Stories of innovative diversification and inspiring accounts of rural careers have been shared at a sold-out Autumn Gathering of the Yorkshire Agricultural Society’s Women In Farming Network.
The milestone 10th autumn get-together of this thriving network of women who live and work in the countryside brought together 130 delegates at Pavilions of Harrogate on the Great Yorkshire Showground in Harrogate on Tuesday 10th October 2023.
Held in the spirit of celebration, inspiration and friendship, the Autumn Gathering is the Women In Farming Network’s flagship annual event and was sponsored by Barclays Agriculture, Savills and Crombie Wilkinson Solicitors.
Fiona Macdonald, Women in Farming Network Co-ordinator said: “It has been a brilliant occasion. The energy in the room was inspiring. Just like today, the whole ethos of the Network is about friendship, inspiration and making positive business connections.
“The Network’s events throughout the year and our community provide a safe space to share our highs and lows, knowledge and experience as well as our plans for the future and our contacts. I’d encourage any woman in the farming world or allied industries to become part of Women In Farming.”
A panel of guest speakers explained their career adventures to date, with insights from the worlds of contract farming, flower growing, digital marketing and agricultural journalism all shared.
Farmer’s daughter Rachel Clark, a former Dragons Den contestant and host of the Yorkshire Leaders podcast, shared her journey, from starting out as a tractor driver on the family farm in East Yorkshire to running her own digital marketing consultancy, Only The Kind.
Rachel, whose career has seen her work as a brand manager for Red Bull and as a PR Director for Savills, shared marketing tips for farming businesses, inspired by the wisdom of her grandmother and her ability to connect people. Rachel said: “There was a constant stream of people through the farmhouse door, and it was all about community and power of community. This is a theme we can all learn a lot from as business owners in relation to our marketing. Whether it’s Facebook groups, events like this, email lists or Instagram accounts, community is what grows brands, and it really can change lives.”
Laura Forbes opened up about how she had forged her agriculture career via a Rich Wigram Scholarship to New Zealand. Having grown up on a beef and sheep farm near Selby, it was on the other side of the world that Laura discovered her passion for dairying.
Since then, Laura has managed dairy farms in Ireland and the UK, and now farms in Settle, in the Yorkshire Dales with her husband John. Laura, who also works as an agricultural contractor and part-time at Bentham Auction Mart, told of “the good, the bad and the ugly” of her work. “One of the challenges has been moving around away from home. It can be a very isolating job and you can go days without seeing people, and I burnt out last year. I spent six months lambing and overdid it. You feel like you are failing when you get to that stage, but you are not, you’re tired and it’s hard.”
Laura said a conversation with her boss and two days away to reset was just the remedy she needed. She offered this advice to others feeling the strain of heavy workloads, saying: “You have to know that there is always someone you can talk to. Don’t be afraid to speak to someone when you are struggling, and your mental health is taking a bit of a battering.”
Farmers Guardian Editor Olivia Midgley, who grew up on her parents’ smallholding in Gomersal, West Yorkshire, studied Journalism at The University of Sheffield and recently became just the third female editor of Farmers Guardian in its 179-year history, said it was important that success stories of rural women are shared to help attract new talent into the industry.
Olivia said: “A lot of women are playing hugely critical roles in businesses but aren’t on paper running them, and it’s about how we communicate that outside the industry. If people don’t see themselves, how do we attract them and bring them in? Events like this are hugely important. Telling our story, inspiring people, talking each other up, can be really powerful.”
Sammie Hall shared her story of innovation on the family farm near Leeds. Sammie grew up on Kiddal Quarry Farm, then embarked on a career as a corporate lawyer working in London and overseas. Via a subsequent spell in British Columbia, Canada where she worked on an organic farm, Sammie was inspired to launch her own flower growing enterprise back at the family farm 18 months ago.
Sammie’s flowers are grown over an acre and are supplied for weddings and funerals, to florists and flower arrangers, bouquets online and at a local farmers market. She said grasping how to market her produce has been the biggest challenge: “If you want to diversify your farm businesses, whatever you are selling, local people need to know about you. Marketing yourself can seem daunting, but it is amazing what can be achieved taking one step at a time.”
The Women In Farming Network is part of the Yorkshire Agricultural Society’s Yorkshire Rural Support Network. It offers a rolling programme of events to bring rural women together and hosts a private Facebook group of more than 600 members in the spirit of year-round support. For more information about the Women In Farming Network, see yas.co.uk