AUBURN — Julia Smith said the demands of being a woman in agriculture can be extremely difficult to grapple with.

Smith said she wanted the conference focused on women in agriculture, held at the Hilton Garden Inn in Auburn on Wednesday, to emphasize "a common thread" between the women in the room. While withstanding difficulties both at home and their business can be challenging, she said, it is important for women in agriculture to know that they are not alone in their struggles, as others sitting nearby may be going through similar ordeals.

Smith, the agricultural initiatives coordinator for Cayuga Community College, which supported the conference, said she wanted the estimated 90 people in the room to find ways to support each other and network. 

"You have to find a place to not let it engulf you. It's not just their job, it's their life. It's very easy to let it engulf everything," Smith said. "I think that's a struggle that everyone faces (to) some degree, but when it's your job, it's your home, it's your life, it's your business, it's a whole different ball of wax."

The event included sessions on improving finances, marketing and women in agriculture from a global perspective. The conference was aimed at women operating in various parts of the agricultural world, such as farmers and marketers. Dr. Christine Allen, a workplace psychologist and executive coach and the event's keynote speaker, talked about how women can maintain a "work-life harmony" as opposed to the concept of balancing work and life, as she feels that implies a "sense of perfection" and a great deal of pressure to reach that balance.

Allen highlighted the idea of "cultivating resilience" while dealing with challenges, talking about the benefits of factors such as optimism, maintaining positive relationships and self-compassion. She asked the audience that if they take anything from her presentation, they be compassionate toward themselves and "find a way to both forgive yourself, to go back out, learn what you can if you make a mistake and get back on the horse, to use that metaphor."

It is important for women to not be impeded by guilt for working, Allen said, and not "feel like they're failing."

"Moms and dads both work as much on their work or business at home, they work equally, but moms feel guiltier," Allen said.

She told the crowd that while they separately may be "a rock" for others, they still need to take care of themselves.

"I really believe our obligation as people, as human beings, is to figure out, 'How do I be my best self' ... 'How can I use my own unique kind of gifts to live a rich, fulfilling life for me?' There's not a right way or wrong way," Allen said.

Kate Downes, program coordinator for NY FarmNet, which helps those in farming with everything from business planning to maintaining their own personal welfare, said she came to the event to "learn what was going on in central New York and a central New Yorker," establish local connections — she said she gave out a few brochures — and to find ways to better support women in agriculture.

She said farming is a "really isolating job" where farmers constantly occupy themselves with tasks such as milking multiple cows two or three times a day and tending to vegetables, so getting farmers, particularly female farmers, to prioritize themselves and come to the events like the conference is important.

Downes, who said she tries to act as a mother to her children while contending with the business side of her life, said she feels she can emphasize that women in agriculture are not alone and target messages of support toward women.

"I don't run my own business like a lot of these women, but there's a million things to think about and how to juggle all of that," she said. "It's like solidarity. Someone else gets it and they're going through it and they're raising kids and running a farm and doing all these crazy things." 

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Staff writer Kelly Rocheleau can be reached at (315) 282-2243 or kelly.rocheleau@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @KellyRocheleau.