Despite growing up in Melbourne, a career in agriculture was always on the cards for Shepparton’s Harriet Bawden who hopes to inspire others to follow her footsteps.

Harriet’s parents had a hobby farm near Colac, her uncle was a farmer and university study took her to an agricultural region. “Historically my family were farmers so I’ve come full circle,” she said.

Now coordinator of Murray Dairy’s Young Dairy Network (YDN) and a member of the Goulburn Valley Young Professionals, Harriet is helping a new generation to appreciate the challenges and joys of working in the country.

Harriet, 29, says a Gardiner Dairy Foundation sponsored place in the Fairley Leadership Program is helping her to achieve her goals and harness the enthusiasm of other young people.

“I was always keen on agriculture,” she said. “I had family links and my interest was cemented when I did my Masters at the University of New England and was living in an agricultural community”.”

Harriet worked in land conservation on the Mornington Peninsula before moving to Murray Dairy as project officer for the Accelerating Change project and later the YDN and communications role.

The Fairley Leadership Program opened doors and opportunities.

“Knowing the Gardiner support was available motivated me to apply,” Harriet said. “I saw it as a great development opportunity in terms of leadership in a traditional sense but also with the emphasis on community leadership.

“As someone relatively new to the Shepparton community, I felt it would be a good way of connecting with people from different walks of life.”

The YDN and Young Professionals groups share common goals in aiming to attract, retain and support young people in the community.

“There are lots of common challenges and opportunities across both and they’re all about strengthening our regional communities and making them inviting for young people to live and work,” Harriet said.

“The lovely thing about regional communities is that they are all interlinked. Dairy is such a heart of our region and being a part of the dairy industry connects you to the community.”

Harriet said the leadership program helped to foster those connections. “It connected me to people across the community in education, water and regional development who have been really supportive.  You can strengthen your impact by taking a collaborative approach.

“I loved how the program presented leadership in all its forms and encouraged us to identify leaders we admire and the qualities we want to emulate.

“I learnt a lot about recognising the different values of people and listening and engaging in different ways and leading through demonstration.”

Harriet is now committed to agriculture and with her partner, Chase, is investigating options to get into farming.

From a career perspective, she would like to continue to focus on agriculture, with options to expand into community development or policy development.

Harriet encourages other young people to take on leadership programs and seek out Gardiner Dairy Foundation support.

“The best thing about it is that it gets you out of your own circle,” she said. “It challenges you and shows you new ways of operating and new ways of thinking.”

Despite its challenges, Harriet says there’s growing enthusiasm for the dairy industry among young people.

“The Young Dairy Network is really strong with people who genuinely want to form connections and learn from others,” she said.

“They’re positive about the industry because they’re open to changing the way they operate. They know it’s a difficult and volatile environment but they’re building their businesses around that.

“The challenge is to retain people. We don’t want to lose young people out of our communities so we need to offer them the same opportunities as in the city, if not better.”

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