RIRDC Vic Rural Women’s Awards – Who Inspires You, Baby?



I can’t tell you how many times this week I’ve found myself saying “RIRDC – that’s Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, look them up online, they offer this amazing Award for rural women, you should enter,” or words to that effect!

I’m finding in my travels, and as I talk to lots of women about the Award, that many of them haven’t heard of it yet. Well! There’s a mission for me, to spread the word. It’s such a great opportunity to get more skills and take a step up towards leadership, as well as the very welcome financial support of the bursary to get your project done.

Of course there’s also other leadership opportunities, other courses, even other awards, for both women and men in agriculture and rural communities, and they’re all great. But first, you have to see yourself as the potential in yourself.

Lots of women seem to feel like it doesn’t apply to them – they don’t see themselves as leaders, or successful enough, or …. something … to even enter an award or start a leadership course, and I’m meeting them all the time. This week I met Sam, who regularly travels from her new home on the other side of Melbourne all the way back to Ballarat to work on the volunteer committee that organises the Ballarat Rural Living Expo (as well as other major events during the year). How’s that for dedication? I reckon she deserves an award!

Which brings me back to the question of who inspires you? One of the influential women for me, who helped set me on the path to winning this award, was Cathy McGowan, now independent MP for Indi, when she taught a Women in Organics course I was lucky enough to do a few years ago. And there are lots of other women who have been key in helping me believe in myself and give it a go. I’ve been thinking a lot about who inspires me, and some of them are well known, but many of them you will never have heard of, because they’re just quietly going about being leaders in their own field, or town, or family. All important, all inspirational. I started a list, but it got very long, very quickly, so I’m just going to tell you about three of them.

Clare – one of our Grow Great Fruit members who joined after their property was burned out by bushfire a few years ago. They saved their house but lost some of their precious stock and all but a few remnants of the garden, and had to start again from scratch. Since the trauma of the fire, they’ve dealt with illness and the rehabilitation of their property with endless good humour and persistence, and have been amongst our most active members, soaking up every scrap of information we can provide them about how to grow their own fruit and then asking for more. Jane and her husband are the sort of resilient folk that epitomise rural Australians.

Vandana Shiva – an Indian activist who actively campaigns against GMO technology and for a return to a more women-centred traditional farming model in India as a way of increasing prosperity for rural women and their families, while protecting the environment and food sovereignty. She’s awesome.

Cathy – from Bliss Blend organic teas, who has the stall next to us at Bendigo Community Farmers Market. Cathy started her organic tea business from scratch, and has come up with her own recipes, sourced all the organic ingredients (almost all Australian), come up with thoughtful and beautiful packaging, learned how to do her own marketing, and built a thriving small business from nothing. She’s just committed to the big step of attending an expensive interstate trade show, and I’ve got my fingers crossed she lands her first big contract, which will be just what she needs to expand her business to the next step. I can just see her as Australia’s organic tea queen (and can highly recommend her licorice tea – addictive!).

So, you’re surrounded by amazing women – and if you’re a rural woman, are no doubt one yourself! Who are you feeling inspired by?

Meanwhile back at Project Central, this week I’ve been

* interviewed by Southern Farmer newspaper;
* met with the lovely folk at the Victorian Farmers Markets Association to tell them about my project (that’s where I took the photo, just to show I occasionally get close to Giorgio Armani, even if I would never in a million years shop there!);
* writing the survey I’m going to send to all the stallholders at the pilot markets – Coburg and Castlemaine Farmers Market – and sending it to various mentors for feedback;
* organising a pruning crew – hooray!! – this is going to give me the time I need to work on the project;
* hosting a “Cooking for Numbers” group from Castlemaine Community House at the farm, telling them how small family farms like us market and sell our produce;
* doing fruit tree talkback on Local ABC radio;
* giving a fruit tree workshop to a packed marquee at the Ballarat Rural Living Expo;
* interviewing our new farm intern with Hugh;
* Hugh and I have been finalising negotiations to lease some land on the farm to some enterprising young women farmers who want to start a market garden; and
* having our annual NASAA farm inspection.

Wow. That was a big week, but honestly, aren’t they all? And after all, you’re a long time dead….

Vic Rural Woman of the Year – Week 3

Well, this has been a fun week!katie-at-desk-295x393

I’ve had the most fantastic goal-setting session this week, with one of the wonderful women who has offered to be a mentor for the project. Wow – talk about inspirational!

Clare got me to step back from the detailed project planning for a minute, and focus on the big picture – why am I doing the project, why did I apply for the award, and, most importantly, where do I want to be by the end of the project? And she insisted I be very specific!

What a great process…I must admit my thinking had become a little fuzzy (more on that later), but having to articulate the outcomes I’m trying to achieve helped me focus. It sounds pretty obvious, but if you start with the end in sight it’s easier to plan, to make decisions about whether to say yes or no to opportunities that come up, and to create opportunities that will help you get there. Goal setting 101!

My planning session also left me feeling very inspired about the possibilities of what I can achieve this year. I’m thinking like a bee (do bees think?) and imagining tapping into the ‘hive’ potential of the network of farmers that are around each farmers market. Getting farmers to tell their stories and connect with their community using social media is just the beginning. The magic happens (I hope!) by introducing the multiplier effect of working collaboratively – farmers and farmers markets together to connect with an exponentially growing audience!

