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GUEST COMMENTARY: Farm leaders reflect on service to OFA

Three departing directors will Ontario Federation of Agriculture share their thoughts
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The following guest commentary is by Bruce Buttar, Jennifer Doelman and Jackie Kelly-Pemberton, directors with the Ontario Federation of Agriculture

The annual convention of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) will take place the third week of November. As we do every year, it’s where OFA members and voting delegates get together to deal with the business of the organization.

This year, however, the event will hold a special poignancy for the three of us: we’re all stepping back from our positions as directors on the OFA board with approximately 30 years of service to the organization between us. And that’s not counting the many years we’ve each spent – and in some cases continue to spend – volunteering with our local federations of agriculture.

Here’s who we are:

Bruce Buttar – I’m a fifth-generation farmer from the Cobourg area, farming together with my wife, Cindy. I represented farmers in my area on the OFA board from 1998 to 2007, and have served as the OFA director for Hastings, Lennox & Addington, Northumberland and Prince Edward counties since 2012.

Being a provincial director has been a fulfilling experience, giving me the opportunity to work with knowledgeable and dedicated board colleagues and advocate for one of Ontario’s biggest economic sectors.

I also had the opportunity to meet and interact with many MPs and MPPs, and I’ve really enjoyed working with the OFA in the four counties I represent, helping them to solve everyday problems and be more successful in running their farming businesses.

It’s definitely been a rewarding and exciting period in my agricultural career.

Jennifer Doelman – I’m a cash crop and forage grower, beekeeper and college instructor in Eastern Ontario. I farm with my husband Michael and have been part of the OFA board since 2020 as the representative from Arnprior, Lanark, Ottawa and Renfrew.

Joining the OFA board during the pandemic had its challenges, but it also dropped barriers to leadership by letting me participate in a provincial organization far from home without a five-hour commute or worry about arranging childcare.

Being a director has been a phenomenal experience and a great way to better understand both the diverse landscape of Ontario agriculture and the workings of the different layers of government who directly impact our farm businesses.

I’ve enjoyed sharing my perspectives as a woman farmer from Eastern Ontario with my colleagues, but it’s been especially rewarding to be able to encourage other farmers from my area to step into leadership roles.

Jackie Kelly-Pemberton – I raise beef cattle near Winchester with my husband Steven and was first elected to represent farmers from Dundas, Frontenac, Grenville and Leeds on the OFA board in 2017.

It’s been an amazing experience to work with such a like-minded group of leaders who share my passion for agriculture and our desire to have our industry succeed. I quickly learned about the incredible amount of work the OFA board and staff do to stay on top of evolving priorities, respond to proposed policy changes and just simply stay informed on the key issues of the day.

From rail and seaway strikes to farmland preservation, climate action calls and a global pandemic, it’s never been boring, and one of the things I’m most proud of is seeing the increased collaboration between farm organizations when it comes to addressing issues of common interest.

What’s been most rewarding has been the opportunity to influence and change public perceptions about agriculture. We may not always agree, but we can always share an understanding of common values.

All of us would be remiss in not also mentioning that a fourth member of the OFA board will also be stepping down: Peggy Brekveld, who’s been serving as our president for the last three years and who will be sharing her own reflections on her time with the organization in the days to come.

We will miss our OFA colleagues as we hand our roles over to our successors and turn our focus to other aspects of our lives. We wish them well in what will be the sometimes challenging but always rewarding experience that lies ahead.

And to our fellow farmers who may be thinking about taking on a leadership role, whether volunteering for a committee or becoming a director with the OFA or another farm organization, all three of us have the same advice: just do it.