On the evening of April 12, the second annual Dairy Women’s Summit was held by West Coast Robotics, a Lely dealership in Agassiz, British Columbia. Around 100 women participated in the event this year, which focused on celebrating women in the dairy industry and providing an opportunity for them to share their stories while connecting with their industry colleagues. The event featured three keynote speakers – Erin Harris, Margie Vanboven and Carla Soutar – who spoke about their roles in the industry and how they see themselves as dairy professionals while also carrying on the traditional roles of being mothers and wives.

Veeneman dan
Cow Cooling Product Specialist / InBarn

Harris operates a dairy farm and processing facility in Creston, British Columbia. They process 100% of their milk on the farm and have a full line of glass-bottled milk and cream, as well as a range of artisanal cheeses. While they have a small retail shop on the farm, their sales are primarily to wholesale customers throughout the Kootenays for fluid milk and throughout Western Canada for cheese.

Soutar was born and raised on a dairy farm in the Fraser Valley, where she still works on the weekends. She is passionate about the dairy industry and the people within it. As the producer-services manager with BC Dairy, Soutar collaborates with all of BC Dairy’s producers and industry partners to continue building relationships within the industry.

Vanboven was raised in town and didn't have any particular interest in farming as a kid, but when she married a dairy farmer at age 19, she quickly integrated into the lifestyle. Throughout the years, she has milked cows, hauled hay, raised calves, scraped barns and lent her organizational skills to the machine shop more than a few times. Vanboven and her husband, Ben, started a new project with their son Matthew and his wife, Darbi, in 2019 by bottling milk on the farm and delivering it to homes and stores throughout the Cowichan Valley, giving her a unique connection between farming and consumers.

When asked why she agreed to participate in the event, Soutar shared, “As a woman who finds myself on both sides of the industry (part-time farmer and part-time industry), I know what it's like to be a bit lost in the fray and not know where I fit in. I wanted other women to know that, regardless of whether there's room for you on the farm full time or not, there's room for you in the industry.”


Many of the attendees expressed excitement about the event and were glad to have a venue to share stories and encourage each other along the way. That said, a few attendees expressed that the end goal is for events like this to not be needed. “Ideally, we get to a place where I can just be [a] dairy farmer and not a female farmer,” one attendee said. That thought was echoed by other speakers as well.


Approximately 100 women participated in the Dairy Women’s Summit in April, which was organized by West Coast Robotics, a Lely dealership in British Columbia. Photo courtesy of West Coast Robotics.

Mitch McCormick works for West Coast Robotics and was part of the event’s organizing team. He stresses, “It’s important to recognize the women in our industry who are taking on more prominent roles on their farms every day and pushing the industry forward in a progressive way. In a traditionally male-dominated industry, we often forget the women who work tirelessly both in the barn and in the household, but the reality is that these women are critical cogs in the wheels of their farms and families.”

In terms of plans for next year’s event, McCormick says, “As long as the event is supported and seen as bringing value, we will continue to have these events, and make them bigger and better each year.”