And now she's been one for almost 20 years
By Diego Flammini
Brooke Leystra didn’t plan on being a farmer.
Despite growing up in Chatham, Ont., and close to farms, her only hands on experience with ag was through a job she had as a kid.
“I did corn to tassel when I was in grade eight,” she told Farms.com. “If you grew up in Chatham-Kent, that’s what you did. You had to pull the tassel out of the tops of the corn so it wouldn’t fertilize. You walk up and down the fields all day long. It was the worst. It was cold and wet in the morning and in the afternoon you’re sweating.”
And when she wasn’t sweating in the corn fields, 12- and 13-year-old Brooke was planning how to pursue a marine career.
“At that age I wanted to be a marine biologist,” she said. “I love the water and love animals. And I was really interested in sharks.”
When those plans didn’t materialize, she set her sights on the big city.
After studying communications and public relations at Brock University and Sheridan College, she had marketing and communications job in Toronto and figured that’s where she’d make a living.
“I thought I’d have my own business there and take my walks in the park on Saturday morning with a cappuccino,” she said.
Then, she met her husband, Scott.
“When he told me he was a farmer I didn’t want to go out with him at first,” she said through a laugh.
Sixteen years later and the Leystras own and operate Cob Roller Farms in Watford, Ont., where they raise farrow to finish hogs and organic crops and run an organic fertilizer business.
For two of those years, Brooke earned a diploma in agriculture from the University of Guelph’s Ridgetown Campus. And for nine years, she served as president of the Lambton Federation of Agriculture.
During her time in ag, any misconceptions she had about farmers and the industry overall completely disappeared.
“I had no idea how big the agriculture sector was and how sophisticated it is,” she said. “I used to picture a farmer in his coveralls with a pitchfork. I didn’t understand the level of education farmers had and the expertise they have in so many areas.”
With almost two decades of ag experience to draw on, Leystra’s message to young women thinking about ag as a career is simple.
If she can do it, so can anyone else.
“I didn’t grow up on a farm and now I help run a successful business,” she said. I went to school for marketing and communications and I use that education every day. There’s definitely still a stigma towards young female farmers and you’re going to have to be ready for that. I know when I first started, and not being from a farm, I really felt like I didn’t have anything to add. I wished I realized sooner that I was just as qualified as everyone else as the table. But I want you to know that you do have something to contribute and you should have that confidence.”
When asked about naming an ag hero, Leystra had a difficult time singling out one person.
Instead, the whole ag community is where lots of her support comes from, she said.
“I have girlfriends I talk to about the challenges of farming, of being a mom and farming, or of being a wife and farming,” she said. “They’re great people to bounce things off because they’ve usually dealt with something similar and they help put things back into perspective.
“When I look at the life I have now, compared to the life I had before, I could never imagine doing anything other than being a farmer and having this life.”