One year later …

Around this time a year ago, I was just about ready to throw up.  I was full of nervous anticipation, and had written, and was rehearsing, the acceptance speech for the Rural Women’s Awards, “just in case” I was lucky enough to win. We stayed in Melbourne the night before the announcement, and I can remember being in our hotel room feeling absolutely sick and getting a pep talk from Hugh – he told me just to assume I’d already won, so that I’d be completely ready when my name was called.


Amazingly, he was right, and when my name was announced I reckon I fooled everyone into thinking I felt confident. Now, 52 weeks later, I’m writing my speech for the ceremony on April 14 where I’ll hand over to this year’s winner. So technically I’m only on the job for another couple of weeks, but it’s had such a lasting impact on my life that I’m not expecting things to change too much after the announcement.

hugh-katie-mayor-big-chequeFor a start, I’m very aware of the investment that RIRDC (Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, who run the Rural Women’s Awards) have made in me, particularly by funding me to do the AICD (Australian Institute of Company Directors) course. I figured that seeing as how I passed the course, I’d better use it, and so I’ve just accepted a role on the board of the Maldon and District Community Bank. I know a sum total of nothing about the banking industry, but I know lots about community, so I figured it was the perfect opportunity for me to put my training to use, get some new skills, and learn about something completely outside my normal life.  Except it’s not, is it? Unless you live under a rock, banking and the financial sector actually has a big impact on us all – and what attracted me to the community bank model is that it was set up specifically to return the profits (made from OUR money) directly back to the community – banking with heart!(I sound like a slogan, I know, but I’m actually really excited to learn about it!)


So that’s one of the more concrete things to have come out of this year, plus the fact that as part of the RWA alumni, I am now part of a community of women who get asked their opinion about stuff, like at the recent Women in Agriculture Forum held by Victorian Minister for Agriculture Jaala Pulford, where past RWA winners were well represented along with lots of other rural women leaders and emerging leaders. There was a lot of discussion at the Forum about how hard it can be for women to find the confidence to step up and find their voice, and that’s one of the main differences I feel from this time 12 months ago. Directly after I won the award I suffered from a big dose of Imposter Syndrome, feeling terrified that someone might find out what a complete fraud I was!  That feeling still pops up at times (like when I find myself invited to Parliament House, for example!), but I can now recognise it and put it back in its box where it belongs, so I can get on with the business at hand.

Of course running my project has also been a big part of this year, and I’ve learnt lots about both project management and about the topic (using social media to connect farmers at farmers markets directly to their customers). It’s yielded some interesting results and is still ongoing. Two of my big passions are farmers markets and farmers using social media to improve their marketing, and the chance to work on a big project around it was why I applied for the award in the first place.

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What else? Along the way I’ve also had lots of opportunities to inflict my fledgling public speaking skills on unsuspecting audiences, I’ve been to numerous conferences and forums, and I’ve made some really great contacts and friends, particularly with the other RWA state winners.


But I think the most important part of the whole experience has been an internal one (inevitably). It’s hard to articulate, but I think I feel different now because I’ve been treated like a leader all year, by everyone I’ve come into contact with as part of the award, from the wonderful people at RIRDC and the Dept of Economic Development (who help run the award) to the Minister of Agriculture.  They’ve all seemed to assume that not only did I deserve to win the award, but that I’d have the skills and qualities I needed to manage everything that was asked of me along the way – and that’s been a very powerful and transformative process.

And do you know what? I think they were right!

RIRDC Victorian Rural Women’s Award

My project, called “Farmers Markets Building Communities” has been made possible by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) Rural Women’s Awards.

Do you love social media, or hate it?

