Lorie Smith is grateful for her recent award for her contribution to agriculture, but she is even more grateful for those she has worked with over the years.
“They are truly the nicest people in the world,” she reflected in a recent interview with the Herald/Advance. “We laugh a lot.”
The Tommy Cooper award, named after the longtime (39-year!) Ontario government Ag Rep in Grey, is given for contribution to agriculture.
This year, it went to Lorie, who is VP and office manager staff at the support service for farmers born after the OMAF office in Markdale closed about 20 years ago.
Grey Agricultural Services where she works is “farmer-led,” and that’s important to her as a staff person, who also farms with her husband in Grey Highlands.
They have a cow-calf operation, and Lorie also grew up on a dairy farm, a business carried on by her brother Bruce Saunders (also a Tommy Cooper winner).
She also appreciates the vision of Ray Robertson (two-time winner) in seeing how the gap left by the closing of the office could be filled.
The Ag Centre offers resources and has two rooms that can be used by farm organizations and for courses.
Lorie Smith has had a singular career, doing work in product development with Procter & Gamble for some years after her Bachelor of Science degree, then followed by about 15 years in her current role.
Asked about what the roles have in common, she’s quick to produce a list: creative work (“there’s always a problem to be solved”), organizational skills (“that I use every day here”, and being comfortable in giving presentations and managing projects.
Many will know Lorie through her work as co-ordinator of the popular Grey Bruce Farmers Week. That’s another of those team projects with “tremendous people” that was made difficult when the usual in-person brainstorming session couldn’t happen.
When things came together, though, the week was enriched by speakers from the U.K. and New Zealand as the online format “blasted all the borders.”
And the organization was well-set for a virtual presentation as they had already been live-streaming for three years, Lorie said.
The event has been part of some of the stand-out moments for her. Dr. Temple Grandin, expert animal behaviourist, came to speak to farmers, and also to families of people with autism.
“She was such an amazing person to work with… that was really satisfying.”
She’s also used to helping meet special requests from speakers, such as one man who was also a contra-dance caller, and asked her to find a local group, which she did. “He left our Sheep Day, went to Owen Sound and they drove him to the airport,” she remembers.
Farmers’ Week is only one of the bundle of contracts which help make the Grey Ag Services possible. The organizations include both local and provincial groups: -Ontario Forage Council, Ontario Biomass Producers Co-op, Ontario Soil and Crop (Grey, Bruce Dufferin and South Simcoe), -Alternative Land Use Services Grey-Bruce.
“We need those contracts in order to sustain things and keep the doors open every day,” she said.
The Tommy Cooper is given out annually by Bayshore Broadcasting and the Owen Sound Sun Times, in consultation with the local farming community.
Mr. Cooper was born in Artemesia Township and was appointed Agricultural Representative in 1920 and the year he retired in 1959 the first award was presented.
Lorie reflects that he’s a figure that’s larger than life – 60 years after his retirement, we’re still talking about him. The world has changed since that time when many people were not that far removed from a farming background.
Even in rural Grey County and much more so in cities, there are many degrees of separation between people and the farm.
A challenge Lorie sees for people in agriculture going forward is to help bridge the gap through being advocates for agriculture – or “agvocates.”
And that’s what she will continue to do through her work in the “busy, busy office” in Markdale, a unique Grey-Bruce institution.
M.T. Fernandes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Dundalk Herald