Countdown to IPM '17 - Bishop named first-ever female chair
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
On Sunday, June 23, 2013, Huron County made history in choosing Bluevale’s Jacquie Bishop to chair the 2017 International Plowing Match (IPM).
On that hot day at the Seaforth Agriplex, the Huron Plowmen’s Association held “A Celebration of Rural Plowing” and named the first-ever female IPM chair.
Also on that day, Walton was named as the event’s location, after the Huron Plowmen’s Association had narrowed it down to a handful of potential sites around the county.
This came just over one year after the association had expressed its interest in hosting the match – a landmark match since it’s the 100th actual match (several years were lost due to World War II) in Canada’s 150th anniversary year.
From there, Huron’s bid was supported by local businesses and government, and Huron was named the host of the historic match.
That sweltering day in June, 2013 was when Bishop’s work on the IPM officially began. At the time, she said she was honoured to have been chosen, but the thrill of the appointment was soon replaced by the reality that a monumental task lay before her.
In an interview with The Citizen at her Jamestown Road home sheep farm, Bishop taps both of her index fingers on the kitchen table when asked where she was raised.
“I was raised right here on this farm,” Bishop said.
She is the third generation of her family to live on the farm. She and her husband Kevin have three daughters, Keshia, Kayla and Kabrina Bishop – they are the fourth generation.
The farm is now known as a sheep operation that has been honoured at many levels, including the Royal Winter Fair, but it has come a long way since those early years before Bishop was even born.
Her grandfather Harvey Robertson first bought the property and raised a family there with his wife, the former Margaret Brown from southern Morris Township, in the 1930s. At that time, the farm was a mixed operation that was home to cattle, dairy and swine.
The family made way for two boys, Bill Robertson, Bishop’s father, who would take over the farm, and her uncle Bruce, who would go on to be a teacher in Huron County, eventually serving as a principal in schools in Howick and Wingham.
Bruce, a highly musical person, was also a member of the Ranch Boys, famous for their performances on CKNX’s Barn Dance program.
Bishop’s mother Colleen Stobo came from Teeswater. She met Bill at a dance hall outside of Wingham where, both avid dancers, they hit it off and soon married and started a family.
They brought calves from western Canada for their operation. Soon Jacquie and her older sister Sherry were born.
In her younger days, Jacquie said she was always a member of several 4-H clubs, including the beef club and several of the lifestyle clubs. It was in the beef club that she would meet her long-time friend and future MPP of Huron-Bruce, Lisa Thompson.
Throughout her childhood, Bishop was the graduate of 24 4-H clubs and she soon became a 4-H leader, a responsibility she only just gave up a few years ago when chairing the IPM simply became too big of a job.
Bishop’s mother always envisioned a career in nursing for her daughter, saying that her temperament was right for the demanding job.
Bishop did to apply to nursing school, being accepted and offered the opportunity to study the art of nursing, but it was an education in agriculture at the University of Guelph that Bishop truly needed in her life.
During her time at the university, Bishop was named Student Council President of her class, while also winning the Ontario Agricultural College Leadership Award.
Bishop said she has no regrets about her chosen life’s direction, saying that she finds peace in the solitude of the farming life, even pointing to the quiet farm landscapes at her home farm as a calming influence on her life.
After she and Kevin were first married, Bishop broke away from the family farm, living in Seaforth for a decade while she worked as a milk tester for the Ontario Dairy Herd Improvement Corporation.
Bishop has also worked over the years with the Huron County Beef Producers, Ontario Pork, the Heartland Soil and Crop Improvement Association, the Ontario Pesticide Education Program, the Howick Mutual Insurance Board and Elections Canada and Elections Ontario.
The couple brought their three daughters into the world and were able to raise them with perfectly fitting schedules between Kevin’s work on the farm and Bishop’s work testing milk throughout the community.
Bishop said she’s determined to make the most of the life she truly wants to live, a life in agriculture, because of challenges her mother would face at Bishop’s current age.
Bishop’s mother died from cancer at Bishop’s current age and that’s something she thinks of often. Not long after, her father remarried, but soon developed cancer as well and lost his battle.
It’s important, she said, to live each day and do what matters to you, because you never know what could lie around the bend.
Bishop’s life in agriculture, she said, is heavily based in a connection to the land. She is fascinated with the idea of sustainability and how lucky Huron County farmers are to have the rich, productive soil they have.
Living that life, she said, fills her with a real sense of satisfaction on a day-to-day basis.
When Bishop was chosen to lead the 2017 IPM, she said she knew from the beginning it would be a team effort and so she surrounded herself with smart, capable and hard-working committee chairs who have far more expertise in plowing match culture than she does.
Any of her committee chairs, Bishop said, are capable of chairing the match themselves, but may not quite have the time, as she does.
