A fierce advocate for the voice of women in agriculture is among the four agricultural leaders who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2020
By Jackie Clark
Four new inductees will join the Ontario Agricultural Hall of Fame in 2020, the Hall of Fame Association announced in a Feb. 4 statement.
“The late John Curtis, Dianne Harkin, (William) Brian Little and the late (William) Murray Mills have all been selected by the Ontario Agricultural Hall of Fame Association as worthy candidates based on their lifelong legacies to Ontario’s agriculture,” the statement said.
Inductees to the Ontario Agricultural Hall of Fame are creative and motivated leaders, and problem-solvers in agriculture in the province.
Upon hearing the news “I was very honoured,” Dianne Harkin told Farms.com. She has dedicated her life’s work to the advancement of women’s rights and abilities in agriculture.
Early in life she was warned by her grandmother never to marry a farmer. “She knew what a hardship it could be,” Harkin said. However, after finding success in business, her husband decided to buy a farm.
“I started to notice that some of the things my grandmother said were true,” Harkin explained. Women working hard with no recognition for their efforts, and farmers were viewed as lower-class citizens by the public.
“I just started to notice that women were not participating” in farm meetings or organizations, she said.
1975 was named International Women’s Year and Harkin dedicated her time to establishing Women for the Survival of Agriculture. She recruited and organized the wives of farmers to recognize their own power and advocate for the industry.
She told those women “nobody is ‘just a farm wife.’ Do you know how much knowledge and skill you have? You are very special.”
The organization spread across the country and planned the first national conference for women in agriculture.
“We started to call ourselves business partners instead of farm wives,” Harkin said, and the women formed official business relationships so they would be eligible for provincial government programs.
The organization took on many intimidating players and effected real change. The income tax laws changed to include farm women’s work, the banks and lending agencies changed their policies to protect women’s assets, and Women for the Survival of Agriculture conducted surveys and research to silence outspoken critics of agriculture, Harkin explained.
The list of accomplishments goes on to include organizing yearly learning retreats at Kemptville College, establishing a helpline for farm families in distress, teaching agriculture in classrooms, changing the census forms to account for women’s labour, opening a shelter for women who suffered from abuse, and more, Harkin said.
Harkin dedicated decades of effort to “raising the social economic status of farm women. That’s what we did. And I certainly didn’t do it alone,” she said.
Alongside the other 2020 inductees, Harkin finds herself in good company. The Feb. 4 release highlighted their primary accomplishments.
The late John Davis Curtis helped to establish corn as a major field crop in eastern Ontario. He was a leader in testing early maturing corn and soybean hybrids, and as principal of Kemptville College of Agriculture Technology, promoted the institution as a foremost agricultural education institution.
(William) Brian Little committed to investing in the future generations of agriculture, helping to organize research that bolstered enrolment in Ontario Agricultural College programs and played a leadership role on the Canadian 4-H Council and Foundation.
Finally, the late (William) Murray Mills helped to design and develop agricultural machinery that improved both efficiency and operator safety. He played a critical role in the ongoing improvement of harvester combines to help farmers cover the growing acreages of farms in Ontario.
Each of these individuals have made incalculable contributions to Ontario’s agricultural industry through their innovations, leadership and dedication.
Curtis, Harkin, Little and Mills will be inducted on June 14, 2020. Those interested in attending can find more information here.