Do food headlines confuse you more than answer your questions? Dr. Cami Ryan is an expert that taps into her social sciences knowledge and experience to bridge gaps between different consumer, regulatory and agriculture audiences to bring clarity and cohesion on food and ag issues. Think of it as Cami Ryan puts water on the social media fires at times. She listens, has conversations and then steps up to be a part of the broader discussion and dialogue. The “water” she uses in social media as well as in her professional writing and speaking, is science based, rooted in research and shared in personalized communications.
Cami recently left her public sector work, which I knew her from, to join Monsanto which she shares in detail about in her own words in the below features. Now before you go hating on Monsanto, listen, like Cami does and learn from her perspective and voice.
For me, I am overjoyed agriculture power brands like Monsanto are tapping into experts like Cami to bridge disconnects. Cami is a connector and communicator. She gives voice to women in agriculture at a big table of agricultural brands as well as connecting more of us to non-ag consumers and regulatory agencies, who impact farms and ranches daily but may not know a farmer or rancher. We need more Dr. Cami Ryan’s of the world to break down barriers and bridge gaps in the world of food and agriculture. It is easy to sit back and watch things crumble around you, saying it’s not your fault. That can happen in agriculture and food. But not with Cami working for agriculture. She dives into the deep end to accept the challenges and is determined to create connections and bring clarity to confusion.
Cami Ryan’s education includes a bachelor’s degree in communications and PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies (agricultural economics, business and sociology.) She is originally from Nipawin, Saskatchewan, Canada and currently lives in Okotoks, Alberta, Canada. Her husband, Blair Ryan is a competitive team roper with the Canadian Senior Pro Rodeo, a finishing carpenter, designer, developer, specializing in custom homes on acreages. Cami and Blair have two children, Tanya Ryan (26) (singer/songwriter/yoga instructor) and Hayden Ryan (20) (electrician’s apprentice).
What is your role in agriculture today? In late September (2014), I accepted the role as Social Science Lead, Regulatory Policy and Scientific Affairs for Monsanto Canada. For many years prior, I was a public sector researcher working at/with the University of Calgary or the University of Saskatchewan. As you can imagine, transitioning from the public sector into the private sector is a big step and I am embracing the opportunity with enthusiasm!
So, why – you ask – is a social scientist working for Monsanto? Well, it’s about the conversation; a conversation about food and food production that continues to evolve.
Fewer people have personal connections to farms and many now have a yearning to understand more about where food comes from. Unfortunately, there have been gaps in the communication channel between rural and urban communities. When gaps like this exist and they go unrecognized or ignored, misinformation can gain a strong foothold in the minds of the consumer. For years, the broader agriculture industry has been slow to respond to the misinformation that circulates out there about farming and food production. But that’s changing now. Farmers are stepping up, participating in and, often, leading the conversation. Scientists, like public sector/university crop breeders, plant geneticists and other experts in the area of crop development, are tentatively reaching out as well.
Monsanto has focused on serving and communicating with its customers (farmers), shareholders and employees as most business do. We now realize that we need to be part of a much broader dialogue about how our food is produced and how it gets to our tables. Monsanto is reaching out to new stakeholders in unique ways in order to connect with audiences that we might never have before. That includes social scientists, like me, who are interested in understanding the social side of research in this area.
In my job I get to engage with other social scientists that work in the public sector (a community that I am quite familiar with) to find new ways to create value for how science and agriculture, more broadly is regulated and understood. I think that I am one of the first social scientists to be brought on board an agricultural company in this capacity. I hope there will be more. If we are really interested in expanding the conversation, we need more social scientists (anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists, economists, etc) working in the agricultural industry.
How has agriculture shaped your life? I am not a farmer and never have been a farmer. My uncles, cousins and cousins’ children have continued to farm the land that my grandfather settled on when he immigrated to Canada at the turn of the last century. Despite not being directly attached to our family’s farming operations, agriculture has always been a huge part of my life. I grew up in a small town on the prairies where you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting a farm family; a place where more than half the desks in the school would be empty at seeding and harvest time.
For the past two+ decades I have been involved in the agricultural sector in one way or another. I worked in industry for a while, first with a small plant biotechnology company then in the biotechnology department of a multinational agricultural company. For more than 15 years I was entrenched in academia and most of that time with the College of Agriculture and Bioresources at the University of Saskatchewan. In September of this year, I joined Monsanto.
I love ag. I love science. I love my job. It’s great to play some part in an industry that is so important in our North American economy and to global food security. Today, Blair and I live on an acreage in Southern Alberta and own a few team-roping, ranch and working-cow horses along with a couple of other critters for good measure. Ranching and farming is all around us. What happens on the farm, in the field and on our plates shapes our family conversations, our food choices and our lives.
