“Thanks Jeff,” Elaine said, barely looking up as her husband refilled her coffee cup. Elaine and her mother-in-law were at the kitchen table, working on Elaine’s campaign. With eight weeks to go until the end of elections for the board in Saskatchewan, Donna was re-reading the final draft of Elaine’s candidate bio while Elaine tweeted about trade policy.
“I’m getting so good at this, maybe Trump will want me to volunteer for his next campaign,” Jeff said.
Donna ignored her son. Elaine rolled her eyes. “You’re not volunteering here,” she told him. “You don’t have a choice.”
“You could at least get some campaign hats made up,” he called over his shoulder, taking the empty pot back to the kitchen. “Especially if you’re going to want me to help fight for a recount once the results are announced.”
Once Elaine had made up her mind to run for a board position on this provincial commodity association, she’d gone straight to work.
“If you’re going to run, take it seriously. Treat it like a real campaign,” was the advice she’d gotten from Katelyn Duncan, a member of the SaskCanola board.
Last January in Saskatoon, when in-person conferences were still allowed and organizers could even serve buffet lunches, Elaine found a spot at Katelyn’s table during a mid-week lunch at CropSphere. When no one else at the table was paying attention, Elaine had worked up the courage to mention to Katelyn that she was thinking of running for another organization.
“Why?” Katelyn had asked before she finished her salad and pushed her plate aside.
“What?” Elaine said, surprised at Katelyn’s blunt question.
Katelyn smiled. “The first thing you should do is ‘know your why.’ Maybe you want personal growth. Maybe there’s an issue you want to tackle. Maybe you’re looking for a leadership opportunity. If you really think about why you want to run, spending time on the board would be more meaningful for you. And you would probably bring more to the board.”
“That makes sense,” Elaine said. “I want to work on trade and research policy. I’ve been learning a lot about the issues. I have some ideas to bring to the table.”
“That’s a good start,” Katelyn said.
“But I’m not sure I have the nerve to put my name on the ballot,” Elaine admitted. “What if nobody votes for me?”
That’s when Katelyn advised her to take campaigning seriously.
“It’s a lot of work,” Katelyn warned. “Asking people to critique your bio. Designing posters to put up where farmers will see them. Promoting yourself on social media. It might feel like you’re trying too hard. I probably looked like I was trying too hard when I was campaigning. But that’s okay.”
Elaine snapped the top of the cold can of Diet Pepsi she’d brought from the buffet table and wondered if she had enough self-confidence for this.
Katelyn explained. “If you do run but don’t try as hard as you can to get elected, and then you don’t get on the board, you’ll kick yourself later.”
Elaine took this to heart. Once she made her decision to run, she’d taken the project seriously. She’d started by getting up the nerve to contact friends and acquaintances for advice and support.
She was pleasantly surprised by their replies. She found the Canadian ag industry is no longer a game run by a tight network of older white men. Nearly everyone she phoned, emailed or texted was willing and eager to help a young woman who’d grown up in the city.
Laura Reiter, past chair of SaskWheat, replied to Elaine’s email right away. Laura’s advice was sensible and seemed obvious, but Elaine soon realized it might be the hardest part of the campaign.
“It’s great that you have your family behind you, and you understand how much of your time this is going to take,” Laura had written. “That’s a huge part of the process. But now you’re going to have to make sure you know where you stand on a whole bunch of issues, everything from glyphosate bans and research priorities to grain transportation and China’s import policy. You’ll need to be able to articulate your positions.”
This was going to take some thinking. Elaine had opinions in all these areas, but she hadn’t tried to explain them to anyone else, let alone write them down.
Laura had more advice. “Remember, not everyone’s going to agree with you all the time, and that’s a good thing for a board. If everyone has the same position, the board might be missing something in a discussion.”
Elaine spent long hours in front of her computer and on her phone, making sure she had beliefs she could back up with facts and data, and trying to build the confidence to have a friendly debate with someone who disagreed. But, as Donna reminded her, “Don’t forget, we have to make sure people know who you are.”
Elaine worked with Donna on the candidate bio that would be sent out to all voters. They wrote about how Elaine was involved on the Hanson farm and in the community. Elaine wrote a few short paragraphs about some of the hottest current topics, then shared an early draft with some family and friends for outside input.
Some criticisms were more helpful than others. “You should add a picture of Grandpa’s new puppy,” her seven-year-old daughter Jenny suggested. “People will vote for someone with a cute puppy.”
The suggestions from Nancy Johns were much more helpful. Elaine had met Nancy, a SaskFlax board member, at farm meetings in Moose Jaw and Regina. Nancy made sure Elaine added in exactly what she did on the farm, and didn’t forget to mention her time on the local playschool board.
“Send me the final draft,” Nancy said. “I’ll forward it on to my network to help you promote yourself.” Elaine was grateful for this offer.
“Also,” Nancy said. “I checked. You hardly ever use your Twitter account.”
Nancy was right. Elaine hadn’t tweeted anything since she posted a photo from Ag In Motion in the summer of 2019.
“Tweet about the crop. The markets. Research,” Nancy suggested. “Let people know where you’ll focus if you’re elected.”
Elaine started following more ag-related hashtags and taking part in conversations with prairie farmers on Twitter. She rewrote her bio with more information about her work on the business side of the farm and her time on the playschool board, but she decided against adding the photo of Dale’s puppy. Finally, she thought it was ready.
Now Donna was taking a last look at the final draft before Elaine clicked “send” to submit it to the commodity group.
“I think it’s good,” Donna said at last.
“Okay,” Elaine said. “Here goes.” She pressed send.
“Waiting almost two months to see if you’ll win might be the hardest part,” Jeff said, coming in from the kitchen.
Elaine had already thought of that, wondering if she was going to have to make room on her calendar for monthly board meetings or find something else to do in 2021.
“You think it’s tough for you,” Jeff said. “I have to find work on another campaign.”