Girls can be farmers too!

Having been a woman farmer for almost 20 years, and being around so many other awesome women farmers all the time, it’s easy to forget that most people still think of the stereotypical farmer as a man.

Luckily Kate Keegan, who is a producer at ABC ME, is aware that these stereotypes can make it harder for girls to choose some careers and came up with a brilliant idea for a television series to celebrate the International Day of the Girl called ‘If you see it, you can be it’.
Katie and Miley in the kitchen being filmed for ABC ME series If you see it you can be it
Katie and Miley in the kitchen being filmed for ABC ME series “If you see it you can be it”

The series matches young girls with interests and aspirations in particular fields with mentors, and Kate got in touch to see if I’d be interested in being involved in a ‘Farmer’ episode of this series.

Of course I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to simultaneously promote organic farming and farming careers for girls, so I said yes, and got to spend the day today being filmed with Miley, who is 8 and wants to be a farmer.

Being involved in the process of making a TV series was absolutely fascinating, and a real eye-opener. Kate and the production crew were incredibly friendly and non-intimidating, but they were also aiming for a great result, so Miley and I had to go through our paces LOTS of times for each little section of the production to make sure they had enough material for just the right combination of sound and video for each shot. It was pretty nerve-wracking at the beginning but as the day wore on we both got a bit more relaxed, and while we were making a cuppa in the kitchen Miley even came up with a great orchardy joke (hopefully it will be included in the final cut – look out for the joke about her friend Max).

Miley was accompanied by Mum, Lisa, and Dad, Adrian, who run a horse, cropping and sheep farm in western Victoria. They lead what sounds like a very exciting life breaking in horses and competing in rodeos (which explains all the cowboy boots at the door), though they assured me it has its fair share of mud, horse manure and repetitive jobs, just like all types of farming.


If Miley does decide to become a farmer she’ll be the sixth generation of her family to do so, and will be following the proud examples set by her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, all of whom took active roles on their farms.

It’s all too common for women on farms to think of themselves as the ‘farmer’s wife’, so it’s terrific for Miley to have the proud support of her family to think of herself – even at the tender age of 8 – as a potential farmer in her own right. I really hope she does go on to become a farmer, because farming’s an important job and we need farmers to feed the world!

All three episodes of the series (the other two are about a scientist and a firefighter) will air on October 11, the International Day of the Girl Child, on ABC ME. Now that I’ve seen the back end of the filming process, I can’t wait to see the finished product!

Cheers, Katie

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.