Find the Strength to Take the First Step

by Ginelle James

My name is Ginelle Pidwerbesky…sometimes Ginelle James… and I am a Sales Rep for an Agriculture Chemical Company based in Alberta, Canada. I am also Co-Founder and Board Chair to an organization called Women in Agriculture that supports, empowers and connects women in the industry. Oh yah…. And I’m a Country Music recording artist too who just released her 4 th single to Canadian Country Radio. I have a few things on the go….. let me tell you a bit about how this all came to be.

I grew up involved in agriculture, but never really understood much about the industry. At a young age, to me, farming meant being dirty all the time, mad at the weather, and never getting to go to the lake. As I began university I did what many of us tend to do. Jump from one area of focus to the next, trying to find a fit. I started in accounting, moved to finance, considered switching to education or agriculture, but eventually (in 6 years, not the typical 4) finished my degree in Human Resources. I was ready to be done. I wasn’t bad at it school, it was just never really my thing. I found it hard to apply myself to anything that didn’t really interest me. This hasn’t changed 10 years later. I would’ve loved to be one of those people that just KNEW what they wanted to do. A nurse or a teacher, something that had a clear path and what I perceived to be not a lot of risk, but unfortunately, this just wasn’t meant for me. I now know this is largely due to the fact that “my path”, following music and working with women in a male dominated industry, wasn’t the norm, or the easiest route by any stretch.

I started farming full time with my Dad after University and loved it. Loved being on the farm, loved running big pieces of equipment, loved training and working with hired employees from all around the globe… Loved all of it.

This said, it was a lonely profession. Day to day working a field in the middle of nowhere, sometimes having no cell service, no radio station to jam out to, including AM; Sirius radio and Wi-Fi weren’t even a consideration. Most days my only human interaction was with the hired men. Some days the only interaction of any kind, was with the deer or moose that hung out in the fields confused by the massive pieces of equipment rolling by. In addition to this isolation, there weren’t a lot of women that I could relate to in the industry. Very few females were doing what I was doing …. farming with their families (parents, husbands or in-laws) and trying to make a go of this challenging way of life. If these ladies did exist, I had no idea how to connect with them. Every conference, sales meeting, equipment training workshop I went to, I was surrounded by men. Knowledgeable, successful, accepting men (most of the time), but still, no one that could really relate to the gender and generational differences I was experiencing.

In addition to this, there was another significant hurdle in front of me. One I had no idea how to manage at 21. A problem I’m still not entirely sure I know how to manage. An issue that even though I consider myself to be one tough b*tch, I eventually had to submit to, force myself to deal with and finally admit there was no real solution for.

My Dad had a substance abuse problem, and with that came inconsistency, harsh methods of communication and ultimately the inability to effectively act as a partner in business. In addition to the name calling and blatant lack of respect that accompanies a 60 ounce vodka bender and the sub- sequent hangover that inevitably shows up 4, 5, or 6 days later, I was trying to navigate a sustainable business at a very young age. Typical challenges that accompany a farm operation, such as equipment breakdowns, grain storage decisions, crop management, and so on, there was the added strain of a “boss” disappearing for days on end, disgruntled employees who were fed up with being treated with the same level of disregard or not having their paychecks signed on time yet again, and perhaps most importantly, the udder disregard for any form of farm safety being thrown out the window.

I needed an outlet to help deal with all of this. One that offered an external avenue to get my mind off the farm issues, but still allowed me to stay involved in agriculture. I got together with my sister, who was also involved in our farm, and a friend who was considering going to farm full time with her family as well, and together we came up with an idea for a calendar project. We reached out to the few females in the industry that we knew and asked if they’d reach out to a few of their female friends, to take some agricultural photos. We were looking for a way to connect with these women around the province and before we knew it, we had enough for 12 photos! Before you ask, the answer is yes… yes we heard all the cheeky comments and off-the-cuff jokes about women taking photos for a calendar, but to be honest, we didn’t care. The calendar featured women in their everyday roles, running equipment…hauling grain…checking the fields…. and it allowed us to bridge the gap and start to create some long-lasting connections in an industry where we may otherwise have never crossed paths. To us, that was all that mattered. The money raised through calendar sales went to “Agriculture in the Classroom”, an organization that puts industry people in elementary schools around Saskatchewan to teach children about farming, growing crops and where their food comes from. We also donated funds to a University of Saskatchewan, College of Agriculture and Bio-Resources Scholarship.

Over the last five years, through many hurdles and a lot of volunteer work, our group has evolved into an organization that hosts events, runs membership drives (we just passed 100 in our first year!), offers coaching programs and much much more.

