OFA Viewpoint: Attracting the next generation of farm leaders

With a diverse and extensive list of challenges to address across the agriculture industry, it’s important to have leaders bringing unique skills, perspectives and passions to the table. It serves as a benefit to the organization and its 38,000 farm business members by allowing for engaging conversations, meaningful debates and well-rounded problem solving. A collection of ideas and opinions are necessary to find the right solution, offering the greatest benefit to rural and farming populations.

As the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) enters another year of nominations for the position of Zone Director in five regions across the province, we encourage any eligible OFA member to put their name forward to join a leadership group focused on teamwork, collaboration and relationship building. 

Nominations are now open in the counties of Bruce and Grey (Zone 2), Brant, Haldimand and Norfolk (Zone 3), Halton, Hamilton-Wentworth and Niagara region (Zone 5), Lambton and Middlesex counties (Zone 6) and the region of Durham, Peterborough and Kawartha Lakes/Haliburton (Zone 10). Nominations will be accepted until June 24.

What does it take?

Leadership, passion and the drive to initiate change for the agri-food sector and rural community.

Each year, the OFA works to identify and recruit a new crop of leaders through a nomination process. Although it may not always produce an immediate result, these initial conversations about leadership and succession planning are vital to the future of the organization.

To provide insight on the role of provincial director, OFA’s newest board members offered their perspective on why they joined the board and the positive experiences they’ve had thus far. 

Sara Wood serves as a director-at-large and even with a young family, has found plenty of support and balance to serve in the position and remain dedicated to her farm and family. 

“It has definitely been challenging at times but is ultimately so rewarding to know that we are working for the next generation,” Wood said. “Getting to connect with our farmers across the province to celebrate their successes and address their challenges is very fulfilling.”

Wood has learned the importance of collaboration and finding a balance between listening and speaking up to contribute to progressive discussion. 

“Around the board table I see lots of generational information being passed on, in addition to openness to new perspectives,” she said.  “If we don’t have a voice at the table someone else will speak for us and miss the mark on challenging misconceptions or the real issues farmers face across the province.” 

Ethan Wallace, Zone 7 director representing members in Huron and Perth counties, was born and raised on a dairy farm where his passion lies. In his new role, Wallace has enjoyed being able to help people understand what issues the rural and urban populations face. 

“For me it’s being a part of the solution that has always been fulfilling,” Wallace said. “Agriculture in general has a lot of issues that need to be addressed, and it is great to have the opportunity to sit down with an MP or MPP to facilitate conversations and make real change happen.”

Wallace believes the role has been an excellent opportunity for personal growth and the comradery of the board has provided a very supportive environment. “We come together from a wide variety of farming backgrounds and experiences which can make it difficult to see eye-to-eye but at the end of the day we share the best interest of Ontario agriculture at heart,” he said.

Paul Maurice, Zone 13 director representing the Peel, Simcoe and York region, said farmers represent a small portion of the population but are “an economic engine” to the entire province. “It’s rewarding to serve in this leadership role, knowing that we are contributing to the betterment of Ontario agriculture every day.” 

Vanessa Renaud serves as the Zone 14 director in Stormont, Glengarry, Prescott and Russell and said she enjoys the opportunity to deal with a challenge in the field and see it come full-circle to the board table.

“It’s great to see how the decisions we’re making at the provincial level is having a ripple down effect to the counties and having a positive impact,” Renaud said. 

Stepping into leadership can be intimidating at a younger age, but Renaud said it has been a positive experience. “Everyone has been very supportive to help me build my network and offer assistance in any way possible. I’m happy it’s a three-year term because there’s so much to learn and this work is very uplifting.”

In little time, the four directors have recognized the benefits of leadership, advocacy and teamwork to make an impact in the agriculture industry and rural Ontario

To learn more and submit a nomination form, visit: https://ofa.on.ca/nominations-are-now-open-for-2022-ofa-zone-directors/.

Submitted by Ethan Wallace, Paul Maurice, Sara Wood and Vanessa Renaud