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Connecting female farmers through mentorship

Egg farmers Cheryl Norleen and Geneve Newcombe are grateful for the connections they’ve made through our women in the egg industry program. It’s given each of them a network of like-minded women who just “get it.”

The program links farmers with a wide range of experiences, like connecting Cheryl, who is a first generation egg farmer, with Geneve, whose family has been farming in Nova Scotia since 1761. Through the program, female farmers are able to cultivate connections across the industry, share knowledge and expertise, and empower one another to take on new challenges.

Cheryl Norleen, pictured here, on her family farm in Raymore, Saskatchewan.

When starting out in the industry, Cheryl and her husband Marc lacked the unique knowledge that generational family farms offer. Thanks to the program, Cheryl was able to tap into Geneve’s wealth of knowledge. Geneve is also quick to declare that she has learned a thing or two from Cheryl as well, “I’ve just been so inspired by Cheryl’s attitude and strong work ethic and how she takes advantage of (opportunities).”

“We were told we were crazy when we looked at doing the barn and the business plan,” said Cheryl. “But having other people in the industry and having the opportunity to talk to them makes us realize we’re not crazy.” Connecting with Geneve and building industry relationships has “definitely paid back in dividends,” noted Cheryl.

Both being farmers, wives and mothers, Cheryl and Geneve have many shared experiences, and the two bonded over their similarities and unique challenges.

 “I can relate to where she’s at and how challenging it is when you’re trying to work on the farm and get meals and take care of the kids,” said Geneve. “We’re just at different stages in our farming careers, but we’re both very similar.”

Cheryl and Geneve quickly saw their mentorship flourish into a trusted friendship. The two women shared companionship that far exceeded the parameters of their farms and the program.

“I love that (we’ve) built a relationship,” said Cheryl. “If something came up, I’m not scared at all just to reach out and … say, ‘hey, what do I do now?’” Geneve agreed, saying that she felt the experience was so successful because she and Cheryl fostered a friendship alongside mentorship and training.

Geneve Newcombe’s family has been farming since 1761.

Through the program, Cheryl was able to visit Geneve’s farm. They had a chance to share first-hand experiences with each other, drawing inspiration for the future.

In particular, Cheryl was inspired by the expansions done on Geneve’s farm. “Ultimately, a goal of ours is to be able to produce full circle,” she said. “For example, on Geneve’s farm, they produce up to 90 per cent of the grain that feeds their flock.” Cheryl aspires to the self-sufficiency and security that comes with growing animal feed on the farm.

Egg Farmers of Canada’s women in the egg industry program inspires female leaders in Canadian agriculture and enhances connections across the sector—while acknowledging the particular challenges women juggle as farmers. Cheryl and Geneve agree that when female farmers come together, both the women and their farms flourish.

“Understanding that (there’s) someone that’s gone through similar things” is what sets this program apart, according to Geneve. “I don’t think you get that in a lot of other networks. Personally, I think it’s a big thing.”

Egg Farmers of Canada launched the women in the egg industry program in 2019, building on a study that explored the historical and current roles of women in egg farming. The program provides mentorship and networking opportunities by pairing up women in egg farming across the country.