AALP Class 18 Leadership Profile – Maria Ramirez

Date: December 1, 2020

1.     Tell us a bit about yourself: what do you do for a living?

MRG: I am a Programs Analyst with the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA). The OSCIA is a grassroots farming organization that delivers a number of education and cost-share programs to the farming community. I coordinate the Species at Risk Farm Incentive Program (SARFIP) and the Species at Risk Partnerships on Agricultural Lands (SARPAL). I also support the delivery of other programs like the Environmental Farm Plan, the Canadian Agricultural Partnership and the Lake Erie Agriculture Demonstrating Sustainability (LEADS). I previously worked for the Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) at the Agricultural Information Contact Centre and the Ridgetown field office. I have an honours Bachelor degree in Environmental Science, Natural Resource Management from the University of Guelph and have lived between London and Guelph since I arrived from Colombia in 2005. I speak Spanish fluently and really enjoy travelling, being outdoors, photography, dancing colourful accessories and reading. My aim was to visit a new country every year, but with the pandemic, I have had to do more local exploring, which has also been very rewarding.

2.      What makes you passionate about your career or field?

MRG: I am really passionate about stewardship and agriculture. It is vital that we are able to find ways to provide farmers, who are our truest stewards of the land, with the support and tools they need to help them address soil health, water quality and biodiversity conservation while continuing to run successful operations.

3.      Why did you apply to be part of AALP?

MRG: I wanted to be more involved in the Agricultural sector, network with others in the industry and enhance my leadership skills. I had heard from others the impact that a program like AALP can have – both professionally and personally. AALP’s structure as an experiential leadership program was very intriguing and aligned with my career interests and goals. I know how important it is to learn from, and with, others. The pandemic caused changes for Class 18 and we had to adapt, but I think everyone in the class is committed to staying in touch, helping each other and completing the program when it resumes in 2021. The biggest asset of AALP is the experiential learning and feedback from our peers and this is challenging to accomplish at a distance and virtually.  I really look forward to being able to meet with everyone again and continue this AALP journey.

4.      What is one thing you have learned in your time in AALP?

MRG: That I am a good listener but must speak up more often. I have also learned how hard it can be to be candid and vulnerable in front of your peers and acknowledge the areas we need to work on; but  doing this has allowed me to relate to others even more and work with them to  improve and  explore better solutions, or new practices. AALP is a really welcoming environment for those, like me, who are defining, and in some cases searching for, their professional voice and their professional confidence.

5.      What is a leadership principle that you hold dear?

MRG: Enabling others by listening and fostering collaboration. When I think of the strongest leaders in my life, or history, those are the principles that they have shown again and again. Tomorrow’s leaders will need to be open minded and adapt quickly to pivot with the changing circumstances. The world is shifting so quickly – we’ve seen that with today’s pandemic and the need to shift to home offices, safety protocols, virtual engagement, and more. If we continue to foster collaboration and listen to each other, those shifts will be easier to make.

6.      Is there a personal experience you had that shaped your professional life?

MRG: Moving to Canada has shaped my personal and professional life immensely. It can be difficult to find your place and adapt to a new country and its culture, or cultures. I am very proud of the way my family and I have thrived in a new country. I think the leadership principles I listed before had a lot to do with that. You have to be willing to learn and listen and to work with others to adapt and find opportunity.

7.      What is the top issue impacting agriculture now?

MRG: There are a few issues that agriculture is facing, but one that I deal with is soil health and water quality. Farmers are doing an incredible job adopting practices on their farms to improve soil and keep it in place, but it is a continued effort.