Now, this all said, I can’t talk about the wonderful things we’ve done with this organization without touching briefly on a few of the struggles we’ve had to overcome along the way, to get to where we are. I’ve learned that the second you do something that society, or in this case an industry, isn’t necessarily used to, the criticism starts to pour in. “Why do we need events specifically for women? If we have men-only groups and events that would never fly”.. “There have been other organizations headed up by women that have gone nowhere… why do you need another one now?”… and on and on it went. These comments came from both men and women. It’s hard to understand, and it’s taxing and frustrating when you spend endless volunteer hours trying to set up an organization whose only goal is to lift people up and provide resources for them to excel and be the best version of themselves that they can be. Yet some still find the need to focus on the negatives.

The good part though? Is that when you work with a group of volunteers who truly believe in what you’re doing and the direction you want to go, there is always someone to lift you back up and help you refocus when you get bogged down. In the end, it doesn’t really matter what the critics say, as long as someone finds value in the service you’re providing, and as long as one woman attends one of your events and walks away feeling like they have learned something that will help them to be successful in years to come, you’re on the right path.

This year we’ve taken on a new project I’m very proud of, a conference called CONNECT – The Heart of the Farm, designed to celebrate women in the industry. We have an full agenda of speakers sure to educate and empower attendees, representing all genders, generations and industries.

The group I get to work with everyday, from university students to moms of 1, 2 or 3 littles ones working full-time on or off the farm to keep things going and still volunteering endless hours to ensure everything we take on is a success, are my daily inspiration. I cannot begin to say enough thank-you’s for all they do to empower, support and connect women in the industry. It’s an incredible thing to see, women supporting women, working on projects and initiatives that may not provide direct benefits to themselves or their immediate networks, but instead help to develop society as a whole. 

I’m grateful for this organization we’ve created as I no longer am involved in the family farm. One evening in the middle of harvest, my Dad, with a cab full of empty beer cans and bottles of hard alcohol rolling around the floorboards backed our $500,000 combine into a slough with one of my cousins in the buddy seat. After two days of digging in the mud and putting my own safety at risk, while trying every angle and towing option to get the 25 ton piece of equipment unstuck, a light bulb finally came on. The light bulb that illuminates the level of insanity involved in a situation you find yourself in. WHAT THE HELL WAS I DOING?? This was no way to run a business or create a life, and if I ever wanted to make something of myself or rise above the cycle of alcoholism that has been ever-present in our family and the industry for generations, then I needed to make a change. A big one.

So that’s what I did. I left my company truck, my company cell phone, our hired men to whom I had grown so close, our partnership agreement, the farm I loved, the Dad I loved … and walked away. It’s tough to put into words the emotions that came up over the next few days, weeks, and months. Especially when I had friends and family members much older than me saying things like “the drinking wasn’t really that bad”, or “It’s a result of the stress associated with farming that many acres” as if that made it okay. My personal favorite was “you know, I talked to your Dad the other morning and it didn’t sound like he was drinking. Maybe you need to reconsider your decision” as if a sober 10-minute conversation on a Tuesday morning at 10am meant things were better. In addition to this, with my head hung a little low, I went back to the serving job that I swore I’d never return to after University, to pay the bills until I could figure out my next step.

Looking back, I know that I truly wanted it to work. The partnership, the personal relationship with my dad, etc. but as with any relationship, there comes a point where you need to stop holding on to its potential and take a good hard look at its reality. It’s a tough thing, walking away from a person, and a way of life, you’ve been raised to respect, honour and love. Truthfully, I wouldn’t be walking this earth if it wasn’t for my Dad, but ultimately that is never good enough of an excuse to let someone treat you in a way that doesn’t align with your values or positively impact your life. The way I see it, in any relationship, you set your boundaries. You then give people the opportunity to respect these boundaries. If they don’t, you set stricter boundaries. This cycle continues to the point where a relationship either strengthens, develops and builds trust, or you eventually stop communicating as the final boundary one can set is to remove someone from your life completely.

After leaving the farm, I experienced a wave of several, and by several, I mean A LOT, of failed job interviews. Finally, the sales manager of a Canadian-based seed company took a chance on an underqualified, low self-esteemed 25-year-old, and hired me to manage a territory in North East Saskatchewan, selling registered seed to retailers who would then sell it to farmers. Over the next two years my confidence, both personally and professionally, knowledge of the industry, and selling skills developed and in the end, I wouldn’t change a thing. I believe the tougher the times you are faced with, the stronger you come out on the other side, and the bigger reward you receive in the end.

