Women in Focus

I was recently chosen to attend the Commbank Women in Focus 6th Annual Conference.CommBank’s Women in Focus is a vibrant community of women connecting and collaborating to achieve extraordinary things. The 6th annual Women in Focus Conference, brought together 180 leading female entrepreneurs, business owners, executives and directors. This was a wonderful opportunity for me, as a local business in food production, to share insights and build networks across a diverse range of industries. The underlying theme of the conference was collaboration. Those in attendance and speakers covered Not-For-Profit, retail, authors and one of the key note speakers was Australian of the Year, Rosie Batty. A highlight for me was a presentation by Dr Fiona Kerr and Dr Jordan Nguyen who spoke about the ways that neuroscience and robotics can combine to make life increase independence for the disabled. I found I was struck especially by the people who had given up lucrative careers in the corporate world to work in research or the not-for-profit sector.

As part of the 3 day programme I was a part of a 6 person panel looking at issues in the rural sector. Also on the panel were Marie Devinson-Crabbe (CEO Marie Stopes Southern Asia), Amanda Blair (Corbin & Blair), Naomi Ingleton (The Myrtleford Butter Factory), Nicole Eckles (The Sapphire Group) and Alison Covington (Good 360 Australia). During this panel I stressed the importance of healthy rural communities to our nation as a whole. Including reference to the importance of access to education through local public schools for country children. Most know this is a real passion for me.

There were many opportunities to interact with women who are leaders in their fields. After connecting with one of the owners of Berger Ingredients I’m particularly looking forward to trialling sausage premixes that are organic, E additive and gluten free. Now that we’ve found sausage mixes without the nasty additives they are hopefully going to be adding quality, meaty sausages to the meat boxes that are available on our website.

After digesting all of the information and inspiration gained from the conference we will be sitting down to review new possibilities for both Wheatons’ Store and the farming operation as a whole. Sometimes we can restrict ourselves by thinking that we have to continue doing what we have always done, whether it is working or not. The Women in Focus conference reaffirmed and encouraged me to continue with direct selling our meat, even though it has been slower to catch on than I’d hoped. During discussions for preparation for our panel it was amazing to have two highly skilled and experienced business women cast an eye over our business with a view to increasing income and decreasing risk to give us greater security. Initial suggestions went directly to export to China, but I was quick to point out that this didn’t sit well with our low food miles so discussion went in another direction all together. With the thought of us spreading our net wider to take in Melbourne it was thought that a way of attracting new customers might be to establish relationships through farm visits. Our old fashioned, multi-faceted farm is something that few people have the opportunity to experience. In offering that we might be able to not only educate about primary production but to bring awareness to the reasons why real, slow, quality food isn’t able to be provided at prices to match the “Down, down, prices are down” supermarket prices. Who knows where these ideas may take us!

Of all of the wonderful people I have met, heard and had follow up connections with from the conference I think the surprise realisation for me was that I’m really content with my life. I wondered whether I might suffer from a bit of envy rubbing shoulders with so many people that have markedly different lifestyles and, I assume, disposable incomes to “Farmer Jo”. This experience has shown me that regardless of that I am so thankful for the things that matter most to me in life: faith, family, friends and community. It doesn’t mean that life is always easy, currently it is far from that, but in these core areas there is joy and security.

I know I have had this experience for a reason. I’m not sure what it is at this point in time, but I’m sure all will become apparent.