You might not guess Allison Ammeter is a farmer just by looking at her. And you wouldn’t be alone.
One time, she introduced herself as a farmer during a meeting with a Calgary design firm in a funky little downtown office. The designer took one look at Ammeter’s red high heels and said, “You don’t look like any farmer I’ve ever met.”
And she replied, with her usual aplomb, “Well, you must not meet very many farmers then.”
Ammeter is one of many women bucking the label of “farm wife” by being actively involved in agriculture, and making the industry better for it.
“Agriculture does not only provide my paycheque. It’s my life,” she says. “I want to make sure my livelihood, my profession, grows and improves so that … agriculture is even better when my kids get involved.”
Ammeter, husband Michael, and their three grown children farm a 2,300-acre straight grain operation near Sylvan Lake, including land homesteaded in the 1930s by his grandparents escaping Stalin’s Russia.
Ammeter says she’s a Saskatchewan girl at heart, but despite having grown up on a “very similar” grain farm in Swift Current never envisioned farming.
“The only way I would end up on a farm is if I married a farmer,” she says. “And I hadn’t met a farmer I wanted to marry until I met my husband.”
In the early part of their marriage, Ammeter worked as a computer programmer — another male-dominated profession.
“I was the only female analyst in my group of programmers, so I think I’m just accustomed to being a person, rather than a woman working with men.”
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That mindset has served her well in her role as vice-president of the Alberta Pulse Growers’ board of directors, a group she has been involved with since 2011.
“I think I felt more insecure about the fact that I wasn’t a hands-on, always-in-the-machinery type of farmer when I got involved. I thought that would hold me back,” she says.
“I’ve come to realize that, for the most part, it’s my desire to communicate and learn and challenge that’s been more important than my ability to change the oil.”
She picked Alberta Pulse Growers because she thought it would be the “perfect fit.”
“I just saw pulses as being something with so much potential ahead. They were like the new kid on the block.”
So she phoned her zone’s commissioner, met him for coffee, and said she would like to get involved. Two weeks later, she was a zone advisor, and within six months, she was elected to the board (and the only female commissioner at the time).
As vice-president, she’s testified before the House of Commons about the rail backlog and travelled internationally for conventions and conferences, including a sustainability conference in the U.S. last year.
“It was very eye-opening … seeing how highly pulses were regarded by farmers and, also, by food processors,” she says.
“I think as a farmer I had missed that link, that people in companies like Unilever really valued what pulses were doing for the land.”
Earlier this year, Ammeter attended the World Pulses Convention, an annual meeting of global pulse traders, in Cape Town, South Africa.
“As soon as I think my eyes have been opened enough, they get opened more.”
The travel is a perk, but the real draw is making a contribution.
“It’s a really great place to be involved and give back and make sure I am part of what’s going on and making it better,” she says. “I would encourage everybody to make what they love better.”
Getting to know and meet a wide range of people is “the best part of it.”
“Where I initially thought I was getting involved in a commission and it was about the crop, I’ve really come to see it’s about the people.”
While she’s content to let her husband (who is also vice-chairman of Alberta Barley) change the oil on the combine, that sort of thing shouldn’t be a consideration for women thinking of a career in agriculture or becoming involved in a farm organization, she says.
“Know who you are, know what your strengths and giftings are, and get involved in the area of agriculture that maximizes those strengths and giftings,” she says. “That’s where you’ll have the most joy in the work you’re doing.”