I now work full-time as a sales rep for a chemical company in Calgary, AB. I sell pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides, which allow farmers to grow sustainable crops that continue to supply the growing demand for food around the globe. I realize there are some scary words in that last sentence. I GET IT! I have removed many foods, chemicals and toxins from my diet and skin care products to ensure my body and brain are running efficiently as possible. But what consumers need to understand is that many of the technologies growers employ on their farms, are not harmful in the capacity in which they are being used. I invite anyone with questions to reach out to myself, or a fellow farmer, to discuss these issues further. I, by no means, have all the answers, but have many educated friends in the industry, many of whom are moms and wives that want the best for their families, and who welcome the opportunity to discuss these matters further as consumer knowledge is vital to their livelihood.

Now… there was that other little thing I mentioned, that thing that sometimes has me using the last name “James”. It’s a project that makes me want to get up in the morning. The one that can turn my mood around in a hot second. It’s Ginelle James… The Recording Artist! It’s also the thing I’m finding it the most difficult to write about. The thing that leaves me exposed and vulnerable as I can’t clearly define where I’m going with it or how I’m going to get there.

At 30 years old, after years of neither playing in a band nor creating music and being miserable but not really knowing why, I moved out of Saskatoon (population 250,000) to the big city of 1.3 million people in Calgary to “pursue” (whatever that means) my music career. I was scared, to be completely honest. Scared to follow this weird little dream of mine in a town where I felt there were so many watchful eyes (acquaintances) at every corner monitoring my progress and waiting to see if I’d fly or fall. I had to go somewhere where nobody knew me. Somewhere I could make my mistakes without anyone knowing about them. I spent hours working on websites, setting up a social media accounts, practicing guitar, writing songs, and learning about music distribution and royalties because I thought I needed to have every little detail figured out before I even started to talk about “Ginelle James”. Heaven forbid someone asked me a question I didn’t have the answer too and I looked incompetent.

I’ve since learned what a backwards and detrimental, waste of time that way of thinking really was. The first song I released to Country Radio called “Sorry”, could’ve been released 10 years earlier when it was written, to start to get some momentum going at the age of 20 instead of 30, but instead, I wasted time and I waited, because I thought I needed to have all the answers first. What a great little tool our subconscious mind uses. If I keep telling myself I need to have all the answers before I start doing something scary, I never really have to do it, because I’m never going to have all the answers. All I needed to do was take the first step, and then the next step, and then one by one the steps start to slowly reveal themselves. I’ve now released 4 songs to Country Radio, released my debut EP album earlier this year, performed at venues around Western Canada, have a song introducing an ag podcast on XM radio every weekday, and was nominated for my first YYC Music Award in the Country Recording category. As with anything, I am slowly learning the systems, the ins and outs, and building confidence in a world that seemed like the scariest freaking thing I could imagine just 2 years ago. What’s my end goal? I don’t know. Does it matter? Having a vision, a path, and a list of things that I want to achieve is important, but to have that one big end-all goal that if I don’t achieve I’ll have no choice but to consider myself a failure, doesn’t need to exist. I’m going to enjoy the ride, make the best decisions I can, and am prepared to make a whole ton of mistakes along the way.

So, there you have it. I’m sure my story isn’t all that different from yours. We’re all faced with struggle, we all have things to overcome, we all feel like we’re not good enough every once and a while, and every now and then we look in the mirror after the make-up is washed off and think, WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING? By no means do I have it all figured out, but to anyone struggling to know what to do with your life, feeling like you’re in a rut, I hope this helps you find the strength to take the first step. That’s it. That’s all you have to do. Take a step towards the passion, the idea or the hobby that pops into your head from time to time, daring you to pursue it. The thing that eliminates any sense of time when you’re doing it. I don’t think motivation exists. You are never going to feel motivated to do things that are hard, scary, out of the norm, or a lot of work, etc. Instead, just take the small steps, one at a time, that slowly direct you down the path you want to follow. Don’t worry about the destination. Force yourself to continue the journey. Is it going to be easy? Not a chance. Is it going to be worth it? I promise it will.

More About Ginelle

Ginelle James is a Country Music recording artist and a Sales Rep for an Agriculture Chemical Company based in Alberta, Canada. After traveling the world, exceling at her career in sales, co-founding a Women in Agriculture non-profit organization and farming full-time with her Dad, Ginelle has life experience, a work ethic, and a get-it-done attitude that sets her apart.

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