And after my session with Clare, I now have a much clearer idea of exactly what I’m trying to achieve – how many markets I want to work with (2), how many farmers I want involved (at least 20 at each market), and how to know if the strategy is working (by measuring attendance at the markets). Awesome.

But you know what really excites me about the Award? (I know, I’m excitable, right?) The idea that a woman somewhere will hear me speak at some event about how social media and farmers markets gave us back control over our business, and go home that night and say to her partner… “I heard this woman talking today, and I think we could do what’s she’s doing.”  Now that would be satisfying.

So, back to the fuzzy thinking I’d been experiencing earlier in the week…apparently there’s a thing called ‘Imposter Syndrome’ – have you heard of it? I hadn’t, until Clare told me about it. It’s not uncommon (apparently) for people (particularly women) to feel like an imposter when they’re promoted or thrust into the limelight, or … they win an Award. Aha!  Here’s a link if you want to know more about it. If you’ve had feelings of being a fraud, or undeserving of your success, it’s worth a read. Thankfully I’ve recovered quickly, thanks to a neat little reframe Clare did for me.  It’s simple really – the congratulations and accolades that have come flooding in are a beautiful expression of goodwill from my community, pleased for me that I won something! Separate to that is the fact that I’m lucky enough to be able to use this Award over the next 12 months to achieve my goals. I don’t plan to waste another minute feeling that I don’t deserve to be here, I’m taking this ball and running with it. There’s only 49 weeks left, and I’ve got a lot to get done!

This week I’ve

  • been goal setting, both for the Rural Women’s Award project and all the other projects I’m working on
  • met with Linnet the lovely communications manager from Castlemaine Farmers Market to discuss CFM being my country pilot market
  • met with the lovely folk at Melbourne Farmers Markets to choose a pilot market in Melbourne
  • agreed to an interview request by the Australian Fruitgrower magazine
  • agreed to a speaking request by Castlemaine’s U3A group
  • followed up an offer to attend an Internet Business conference

Thanks to RIRDC for supporting rural women (and me!) through the Rural Women’s Award

Victorian Rural Woman of the Year Award – Week 2

Week 2 (I know, last week I said week 2, but it was really only week 1! I was maybe still a bit overwhelmed at that stage…)

Winning this award right now was perfect timing! Not only did it come almost at the end of our fruit season, when my farm work had settled from ridiculously busy to just ordinarily busy, but it also feels like it’s the right stage of my life—I don’t think I was ready for a challenge of this magnitude before now!


The last of our (five) children moved to Melbourne to start Uni a month ago (that’s him in the photo above). Yep, we’re empty nesters, which is a very bittersweet experience! Though it was delightful to see how excited, and ready, he was to spread his wings and leave home, it was uniquely sad to come home to a house full of empty bedrooms—but we had two WWOOFers (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) at the time, and three of the kids were home the following weekend, so we didn’t have long to feel sad!

And then came the dawning realization that there’s no more school run, no more sporting commitments, no more endless buying of stuff, no more school fees, no more sitting in the passenger seat while they get their 120 hours driving practise. Oh my goodness! You mean our time really is our own now??? WOO HOO!!!

This was a big relief when I was sitting at the Alumni lunch after the RIRDC awards ceremony in Melbourne, hearing stories from past winners and runners-up about some of the challenges the year of their Award had posed for their husbands, kids and in their workplaces. Luckily, we work for ourselves, Hugh is very supportive and on board, and we’re in the very privileged position of being able, wherever possible, to travel together and turn commitments into opportunities to have a holiday together off the farm. Hugh makes his off-farm income as an online editor—work which can travel with him wherever we go.

If you’re thinking about applying for the Award (which I would strongly recommend that you do…contact me if you want to talk about this), take the time commitment into consideration. However, don’t be daunted if you don’t currently have the capacity to make the time available…that’s what the bursary can be used for! So far the time commitment required has just been for interviews, and for planning, but there is also the possibility of speaking engagements coming up through the year, and of course the important bit…doing the project!

Hugh has also recently bought a motorbike, the realization of a long-held plan to return to the biker-freedom days of his youth. And yes, I’m more than willing to ride pillion as his bikie-chick. Would it be wrong to turn up to a RIRDC speaking engagement in leathers?

This week I’ve been

  • working on my project plan
  • informed by RIRDC of dates for the Company Directors Course (July/August), the national selection interview (August), and the national Award celebration (September)
  • contacting RIRDC to find out about business cards, which apparently will be forthcoming (can’t wait to see them!)
  • trying to learn Microsoft Project to help me keep control over my life for the next 12 months!
  • making a time to see one of my mentors to get feedback about my project plan
  • making a time to visit with the lovely folk at Melbourne Farmers Markets to talk through my project and choose pilot markets
  • asking advice from RIRDC about whether I should be looking for opportunities to speak as their ambassador
  • talking to a fantastic local harvest group called Growing Abundance about running a series of pruning workshops on the farm, aiming to skill up some local folk we can then employ in our orchard (using part of my RIRDC bursary)
  • interviewed on Main FM
  • interviewed for the Castlemaine Mail

Thanks to RIRDC for supporting rural women (and me!) through the Rural Women’s Award.