The process has been a long one, she said, and in those early days there were many brainstorming sessions and days spent envisioning what the match could be and how those involved could make the vision a reality.
There were the meetings with businesses with which the IPM would eventually partner, and brokering agreements with over a dozen Walton landowners, who have shown a tremendous amount of co-operation in agreeing to host the match.
However, now three and a half years later, those planning tasks have transformed into physical preparation as the match continues to take shape, now just nine months away.
So much goes into hosting an IPM, she said, and she’s met with countless individuals who will help make that a reality.
There are the obvious meetings like with the Ontario Plowmen’s Association or with Huron County, but there are others with the Ontario Provincial Police or Huron County Emergency Services that are all pieces to the IPM puzzle that Bishop is working to assemble.
Bishop prefers to view her role with the IPM as more directing traffic. She connects one source with another, she brings together those who will bring the match to life and ensures the match’s success through those partnerships and relationships.
And while acting as the chair for the 2017 IPM is no doubt a lot work, and essentially a full-time job according to Bishop, with great work comes great responsibility.
Bishop’s work in chairing the IPM is something she sees as another chapter in giving back to the agricultural community of Huron County.
While recent reports have stated that the IPM will cost the county hundreds of thousands to host, which has resulted in the tightening of purse strings on other grants, Bishop is hopeful that the county will see a tremendous return on investment as a result of playing host to the IPM.
A recent Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport report found that the 2016 match in Wellington County resulted in $29 million in economic spinoff. Whether that’s hotel visits, meals at local restaurants or sales of farming equipment at the IPM and Rural Expo, figures like that, Bishop said, could mean a 4,000 per cent return on investment for those county dollars.
That doesn’t include statistics that show IPM visitors annually spend over $200 million on local vendors in areas like farm machinery, farm suppliers, home improvements, appliances, gardening and landscaping.
There are also a number of other departments that could see a bump in their numbers through unofficial partnerships like service clubs and volunteer organizations that plan to help at the match. Those partnerships, Bishop hopes, are ones she intends to pay back.
She even thinks area farmers stand to benefit from the match, with the Huron County Federation of Agriculture planning to host a food court representing the various commodity groups throughout the county.
That doesn’t include the jobs that have been created and will be created through the match, bringing employment for many young people throughout the county, whether it’s directly through the match or through grants being made to the match.
The 2017 IPM has already been approved for one of the few Canada 150 grants, which means the match will be host to one of the country’s anniversary celebrations – likely on the final day of the match.
The program is already in place, Bishop said, which she hopes means the IPM will “end with a bang” with details to come shortly.
There will also be many opportunities for the youth of Huron County and beyond to show off at the match to audiences bigger than they ever have before.
The IPM will play host to the 4-H Invitational calf and sheep shows, a partnership that has never before been made. Then, of course, there are the partnerships with the Brussels Agricultural Society to host a first-ever fall fair at the match, while the first-ever Princess of the Furrow competition, something that organizers hope will become an annual IPM event, will also be held.
There will also be an authentic 4-H Go for the Gold competition at the IPM – another first.
As the first woman to ever chair an IPM, Bishop said it has obviously led her to think about how much things have changed in the world, and in Huron County, since Huron County first hosted the match in 1946 after several matchless years through World War II.
“Men used to wear their suits and hats when they attended the match and in 1946 every piece of machinery there was sold because everyone bought up everything after the war ended,” Bishop said. “Things are a lot different today.”
Bishop said she sees Huron as a progressive county, so it makes sense that Huron would bring forward the first-ever woman to chair a match.
Bishop doesn’t think about it too much though. She said she hopes she was chosen not because she is a woman, but because she’s capable and that those involved thought she could do the job. There certainly is a sense of pride though, she said, as the mother of three young women, to be the first woman to do something on a provincial level.
“In 2017, for the 100th match, we are celebrating the accomplishments and the history of the IPM, but are looking to the future and the changes in the industry,” Bishop said. “So it’s the perfect time to demonstrate change and have the first female in 100 years as the chair. I hope to be the first of many who will follow in my footsteps.”
When it’s all said and done, however, Bishop said that she’s not even necessarily concerned with profits. Yes, profits mean that local businesses and service organizations and municipalities will see a spike in sales, interest, etc. However, if Bishop and her team achieve what they’ve set out to do, she said, those things should take care of themselves.
Once the match has concluded, Bishop said, she hopes that the IPM will have showcased what is great about Huron County. Whether it’s the landscape, the people, the food and drink or the hospitality, if the tens of thousands of visitors to the IPM come away with a positive image of Huron County and all it has to offer, she’ll be happy.
“I hope that the match will be one of those moments that you stop in time and we all remember where we were in 2017,” she said. “I hope people will remember that in 2017 to celebrate Canada’s 150th, this is what we did.”