, technology, engineering, math and agriculture to produce some pretty awesome results.

Agriculture has even embraced the conversation around the much-needed role of more women in our sector. Groups like Ag Women's Network in Ontario and Saskatchewan Women in Ag, have created a positive atmosphere to promote more women getting involved in agriculture and food. In fact, in the 2016 Canadian Census, the proportion of women who are farm operators increased to 27.8%, for the first time in 15 years! Its been a breathe of fresh air to see this movement take off.. and its a movement that is here to stay.

Canadian agriculture and food needs more savvy individuals to help us in our sector.

Enthusiast individuals and young graduates who can help us grow food; create sustainable and sound food policy; get food from farmers to processors; work in trade so more Canadian-grown food can be exported around the world to address food security; get food from processors to consumers; communicate agriculture's message to the masses; and market food more effectively so it eventually ends up on consumer's plates.

I know why this gap most likely exists in attracting top talent.

Its because we don't make our sector attractive enough or 'sexy' enough to market it and attract young graduates from non-farming backgrounds.

Much like the picture above of me in front of Queen's Park, when you think of agriculture and food related jobs, you probably don't picture someone like myself. This is the game-changer of our industry - you don't have to look like the stereotypical farmer with the straw hat and pitch fork in hand to work in agriculture and food. And you certainly don't need to come from a farm to work in agriculture and food.

Gone are the days where these stereotypes exists. Or at least, they should be by now. Its 2018.

We in the agri-food sector are savvy, sophisticated and passionate people who believe in what we do. Everyone along the value chain is playing a role to ensure the highest-quality, safest products are delivered 365 days a year to Canadian consumers and consumers around the world. For many of us, agriculture and food isn't just an industry we work in but a lifestyle we enjoy 365 days of the year. Not many industries can say this.

It is time we embrace the STEM movement and begin to promote STEAM.

This way, many needs are addressed - those of our agri-food industry who needs top, innovative talent; those of young millennial graduates looking for exciting new careers in an already tight job market; and those of our Canadian consumers who continue to need/want the best food possible.

Its a win-win for all. Now let's get out there and promote STEAM!#MakingAgriFoodCool

Things I Love About Our Country #Canada150

Happy belated Canada day, friends!

Now that I am (somewhat) caught up on sleep from what was an epic Canada day long weekend, which included celebrating my little brother's wedding, I wanted to share 6 of the things I love about our country to commemorate #Canada150. Hope you got to celebrate what was uniquely yours on Canada day!

[1. Food and wine]  - strawberry picking, pumpkin patches, cherries, maple syrup, lentils, there are so many amazing things I've been surprised to learn we grow, produce and harvest within our very own country. We truly have one of the safest, most sustainable food systems in the world with the abundance and variety of yummy foods we produce. We should also be proud of our emerging wine industry - we may be a few hundred years behind Europe in our wine production but our wines from BC and Ontario are still incredibly tasty too! The photo of the cherries above is actually our neighbour's cherry tree. Talk about eating and enjoying local?! #HowCoolIsThat

[2. The views and our 4 seasons] - I think it is fair to say we may have some of the most diverse, vast landscapes of any country in the world in part because of the 4 seasons we get to experience. From the mountain views, to the prairie flats, our waterways to the red dirt on the east coast, you can experience so much in just one country (even though it takes a far distance to get from one end to the other and 4 changes of clothing for each season!). I feel fortunate to have visited almost all Canadian provinces - the only two provinces I have yet to visit are Newfoundland and Saskatchewan which I have added to my travel bucket list! Some of my favourite views (of so many in our country) that I've been able to personally savour include mountains views from Sidney, BC and Banff/Lake Louise, AB; rocky shores in Lake-of-the-Woods/Kenora, ON; watching the northern lights in the prairie, Manitoba skies; harbour ocean-front views in North Rustico, PEI and one of my absolute favorite views, the calming, scenic views from my family's cottage on the Trent River in ON. Oh and fall is still my favourite season of them all :)

[3. Innovations and creations] - I didn't realize how many incredible innovations our country and Canadians are responsible. Some of them are life changing and some are the simple pleasures we and so many millions enjoy - things like insulin, peanut butter (one of my absolute favs!), the life vest, the electric wheelchair, backup lights on modern cars, garbage bags and the paint roller. You can read more awesome inventions here. Who knew how truly awesome we are?!