What excites you about your community? We live south of Calgary outside the thriving and colorful community of Okotoks, Alberta. I love the diversity of the Foothills, its appreciation for the arts but most of all I love its heart. Alberta is a place where people from all over North America and the world travel to and often settle. There are mountains to climb and ski down, fantastic restaurants, amazing views and warm-hearted people. Calgary, itself, is home to the Greatest Outdoor Show on earth: the Calgary Stampede! The Stampede attracts not only cowboys, cowgirls and other competitors, it also brings agriculture up close and personal for people who come from urban settings.
When was the last time you tried something for the first time? Maybe an hour ago? LOL! I love this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: “Do something every day that scares you.” I try to do something new (to me) every day. Some days ‘something new’ can be challenging, like having a conversation about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or doing a live TV interview. Other days, it might be something as simple as testing out a new recipe in my kitchen. Often, it’s the simple act of reaching out to someone new (either virtually or in real life) to make a personal or professional connection – or both!
Every new thing comes with its share of risks and rewards. And I’d rather live with the prospect of failure than live with the regret of not having tried at all.
What do you do to encourage others? Who/what serves as a source of encouragement for you? I see mentoring as a vehicle for ‘encouragement.’ Mentoring – no matter what line of work you are in – is one of the most important things that you can do. I refer to it as ‘leading from behind’ because the ‘mentor’ learns as much as or more than the ‘mentee’ in the process. I have had the opportunity to work with some fantastic young academics over the past several years. It’s a remarkable, iterative process; a gift that just keeps on giving as I see it. For every bit of effort you put into helping others, it comes back to you ten-fold. There is just great joy in connecting and exchanging ideas with others.
I have so many amazing mentors in my life: co-workers, colleagues, former supervisors, and friends. It sounds cliché but my family is my greatest source of encouragement. My children inspire me – they always have. And my husband, Blair, has been my greatest supporter and best friend. I can’t remember a time when he didn’t tell me that I could do anything that I put my mind to. Together, we have raised our children to be critical thinkers, to be mindful of and respectful to others, to be adventurous and to bring passion to whatever they do in their day and to their lives. To Blair and I, this is a recipe for good, quality living.
Another important role model in my life was my grandmother. She passed away in 1993, but the memory of her and what she went through as a young woman is a great source of inspiration for me. In 1928, grandma emigrated from Norway and traveled across Canada by train to British Columbia – all by herself! She didn’t have a husband nor was there one waiting for her here. Grandma cooked for and fed as many as 40 loggers three times a day! Then she moved onto the prairies where she worked as a housekeeper in a few small towns, picking up the English language as she went (she told me she learned the language by reading the ‘funnies’ (cartoons)). Grandma finally settled in NW Saskatchewan where she met and married my grandpa in the 1940s. Grandma was a true pioneer! And when times get tough for me (or I hit a ‘wall’), I remember what she accomplished. She was a woman who struggled through the Great Depression on her own, not to mention the challenges she faced caring for her family and farming during the second World War.
Which children’s book best describes your childhood/life? I have always loved the wit and whimsy of Dr. Seuss. One of my favorites is Oh, the Places You’ll Go! Its message serves as a good reminder to ‘keep on, keepin’ on’ especially when times get tough.
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…” ― Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
What is your favorite home-cooked meal? Barbequed rib-eye steak, roasted potatoes, asparagus and fresh salad. For some reason, it tastes even better when someone else cooks it!
If you could choose anyone, who would you pick as your mentor? Just one? It’s so hard to limit it to just one. So, I am going to come at this from a different angle.
Mentors come in all shapes and sizes and, for me, they change from day-to-day and context to context. Some are personal mentors, like friends and family. Others are professional mentors. These can be colleagues at work; ones that I meet face to face with on a daily basis. Others are ones that I virtually connect with, through social media. It always amazes me how quickly those virtual connections become strong, tangible and truly valued.
If you had the opportunity to get a message across to a large group of people, what would your message be? We live in an information-rich world where, on the one hand, we have access to huge amounts of information and can instantaneously link to friends, families and others in our networks. And that’s a good thing. On the other hand, however, we are also susceptible to misinformation that may be circulated by groups and individuals with questionable motives or political agendas. We need to think critically about the information and images that comes across our networks and in social media. Most importantly, we need to raise our children to be critical thinkers.
What makes you smile? This! Being recognized along with such an amazing group of women is such a privilege! These women have accomplished so much in the world of agriculture and it is such an honor to be among them!
Yes, this makes me smile. 😉
Stay connected with Cami on her Blog, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Thank you for sharing your rich connection and social science education to agriculture, Cami. I love how you are bridging gaps between consumer, agriculture and regulatory audiences and can’t wait to see more success that will follow you. Keep up the fabulous work for all women and for the agricultural industry. Your passion is contiagious!
For those looking for regular Pinke Post updates, stay connected this month with me on Facebook and Instagram. I am also sharing five giveaways this month through this Women In Ag series. If you are in the Bismarck, North Dakota area, this is the first giveaway that you can enter until Thursday night, November 13. You can also find links to each feature in the Women in Agriculture series below. Get to know all of these fabulous ladies!