Anna Regele and her husband, Chris, were just four years into dairy farming when their Earlton operation faced a devastating setback.
On a hot summer night, fire blazed through their barn, razing the structure and leaving their cattle without shelter.
It could have been disastrous, but Regele likes a challenge.
"When the barn burnt, we didn't even look at each other," she recalled. "It was, 'We're rebuilding,' and we jumped on the opportunity.
"We had to learn from it. We had to figure out what we wanted and work through it."
Continuous learning was a key piece of advice contributed by Regele as a panellist during the Women in Northern Ontario Agriculture discussion held at the 2020 Northern Ontario Ag Conference in Sudbury on Feb. 12.
A two-day event, hosted by the Northern Ontario Farm Innovation Alliance (NOFIA), the conference brought together farmers, agri-food producers, and sector specialists to network and share best practices in what has become a renaissance industry in Northern Ontario.
The Women in Northern Ontario Agricultune discussion examined how women at all levels are contributing to the sector, the struggles they sometimes experience, and guidance on how to find success.
For Peggy Baillie, finding her way as a farmer and food business consultant first meant building up her confidence in the industry.
Born on a farm in southern Ontario, her interest in agriculture was sparked at a ! young age, leading her to work in a variety of farming roles through her young adult years.
After moving to Northern Ontario, she served as managing director of Eat Local Sudbury--a now-defunct grocery store specializing in locally grown food--and was the founding chair of the Greater Sudbury Market Association, which runs the Sudbury farmers market.
But when she first started out, she said, she was "terrified" to speak freely and share her opinion amongst her peers.
"It took me a long time to learn that I needed to find my voice as a woman in the industry," she said.
"Male voices can be more dominant, but I think it's been really important that my voice and other women's voices at the table are heard. And so, in all of the work that I do, I always try to make sure that everyone at the table is being heard."
Today she and her husband, Eric Blondin, have their own operation, Three Forks Farms, in Warren about 45 minutes east of Sudbury.
There, they cultivate five acres of organic vegetables, raise 1,400 pasture-raised chickens, and grow vegetable...