[4. The Great Lakes] - Being raised on the water, I've always been attached to the water and love a good deep breathe of fresh, water air (it could also be the fact that I am the water sign Cancer). Being from Ontario, I love how close we are to the Great Lakes, all 5 of which are just a drive a way to enjoy. I'll never forget learning in grade school how to remember the names of our 5 Great Lakes - remember the acronym HOMES (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior!) You are welcome :) Side note, my girlfriends and I thought the Great Lakes are so awesome that we got the sweatshirt I'm pictured in above, made last summer when we were all in Grand Bend #BestIdeaEver

[5. The Canadian game of Hockey] - The photo above of the goalie is of my very own husband Andrew in his glory days as a goalie for the University of Guelph. He has since hung up his pads, but I love how much we enjoy the game of hockey together. I've always been a huge fan (of not only him) but the game of hockey itself. I have loved being a fan in the stands since a young age and understand the game enough to rock our family hockey pool which I won this year ;)

[6. Our 'Canadianisms'] - There are so many awesome things that make us known as Canadians that I'm calling these our 'Canadianism's. Things like the iconic Hudsons Bay brand of colourful stripes (I have the paddle above!), maple syrup, poutine, Tim Hortons, the red maple leaf, our manners/politeness - these are just a few of the things that make us so uniquely known around the world as Canadians.

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Holding Ourselves Back

I am a proud woman working in the agriculture-food sector. It is an industry that has perhaps been viewed as more of a "boys only club" but women have and continue to play an important role in the industry, especially with many women-led initiatives like Ag Women's Network getting the attention they so deserve.

I am proud to have been raised by two strong parents who taught me I could do anything I dreamed of. Watching my mom on my family's dairy farm, working alongside my dad in the barn, and seeing how my dad treated her as an equal, was very empowering.

And because of this, I am proud to now be married to a man who appreciates a strong woman who is just as strong-willed, has just as strong of a work ethic, and can have an opinion just as much as he does. Andrew is the one who pushes me to be better and pursue my business endeavors including this one at The Passionate Voice.

Because I was also the oldest of four kids, I spent most of my days in the dairy barn with my dad and my brothers rather than spending time in the kitchen. To be honest, I still love it down at the barn with the cows more than being in the kitchen. This doesn't mean I don't love cooking or baking or keeping my house clean though. I love doing all of those.. and if you ask my husband, I am a pretty decent baker and cook (thanks to my mom who can milk cows AND is wonderful at cooking/baking!).

I am proud to be part of so many wonderful organizations outside of my day-to-day job that include committees/boards that are a mix of men and women and who celebrate strong women. There are also committees I belong too or events I attend that I'm proud to be associated with including Ag Women's Network, Lean in Canada and Women of Influence. I love what these events and committees stand for but sometimes I do laugh at the fact that while we talk about 'equality' and being treated 'fairly' by men, that we don't laugh at ourselves for having 'women only' events.

I am proud to have many strong women friends and mentors who come from not only agriculture, but from many other industries and places both rural and urban. Having a variety of friends and mentors from various backgrounds creates a wonderfully diverse network that you can rely on at any time. This doesn't mean that I don't have incredible male mentors and friends. I look up to my dad who, just like my mom, helped instill in me such powerful skills that I am so thankful to have as a woman.

What has become more and more apparent for me as I get further in my career, meet more women, address the much talked about 'glass ceiling' and soon enter motherhood come May, is that while we talk about breaking through this ceiling and wanting to be treated as equals, perhaps we as women need to self reflect first and realize that sometimes the only thing holding women are back... is ourselves. 

[Tweet ""Sometimes the only thing holding women back.. is ourselves" - The Passionate Voice"]

I've never felt like I have been held back for being a woman. If I didn't speak up, its not because they didn't let me, its because I chose not too. If I didn't come across seriously enough, it wasn't anyone else's fault but mine. I think realizing this has been extremely powerful for me as a woman.  I've never looked at myself any differently than my male counterparts which has helped me be bolder and more confident in what I want to say and what I want to do and accomplish.

Women are often held back because we hold ourselves back. Instead of wondering why men aren't inviting us to the table, invite yourself and sit at the head table, not at the side/back of the room as Sheryl Sandberg offered the same sentiment in her book, Lean In. Don't offer to take notes if that is what is expected of you. If you aren't asked for your opinion, speak up anyways. Think you have a valuable idea? Self promote like men do. Don't think that its 'shameless' self promotion. It's self promotion. Period. There is a lot to learn from our male counterparts. Yes, countries like Canada and the US haven't even elected a female Prime Minister or President yet but we're making huge strides to get there. I have faith that in my lifetime, we'll see it happen.

The reality is, is that men and women are different and sometimes yes, there are different expectations asked of women. We are asked to be tough yet sweet. Motherly yet stern. Be as good in the boardroom as we are in the kitchen. All while say raising kids and/or dealing with pregnancy. There are a roller coaster of emotions that women face that men don't.  But it doesn't mean that women can't have everything (and more!) that men do.

Women, we need to speak up more. We need to be more confident in our abilities.We need to be loud and proud and in a well-articulated and well-constructed way. We can garner the respect of our peers, both male and female. We can balance it all as long as we set our own personal boundaries as to what "balance" means to each of us individually without judgement. Yes we face challenges, but we can't forget that men face challenges too. And most importantly, we all have opportunities available to us.

Women have all the talent in the world. We just have to make sure, that above all else, the only person who isn't holding us back.. is ourselves. Have the confidence to be the person you want to be and make the change you want to see. Have it all... and then more.

Happy International Women's Day, friends! #IWD2017

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