Social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, you name it – is ubiquitous. It’s so much part of modern life that it’s almost pointless even contemplating whether you think it’s good or bad, though luckily, we all get to choose whether, and how much, we participate! If you follow the Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens Facebook Page, you’ll already know it’s the main way we spread our news, like the day we met Costa…

meeting costa facebook post

The project I’ve been running this year with my RIRDC Rural Womens’ Award prize bursary is called Farmers Markets Building Communities and it’s all about teaching stallholders at farmers markets how they can use social media – in this case Facebook – to bring more customers to the market.  So I’ve been talking to lots of farmers and other stallholders about social media and believe me, everyone’s got an attitude about it (and it’s often not very complimentary).

Some cheerful participants at a recent "Facebook for Farmers" workshop
Some cheerful participants at a recent “Facebook for Farmers” workshop

The reality though, if you’re in small business (at the least the type of small business we are – a small organic farm selling at Farmers Markets) is that it’s almost irrelevant what YOU think about Facebook, because like it or not, that’s where your customers are! If you want to market your business effectively, you’d be kinda crazy not to wrap your head around social media.

Here’s a few stats that might convince (or horrify) you about why Facebook is a handy business tool:

  • 10 million Australians use it every day
  • They spend an average of 1.7 hours on it
  • They check in an average of 14 times each day
  • 5 million people watch a video every day
  • Food and recipes are one of the most common topics discussed (and photographed!)

The age of the average Facebook user is a bit older than the average Twitter user, but guess what? The age of the average farmers market shopper is too. Guess where most of our potential farmers market customers are? Yep, they’re on Facebook.

It’s not all about business though. The bit we like best is that we get to actually have a relationship with our customers. Facebook, Twitter, and even this blog let us have a dialogue with all the people connected to our business, many of whom are also friends. I can’t tell you the number of times someone has commented to me, in person, about a post they’ve read, and we’ve gone on to have a great conversation.

We love being able to make "spur of the moment" announcements.
We love being able to make “spur of the moment” announcements.

We love that social media lets us talk directly to our customer more effectively, more affordably, and in a more targeted way, than ever before. Previously we had to spend lots of money on newspaper ads that were shown to everyone (regardless of whether they were likely to be interested in us), and they saw it once! For the same budget we can talk directly to the people who ARE likely to be our customers, and who live where we’re likely to be doing a market, for a fraction of the price.

So, thank you to everyone who’s out there reading this blog, ‘liking’ our Facebook posts, and engaging with us on Twitter. You’re part of our Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens family, and it really helps to break down the barrier of isolation that so often affects farmers. We feel like we’re part of a community, we feel like you’re sharing the farming journey with us every step of the way, and we appreciate it!

Now I just have to figure out a way to influence those farmers markets stallholders who think they should be using social media, but haven’t quite got over their prejudices yet!

RIRDC Victorian Rural Women’s Award – week 34

Recently and coming up:

  • Met with my project mentor to discuss how it’s going
  • Met with Melbourne Farmers Markets to discuss my proposal for the next stage of the project
  • Heading off to Canberra this week to speak at the NASAA (National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia) national conference
  • Being interviewed in Macquarie Radio this week
  • Taken part in a RIRDC study into collaborative business approaches for primary producers
  • Found out I passed the Company Directors Course, and booked my place for the award presentation evening!

My project, called “Farmers Markets Building Communities” has been made possible by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) Rural Women’s Awards.


Victorian Rural Woman of the Year – My Journey

Week 1…

A week has gone by since winning the award, and it feels like a month! The first few days themselves each seemed a week, but now I’ve had a few days’ holiday (pre-booked before the Awards ceremony), and am feeling full of energy and enthusiasm to get started on my project.

