Two grain farmers have become the first women elected to the Grain Farmers of Ontario (GFO) board of directors, one of the only provincial commodity organizations that has never had female representation at the board level.
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Julie Maw of Courtright will represent barley, corn, oat, soybean and wheat farmers in Lambton county (GFO District 3) and Angela Zilke of Embro will represent Waterloo and Oxford counties (GFO District 7). They were elected during annual district meetings held the week of Jan. 16 and officially became directors Feb. 2.
“Our board of directors strives to be strong leaders and having Julie and Angela join us will make us stronger than ever with the new experience and insights they will bring to our leadership,” said Crosby Devitt, chief executive officer at GFO.
“GFO has prioritized diversity, equity and inclusion,” said chair Brendan Byrne. “We have worked to build the reputation of this board and create an open environment that people want to be part of. We will continue to ensure that voices are heard and are welcome at our table. We look forward to working alongside our new board members to continue to advocate on our members’ behalf.”
Maw, who has served as a delegate and treasurer in District 3 for the last five years, said she is honoured to be elected as the voice of Lambton grain farmers and humbled by messages of support.
“It’s a chance to bring both local and provincial issues to the table, be part of important discussions and continue to promote agriculture,” she says. “I’m really excited about the new opportunity.”
Zilke is also no stranger to her local district and says she has been working “behind the scenes” in Oxford county farm groups for the last 30 years. Her husband, Mark, has been named secretary and treasurer of county commodity organizations that later became GFO District 7. Zilke participates in meetings, does administration work and was an alternate delegate in 2022.
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While GFO is one of the last commodity groups to elect women to the board, Maw doesn’t feel gender is an issue within the organization.
“It’s not that it was frowned upon or wasn’t wanted,” she says. “There is no negative story behind it but I think it’s a great time to make the transition.”
She recognizes that some women have faced roadblocks within the industry but said that has not been her experience at the local or provincial level.
“My biggest concern is that I’m not interested in being with an organization that wants to have a woman on their board to check a box,” Maw said. “I truly believe you need to earn your position, just like everyone else.”
Zilke has often been the only female involved at the district level and says gender didn’t factor into her election.
“I don’t think it really occurred to them that I was a woman,” she says of the local election. “They know I’m going to learn, ask questions and give my two cents.”
Both women are passionate about educating consumers about agriculture and said they look forward to promoting grain farming in their new positions.
“There is so much misinformation between the producer and consumer and consumers can be untrusting of what we do,” says Zilke. “We need to show them that we are just like them because we are feeding our families too.”
Maw and her husband, Kyle, grow corn, soybeans and wheat and operate a custom farming business, along with their three sons. She works full-time on the farm, where she also runs a Maizex seed dealership. Maw volunteers as an alternate for the Lambton Federation of Agriculture, is a 4-H leader and an organizer of the Brigden tractor pull.
Zilke farms 400 acres of corn, soybeans, wheat and edible beans with her husband, who is also involved in a larger family grain operation based in nearby Hickson. She is a mother to four adult children.
Directors in all other odd-numbered GFO districts have been re-elected for another term and those in even-numbered districts are continuing their terms this year.