The changing face of the Farm Management and Technology Program

Published: 15 June 2021

Women make up more than 50 per cent of the graduating cohort for first time in program history.

Convocation is a special time and an important milestone in the lives of graduating students. Today’s virtual Convocation ceremony for the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences enjoyed a milestone of a more collective fashion, however.

For the very first time, the graduating cohort from the Farm Management and Technology Program (FMT) was made up of more than 50 per cent women.

“Agriculture has been a male dominated industry in western society, and going to school to ‘become a farmer’ was not always looked upon highly for women,” says Kahshennoktha Deer, a member of the Class of 2021 who earned her Dip.FMT – a CEGEP-level program offered at Macdonald campus. “However, in recent years there has been a growing awareness and flourishing of women in all agricultural sectors – We have always been there, but now we are being appreciated and celebrated on a larger scale.”

“Fortunately, society is increasingly open to the presence of women in jobs that have been traditionally held by men, including agriculture,” says Lydia Roy, another Dip.FMT graduate and winner of both the Médaille d’or du Ministère de l’Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l’Alimentation du Québec and the Governor General’s Collegiate Bronze Medal as the top graduating student in the Program. “This naturally results in an increasing percentage of women graduating from agricultural programs, including FMT.”

Sara Bohemen, another member of the ground-breaking FMT cohort, was surprised to learn about the milestone. “I have to say that I never once in my three years felt ‘inferior’ to the men in our class,” she says. “The teachers are really good at making it a very neutral zone and there wasn’t any competition with the guys. Everyone just got along and, in terms of making friends, I think I made as many new male friends as female.”

Evolving agriculture sector

Deer, Roy and Bohemen represent the changing demographics of an industry in evolution. (See our Q&A with each of them below)

Historically, agriculture has been a male-dominated field. “Farms were traditionally left to the sons, and the daughters, if they went to college, studied household science or teaching programs,” says Caitlin MacDougall, Liaison Officer, Farm Management and Technology Program.

Mac has offered some version of a diploma in agriculture program since Macdonald College was established in 1907. This program has been long dominated by men. “If you have a look at the 1933 Clan Macdonald Yearbook the diploma and degree students in agriculture are all men, and even the ad for Macdonald College refers to the length of the program as being ‘arranged for the convenience of farm boys’,” says MacDougall, who notes that even as recently as 2009, only one woman graduated from the FMT program.

Shift in mindsets and demographics

But female enrolment in FMT has seen a significant upswing in the past decade, thanks to what MacDougall calls “a generational shift in the mindset” that farming could only be done by men, and, that only sons could take over the business in future.

“This has brought more young women into the program who never even considered that this wouldn’t be a viable career path for them,” she says. “There are so many career opportunities related to agriculture, it is great to see a more diverse group of students entering.”

“Female students do not necessarily choose sectors of agriculture traditionally associated with women (horticulture, floriculture, marketing, etc.),” says David Wees, Associate Director of the FMT Program. “For example, they are just as likely to specialize in livestock production (dairy, beef, sheep, poultry, etc.) as their male counterparts.”

Wees says a shift in societal demographics has also played a part in changing the demographics of universities in general and, in particular, the FMT Program. “Families are getting smaller.  Fifty years ago, if you had six or eight children, you might send only one to higher education and chances were that it would be one of the young men,” he says. “Now, with only one or two children per family, there is a greater chance of all children, male and female, being encouraged by their parents to further their education.”

The end result is a program that is healthier and more vibrant because of its diversity. “I think it is always better for the students when there is more diversity (of opinions, backgrounds, areas of interest) in their learning environment,” says MacDougall. “It certainly appears (from a recruiter’s perspective) to be a richer learning environment for the presence of more women.”

Below are Q&As with three female members graduating from the FMT Program

Lydia Roy

Why did you decide on the FMT program?

I was raised on our family farm and, as I grew up, I became increasingly interested by this lifestyle. Coming from the countryside many hours away from Montreal, this program was an opportunity for me to experience living in a completely different area. I could also improve my English skills while studying in one of my main interests. It seemed like a perfect mix! Moreover, some of my brothers and cousins graduated from the FMT program beforehand and their positive experience confirmed to me that my decision was right.

Looking back, how would you describe your experience?

I would describe my experience as a valuable and rewarding learning experience. Even if I had a lot of the hands-on knowledge from the work on the farm, having the theoretical knowledge behind it was very interesting. Moreover, connecting with other people who have different farming background and expertise adds value to the program and can always be practical in the future. Finally, the fact that I succeed well in a college entirely teaching in English, which is my second language, adds a lot of worth to my experience.

