Scholar Throwback – Stewart Skinner & Jessica Kelly

This Throwback Thursday brings us another happy couple who were both GRAS Scholarship recipients. Stewart Skinner received his scholarship from 2008 to 2009 and Jessica Kelly received hers in 2012.

When asked what they have been up to, Jessica wrote:

“Stewart and I first met when we were both volunteering at Ontario Pork’s Pig Mobile at the Royal Winter Fair, but it wasn’t until a few years later and a conversation at the Ontario Pork Congress beer tent that we actually started dating. I was doing my undergrad degree at Western at the time, but he let that slide because I still was an Aggie at heart. Neither of us recall the date of our first date, so instead we do a little celebratory cheers in the Pork Congress beer tent each year!

Although completed a few years apart, we have matching Master’s degrees from the Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics department at the University of Guelph. Following his Master’s, Stewart came home to his family’s farm in Listowel, and in 2015 we started our own farm corporation and took over a portion of his parents’ operation. Since then, we have expanded significantly. We raise over 25,000 pigs per year in three different production systems (conventional, certified humane, and certified organic).

Stewart has also been involved in provincial politics and worked as a policy advisor to Jeff Leal as Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA). In his “spare time” he is an active writer, contributing a regular column to local mid-western Ontario newspapers.

Since my Master’s I have worked as the Direct Farm Marketing Specialist at OMAFRA, where I’m fortunate to work with farmers’ markets, farmers who sell directly to consumers, and food entrepreneurs. Learning about and supporting the direct farm marketing sector is a great privilege and I have the utmost respect for those that work in it. They aren’t just farmers, they are also marketers, merchandisers, social media gurus, tourism operators, and so much more. For a period of time, my job was part of the Foodland Ontario — an amazing team of people who work hard every day to support Ontario farmers and food producers!

In terms of personal highlights, a few come to mind:

One is our little family! We have a four year old son and seven month old daughter who keep us grounded, keep us laughing, and keep us on our toes. Our son is a very inquisitive and diligent little farmer. In the barn, he will check EVERY pig drinker he can find, even if you’re trying to get chores done quickly. In the office, he will grab the calculator, start typing in numbers and rattle off the various expenses he is adding up.

Stewart has been a strong advocate for mental health in farmers and is known for sharing his very real and authentic struggles mental health. This is something that is very important to both of us and something we’re really proud of.

Both of us have spent time in East Africa (Stewart in Kenya, Jess in Tanzania and Kenya) and it’s a place that holds a very special place in our hearts. We’ve been involved in some farm-related projects there and have some great friendships. We hope to spend more time there in the years to come (Stewart especially — he hates winter so he wants to snowbird in Kenya like people snowbird in Florida!) Fun fact: our farm is called Imani Farms, which is Swahili for faith. We figured with all the ups and downs of farming, you have to have faith (in all sorts of things, including yourself!), so it seemed most fitting.

Neither of us really have an ongoing connection to GRAS, but are incredibly thankful for the support we received. Deep down, we are both learning nerds and love any and every opportunity to learn and talk about/debate ideas.”

Thanks or the update Jessica, we wish your little farm family nothing but ups in the years to come and enough faith to get through the downs!

As an Agricultural Society who advocates for the well-being of farmers we wanted to mention that Stewart currently sits on the Board for “The Do More Agriculture Foundation”, a wonderful not-for-profit that focuses on mental health in agriculture across Canada. Do More Ag promotes awareness and education in order to break the stigma against mental health, provides their community with access to relevant resources, and supports further research in the field through supporting, sharing and funding present and future projects.

Since its inception in 2006, the Scholarship and Bursary Program has awarded $216,500 to 118 students. For updates on more of our past scholars follow us on Facebook @GrandRiverAg.

If you know a student with a permanent residence in Wellington County, Perth County or the Region of Waterloo who is currently enrolled in a college or university with an agricultural or environmentally focused program they can apply for a scholarship of up to $2,500.

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