Kinship and mentorship go hand in hand for farm writers

Every year this country’s agriculture journalists and communicators gather some where in Canada for three-days of fun.

The annual Canadian Farm Writers Federation’s conference is a chance to network within the industry while participating in a series of farm tours and professional development workshops.

It’s also a chance to celebrate the accomplishments of some of this country’s top agriculture journalists with an annual awards dinner and dance.

My first Farm Writers conference was five years ago. I still remember it vividly.

I arrived in Charlottetown, P.E.I. as a rooking reporter who’d fallen into agriculture journalism almost by accident.

The learning curve, while exciting and very enjoyable, had been steep. With no farm background, I was amazed and a little overwhelmed by how complex this country’s agriculture industry was – which was rarely being covered by the mainstream media.

The attendees at the 2014 conference welcomed me with open arms. Strangers quickly became new friends and mentors. Twitter contacts became people with actual faces and names – not just a small, social media avatar.

No one batted an eye at my many questions, some of them likely very basic. Within 20 minutes I had been invited to join a group headed out for dinner and a drink.

The journalism world can often best be described as semi-organized chaos. News never sleeps. Deadlines must be met. Papers need to be printed. Radio and television shows broadcasted.

It’s no secret the journalism world is undergoing changes. People consume news differently. Journalists have become exceptional multi-taskers as newsroom resources change and new technologies emerge.

Every day is a whirlwind – a fast-paced, exciting and, yes, at times a very stressful, whirlwind.

As a young journalist, finding people who have weathered the various media-related storms before and who can help guide you through it is key.

For me, the annual Farm Writers gathering has become that refuge. The mentorship and friendship that I have found there over the years has been invaluable both professionally and personally.

It’s not uncommon, for instance, for folks to have an in-depth conversation about dairy trade policy without anyone in the conversation batting an eye.

Have a question about types of farm equipment and how they work? Someone there can walk you through it.

Struggling with work-life balance while grappling with day-to-day newsroom challenge? Guaranteed others have been there and they’re more than willing to share recipes, tips and tricks on how to make life more manageable.

For years, mentorship has been this quiet undercurrent – one that has been widely credited for individuals various career successes, but rarely acknowledged.

From politics to journalism to business, men-tees have routinely credited their mentors, individuals who have taken them under their wing and helped them navigate the winding road that is their career.

“So and so helped me improve my resume and cover letter.”

“So and so read over my reports or stories and made suggestions on how to improve future pieces of work.”

“So and so gave me tips on how to become a better public speaker, juggle childcare and work responsibilities, go back to school while working full time.”

If the above is any indication, the working world is indebted to strong mentorships – many of which have started to become publicly recognized and respected.

Several businesses now incorporate formal mentorship programs within their companies. Professional organizations often have a mentorship program in place. University campuses routinely match incoming students with upper year students who can help them navigate the university life.

This year’s Farm Writers conference was held in Winnipeg. Five years later I came with a list of questions, queries and even a few conundrums.

Three days later, I’ve left relaxed and armed with new skills to pull out of my back pocket throughout the year ahead.

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