What were the biggest challenges you faced in the program?

The most challenging part of the program for me was the first semester because of the language barrier. This was especially true for the technical words, that I was not used to, such as terms concerning agricultural machineries. Another challenging step was during the final collegial comprehensive assessment, which is a business plan, taking several months to complete. The teachers and the students talk about this project as soon as we start the program until the end of it. Since this process is so long and complex, it was really hard to stay relaxed and motivated all the time, especially when I faced issues.

What comes next for you?

For the coming four years, I will completely change my orientation. I will be doing a Bachelor’s degree in school and social adjustment for elementary students. This is the other domain that always interested me. However, it is sure that as soon as possible, I will take advantage of the knowledge I gained for a garden or an animal production no matter its scale.

Would you recommend this program?

I would recommend this program to anybody that is interested by managing a farm or even simply by agriculture. The courses in this program are really diversified so it is certain that you will learn new things, either about plant and animal production or about management.

Kahshennoktha Deer

Why did you decide on the FMT program?

Growing up I wanted to become a veterinarian who specializes in livestock since I love animals and I grew up having a hobby beef farm. When it came time for me to start applying to CEGEPs, my father (who also had set a path to become a veterinarian when he was my age, but sadly did not get to complete his schooling) had told me about the FMT Program that he himself had completed. It instantly appealed to me and I applied, and now I get to say that I am graduating from the same program that my father did.

Looking back, how would you describe your experience?

The small community of the school (Mac Campus) is one of the best experiences anyone could hope for. Coming from the small community of Kahnawake, it was a very familiar atmosphere of everyone knowing everyone, and this rings especially true in regards to the program. After some time in the FMT Program, you begin to feel like everyone becomes a part of your family, from your fellow classmates to your professors. That is the biggest highlight for me, I was able to make friendships that will last a lifetime and memories that I will always fondly look back on.

What were the biggest challenges you faced in the program? 

The absolute biggest challenge I faced was my lack of knowledge of nearly everything. I come from a beef farming background, which means that I had no knowledge of any other agricultural sector – which sometimes became a handicap. Luckily, I made friends who were able to explain definitions and concepts to me if I happened to be too embarrassed to ask my professors in front of the entire class. However, the professors were also very happy to clear anything up for me if I had questions about the subject, and they always encouraged me to better myself.

What comes next for you?

About halfway through the program I decided to change my career path from veterinarian to becoming a teacher. Once I began to learn my strengths and my weaknesses, I realized that, much like all my family (my parents, grandparents and my brother), the world of education is where we thrive because we enjoy helping others learn. I am pleased to say that I have been accepted back into McGill for a Bachelors in Education which I will be starting in the fall semester.

Anything else to add?

I would like to thank everyone from classmates, professors, faculty, and even the janitors, for making me feel welcome when I was nervous being the only Indigenous student on the Mac Campus, and for making the experience in the FMT Program an enjoyable one. I will miss you all, Nia:wen’ko:wa.

Sara Bohemen

Why did you decide on the FMT program?

Like many high school students, I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do and struggled with choosing the “right” college for me. After visiting multiple colleges and campuses I found that Mac campus was my favourite and after my brother, a previous FMT grad showed me around I loved the “small town” vibe this college offered as you aren’t just a number in a classroom, teachers know you individually. With two of my older brothers having graduated from the FMT program, they were part of the influence as I already knew a lot about the program and the courses. Looking back, I can easily say it was the best decision to come to Mac.

Looking back, how would you describe your experience?

During my three years in the FMT program I had the best experience of my life. I met so many new people, made a ton of new friends and created memories and bonds that will last a lifetime. From the very educational courses to the classic Ceilidh bar nights, Sainte-Anne’s became a home away from home.

What were the biggest challenges you faced in the program? 

The biggest challenge in the program was the learning curve of “growing up”. Learning to become an adult and becoming a new person based on the experiences you live and your interests, all while learning to manage time, money, new relations and making life decisions. This challenge can also be seen as a very exciting time since you learn to become yourself and do the things you love.

What comes next for you?

For now, I am continuing to work at home and see where the road will take me. I’m keeping my options open since I’m young and I feel like this is the time of my life where I can gain some experience and knowledge by seeing other things before settling down and having a family and all that other adult stuff [laughing].

Would you recommend this program?

I definitely recommend this program as it has opened so many doors and paths to an abundance of people with similar interests. It allowed each and every one of us to feel like we belonged and like there is a place for us in the agricultural community.

Written by Neale McDevitt, originally published in the McGill Reporter.

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