Wednesday, April 24, 2024

An empowering venture

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Gaining confidence in herself has led to a Canterbury farmer to set up a programme to help and empower other rural women to realise the value they bring to the table. After coming through her own discovery journey, Vanessa Bates has a burning desire to inspire and empower other rural women. She has taken the punt and drawn on savings to invest in herself to develop her coaching skills. “About 18 months ago, I was in an extremely low spot,” Vanessa says.
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“I was feeling overwhelmed trying to balance work, the farm and life in general. And felt I was failing miserably at all three.”

She knew there had to be a better way to balance life, doing something she loved, looking after herself and having the time and energy to be involved in the farm.

“I jumped on a coaching call and through that I allowed myself to realise I wanted to support others, I wanted to coach and empower them,” she says.

But she was battling her own mindset of societal expectations. 

“It’s drummed into us to have a worthy job and work a 40-hour week to set yourself up,” she says.

“I also had a lot of self-doubt and fear that I wasn’t good enough. Who was I to follow my passion and try to do my own thing and who would want to be coached by me?

“Then some changes happened at work and I realised you never know when life is going to throw a curveball at you, so if not now, when?” 

She has taken the plunge, stepping into a new venture she calls Vanessa Robinson Coaching, while she is getting the concept off the ground. She wants to share her skills and inspire and empower other rural women through personal coaching.

As a young female, originally from Auckland and straight out of university, she felt the challenge of earning her stripes in the agricultural sector first-hand when she started her career. Her first role was as a farm solutions manager with LIC.

“I was concerned how farmers would respond to a young female from the city coming in and trying to help them run their business,” she explains.

But it did not take her long to build a rapport and gain confidence in herself and earn the trust of clients. She also earned more credibility from getting involved in farming herself with her husband Martin.

“Once I built relationships and people realised I could add value, things were going good. And then when I got my skin in the game with Martin and his family farm, I felt like it totally changed,” she recalls.

After a few years when self-doubt crept back in, she found support through a training opportunity. 

“I attended a professional development day through Young Farmers. It was with Corene Walker from a business called Inzide Edge. The teachings really resonated with me, so I took part in another course through Corene,” she says.

“It was all about personal development and self-love and self-care, which was what I needed at that time. And the group coaching call from that course was where I realised this was what I wanted to do.”

Over the past 18 months, she has been working with Corene and her team and has been involved in facilitating one of their courses in Canterbury targeting farmers, called InsideOUT Learning.

“It’s helped me get a foot in the door to get some exposure in that world and I’m enjoying it a lot. It’s helped me refine what I want to do, which is working with rural women,” she says.

“Women are a big part of the farming business and I want to help them see the value they can bring. I also want to help them identify any values or passions that they have outside of the farm that they want to pursue and help them to understand that they can do that as well.”

Speaking from her own experiences, she describes how women can attach themselves to their roles, such as wife or mother, but in reality can offer a lot more.

“It surrounds mindset and identifying actions they can take to value themselves more and realise their true potential,” she says.

She has been completing a programme through Briony McKenzie at Untapped called Coach the Coach. It is like a business accelerator that will help her develop the coaching concept.

She has been busy designing an initial six-week programme to be delivered online to rural women. It will be a mix of group calls with module work to do between the calls and focus on building attendees’ self-value.

As a long-term goal, she wants to grow the concept, give it a business name, and future-proof herself alongside the farming business she has with Martin.

“I like having something that is my own, but I also want to be fully available when the farm needs me. I am keen to have my own venture that I can scale up or down depending on what else is going on,” she says.

The Bates contract milk 400 Jersey-cross cows in Burnham, Canterbury. They are buying the herd to sharemilk on the farm next season. The farm is 100 hectares, with irrigation and a 40ha support block three kilometers down the road. They operate a System 2-3 and are solely spring calving.

She met Martin through Young Farmers not long after she had moved to Canterbury for the job with LIC after university.

“I had no attachment to anywhere so was flexible where I could go and moving to Canterbury turned out to be the best decision of my life,” she says.

She grew up in Auckland but had aunts and uncles who were farming and remembers spending school holidays playing with calves. When she was trying to pick her year 13 subjects she completed the careers quiz online after advice from a careers advisor at school. Based on her answers, the quiz promoted agriculture as a serious option and memories from her childhood came flooding back.

“I thought of all those memories from when I was younger and it all made sense,” she says.

Vanessa wore cowboy boots on her wedding day, to show she had left her big city life behind her. Photo: Sarah Clements Photography.

“I like animals, I like being outside, I knew I didn’t want to be in a role where I’d be stuck inside at a computer from nine till five, so I felt like agriculture would allow me to blend it all.”

She completed a Bachelor in Agricultural Science at Massey University, followed by a Masters in Science, majoring in AgriScience. Her project surrounded the effects of cold stress on the reproductive performance of dairy cattle.

While studying, she won a scholarship from CRV, which included a trip to Holland to explore their facilities and learn about farming in the Netherlands. She also completed the final semester of her undergraduate study in Canada through an exchange programme.

“I learnt a lot in my travels, especially in Holland. We have good technology in New Zealand, like embryo transfer work, but it’s not as visible as it was over there. I really enjoyed seeing it all in action,” she says.

Her role with LIC involved supporting farmers to achieve their herd improvement goals, surrounding breeding and reproduction. During that time she completed the Coast to Coast, which required an extensive commitment to training, keeping her busy round the clock.

It was also while she was working for LIC that she moved from Rolleston onto the farm with Martin as they took up contract milking. But after a few years, she felt ready to do something different.

She found an exciting opportunity with DairyNZ, where she is a solutions and development specialist. A big part of her role is translating science and research into things farmers can apply on-farm.

“My role at DairyNZ allows me to bridge the gap between science and extension by developing tools, resources and content for farmers when new research becomes available,” she says.

“There is a lot of variety in my role. I work on a range of projects and it allows for a balance between office and fieldwork, which is great.”

She is still keen on her extracurricular activities, completing the Queenstown marathon in 2018. And she has been heavily involved in Young Farmers for several years where has held various roles, including chairperson of the Tasman region.

When covid hit and restrictions imposed, she and a committed team paused their preparations to host the FMG Young Farmer of the Year in Christchurch. With restrictions now lifted, the 2021 event will take place next month.

“It has been a long time coming, but it’s finally on the doorstep and the flurry of hard work will all fall into place. We are really looking forward to it,” she says.

Among everything else she has on her plate, Vanessa and Martin got married in April. She wore cowboy boots under her dress, proving she has come a long way from the Auckland city life she grew up in.

Although life has been busy and she has been juggling several things at once, she credits the great support she has received from DairyNZ and they are supportive of her new venture.

“They have been allowing me to reduce my hours over calving to do the calf-rearing at home. I’m really lucky they see the value I can bring, and are willing to work with me as I develop my coaching concept,” she says.

She anticipates numerous challenges while she is getting established, primarily her own mindset, as she knows that can be the biggest challenge for many people. And she expects the initial hard work to build the foundations and navigate the unknown landscape.

“I need to remember to celebrate the little things and look back at how far I’ve come as I progress,” she says.

“You’ve got to go after the things you want in life, and helping other people is exactly what I want to do.”

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