‘Jane of All Trades’: Island Women Urged to Consider a Career in Agriculture

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The PEI Advisory Council on the Status of Women. commends the province’s Department of Agriculture and Lands for pioneering the development and implementation of a gender diversity and inclusion policy.

This is something the group is looking at as part of their equality newsletter: encouraging departments to develop strategic plans when it comes to making the province more inclusive for people or groups who might be systematically excluded.

Jane Ledwell, executive director of the Advisory Council on the Status of Women, said other provincial departments have begun this process, but Agriculture and Land has made exceptional progress in recent years.

“They’re the only department that has a formal plan that’s been released,” Ledwell said.

“Most importantly, they have set goals, specific strategic objectives with targets and timelines for what they want to achieve, to make their department’s work meet the needs of people in the community.”

Since 2018, the department has focused on encouraging opportunities for women in the industry. It has funded projects aimed at increasing diversity. And developed policies to promote gender, diversity and inclusion in agriculture, aquaculture and fisheries.

Executive Director of the PEI Advisory Council on the Status of Women, Jane Ledwell, said the systems women currently have are set up to not give them enough to survive or prosper. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

Ledwell sets an example of translating COVID-19 public health safety protocols into multiple languages ​​for migrant workers on island farms – and said efforts like this go a long way to promoting the inclusion.

“These things are important,” Ledwell said.

“To access information in your native language or the language you speak most fluently makes a difference to being able to thrive in the community and to do your work for agriculture and the land that benefits all over Prince Edward Island.

Seek information from underrepresented groups

Ledwell said she hopes other provincial departments will look at the model created by the Department of Agriculture and Lands and engage in similar initiatives to hear from underrepresented people and groups. She said this is the best way to determine what the needs are – and how to meet them.

“If you don’t ask the Black Cultural Society or the Immigrant and Refugee Services Association, if you don’t ask what the needs of those communities are, then there’s all kinds of information that you’re missing,” said Ledwell.

For Bobby Thomas Cameron, who led this process with the Department of Agriculture and Lands several years ago, understanding the barriers is paramount. Until April 2022, Cameron was director of strategic policy and evaluation in the department. He now works for the federal government.

“We’ve started to finish the search,” Cameron said.

“We did a number of interviews with people from underrepresented groups. We did public polls. We did polls in English, French, Mandarin, Arabic, Spanish to make sure we were accessing groups that were traditionally underrepresented, really, to identify barriers and facilitators for underrepresented groups to join the industry.”

Dealing with Labor Shortages

He said it’s not just about promoting equality and inclusion – it’s about addressing critical labor shortages in the agriculture industry and finding ways to make this work more accessible to people who may not have thought of it in the past.

“We know from looking at the demographic profile of agriculture in PEI, but also across Canada, that certain groups are not as represented,” Cameron said.

“So it’s both for reasons of fairness and equality, but also for work.”

Cameron said the ministry has received many positive comments about its efforts, from initiatives that promote community food security and an agriculture outreach program – as well as projects that aim to connect people with disabilities with opportunities. in the agricultural industry.

“These groups have told us that these projects are effective and that people are learning and connecting with agriculture and the food system through these programs,” Cameron said.

He said that when it comes to addressing labor shortages, he’s heard anecdotally that these efforts are helping — but firm data won’t be available until the next federal agricultural census is released. .

“What we have heard from our industry stakeholders and underrepresented groups through consultations etc. is that we are moving in the right direction. But I will be very interested to see what the statistics will show the next time the census results are out,” Cameron said.

‘Jane of all trades’

Farmer Keisha Rose Topic grew up working in her family’s potato fields, though she didn’t always know she would eventually pursue a career in agriculture.

Keisha Rose Topic holding her daughter on her family farm. (Radio Canada)

“I even come from a farming background and still didn’t consider it an option in high school,” she said.

She said the Ministry of Agriculture policy will help women and others who may never think of going into farming to realize it is an option for them.

But Rose Topic said other factors make this decision difficult for women. With a four-month-old daughter to care for, she said she would like to see more supports in place to help other women who may want to start a family enter the industry.

“Having a family isn’t necessarily a barrier, but there are new challenges that come up every day that I have to work through. And as I try to stay as involved in the business as possible and as involved as possible in my family, I find it a balancing act for sure,” she said.

“I couldn’t be in this industry if I didn’t have my family’s support network… If I didn’t have a support network like that, I don’t think I would be here.”

As for those who choose agriculture, Rose Topic said they would find working in the fields very rewarding.

“I would say to other women, definitely don’t exclude yourself from a career like this,” she said.

“She’s kind of a ‘Jane of all trades’ I would say… If you’re kind of open to learning and like working outdoors and yes, like working alone or with others people, then it’s a career [that] you should consider, of course.”

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