Two women farmers in the Annapolis Valley are being recognized by the province for bringing together their community across Atlantic Canada.
The annual Minister's Awards for Agricultural Excellence were announced May 19.
Amy VanderHeide and Katie Keddy won in the category of Women in Agriculture for their Facebook group, the Maritime Ag Women's Network.
They decided to found the network in 2015 after attending the Atlantic Farm Women's Conference. They wanted to stay connected to the women they met there.
"We've seen these women grow and, in some cases, find their voices and find their spots around the table and really advance their own careers and their own successes," said Keddy.
They met in 2008 and became fast friends.
They are both married now and have children. They run farms of their own with their partners.
VanderHeide raises cattle with Mountain Base Farm and chickens with Coldbrook Farms. Keddy Nursery grows strawberry plants, blackberry and raspberry canes, asparagus, rhubarb and sweet potatoes.
They were excited to have 10 members when they began the group. That number has grown to over 1,000.
"It's kind of given that support just to encourage and empower other people at the same time to say … your voice matters and you have the ability and the support to use it," said VanderHeide.
Patricia Bishop is a friend and fellow farmer at TapRoot Farms. She said it's important for women to have a space to talk about the struggles of the industry.
"I think they're fantastic and they're inspiring and they're just really motivating," said Bishop.
"They've created this space for people to come together, and it's exactly the kind of work we need to have people doing. They're stepping up and doing it and setting a really great example."
A growing demographic
Data from the 2021 Canadian Census of Agriculture shows the first increase in female farm operators in decades.
Statistics Canada did change its definition of farm from an agricultural operation that produced at least one item for sale to an operation that reports revenues to the Canada Revenue Agency.
"Agriculture as a whole has just become so much more welcoming to be more inclusive and more diverse in itself," said VanderHeide. "And we see it across Canada with the amount of female board members now and people who are taking higher up positions within industry."
She grew up with her grandmother and aunt as female farm role models. VanderHeide wants to bring the hard work of those women to light.
"There's never been a recognition for all the work that women have done behind the scenes, where we're often the support for the family, we're often the bookkeepers and keeping things afloat," VanderHeide said.
"And… with Katie and I, our husbands are very much a partnership, but it hasn't always been recognized that way throughout history in agriculture."
The two women said they're humbled to have been recognized by the government and their peers for their hard work.
"We accept this not just on our behalf. It's for every woman in this group and every woman who puts herself out there with her voice and with her leadership skills and building businesses," Keddy said.
"Also recognizing everyone who has made us being here today possible, because we wouldn't be here today with everybody who's blazed paths before us."
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