There have also been quite a few more media interviews, like this one in the Bendigo Advertiser, and a few others which I’ve included at the end of the Blog.

katie rwa bendigo advertiser

However the one I’m most excited about is an interview I had today with the The Core, the tiny newspaper in our little town of Harcourt, circulation 600—but that’s 600 locals, many of whom have known me since I was a kid! As I was writing this I had a phone call from the mother of a girl I went to Harcourt kindergarten and primary school with, congratulating me. It’s made me very aware that winning this award is not just a thrill for the me, but has also sent a ripple of pride through my family, friends and community – which is both a real honour, and a big responsibility. I’m very aware that I’d better do a good job with my project, because there are lots of people watching! As  it says on the RIRDC website, the Award is an amazing opportunity to further your leadership development, make a tangible difference and inspire others, so I’d better get to it…

So, to the project. I spent most of Saturday at our stall at Wesley Hill market explaining to people that this is a project-based Award. While the recipient needs to be established in their industry and have good leadership potential, they are then expected to use the Award bursary of $10,000 to implement a project. My project is about helping small and medium-sized farmers to get more control over the way they sell their produce, by building strong communities around them, and around the farmers markets they attend, using social media.

In part, I want to help farmers tell their stories – our experience on our farm is that consumers are really keen to connect with where their food comes from and how it’s produced, and social media is a very easy and effective tool to provide that connection. Telling the stories helps people feel connected to the farmers and builds a committed customer base, as long as it’s backed up with fantastic produce, of course! I also want to get farmers and farmers markets working together more closely to help build stronger communities around each farmers market. It’s a pretty simple idea, but one that I think has lots of potential to increase demand for local produce and farmers markets.

I’ve started work on my project plan and trying to organise all my ‘good ideas’ into an achievable plan. I figure that by putting a bit of energy into planning, I’ll probably achieve a lot more and save myself time in the long run, so Hugh is helping me out by looking into project planning software. I don’t have much experience with running projects of this scale, but I’m sure I don’t need to re-invent the wheel, and there is no doubt some brilliant software that will guide me in the planning process. I also have my business adviser’s voice in my head reminding me to set S.M.A.R.T. goals – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic (or Relevant) and Time-bound – thanks Clare!

The natural way I approach new projects (and my whole life, actually) is to talk to people. On committees and community groups I’m always part of a team, and I find the bringing together of skills, ideas and energy around a table is what gets most projects up and running, and keeps them on track. A few years ago I gave myself the gift of deciding to be involved in community groups and committees that are aligned with my values, and not to over-commit (though I also subscribe to the philosophy that you’re a long time dead, so you might as well make good use of the time you’ve got)! It’s paid off, as these days I LOVE all the groups I’m involved with, and really enjoy using my time, skills and energy with them to achieve things.

However this project is different. Rather than being part of a community group with a common purpose, I’m solely responsible for this one!

So, I figure my best strategy is to build a mentor group around me, so I still get to be part of a team of people I love working with. In a way it’s a big ask, expecting people to get involved in my project when I’m the recipient of the Award, but I’ve already had some really fantastic offers of help, which I will definitely be following up in the days and weeks to come.  I’m also encouraged that at the alumni lunch after the Awards ceremony last week, RIRDC expressed their enthusiasm for the concept of providing Award recipients with some mentoring assistance – so that’s my first lead to follow up.

The mentor/mentee relationship is an interesting one. At the alumni lunch, one of the previous Award winners made the point that mentoring is a skill that needs to be learned, and just because someone’s been in a leadership role doesn’t mean they necessarily have the skills or capacity to mentor someone else. Also, what does it really mean when someone offers to help? And what sort of help will I need to pull this off? All of these questions require more thought, and hopefully lots of discussions over cups of tea with lots of lovely women!

In the meantime, we’re getting ready for the free Grow Great Fruit workshop we’re presenting on Sunday morning at 10.15 am at the Sustainable Food and Wine Fair, part of the Whitehorse Sustainable Living Week Festival in Box Hill, Melbourne. Costa’s going to be there too….we’re excited!!!


Many thanks to RIRDC for their fantastic support of Australian rural women by making these Awards possible.


As a postscript, I’ll be using this blog to keep track of some of the media interviews I’ve had, because it helps to share the experience, and is a great collection of photos that will help me to remember this year!

The Weekly Times

FarmOnline: The Land

Premier’s Department press release

Stock and Land online

ABC Local radio, mornings with Fiona Parker

The Core

Main FM – the Breakfast Club