It is my pleasure to say a few words this evening in recognition of one of our longest serving members: Irene Puddester. It is highly appropriate that we recognize and celebrate Irene’s achievements today, at this, our annual ‘Success Meeting’.
Irene Puddester, owner/operator of Blueberry Hill Farm in Rodney, Ontario, is one of the original founding members of the Elgin Business Women’s Network.
Irene completed the Women in Rural Economic Development (WRED) Programme in 1996, and our own group is one of the networks which evolved from WRED, which was intended to help rural women plan and launch their own businesses.
Since that time, Irene has been an inspiration and role model for many of us, as she built a successful business at her blueberry farm. Now on the eve of her retirement from active farming, the Elgin Business Women’s Network would like to award her with a Lifetime Membership and hope that she will continue to join us and mentor us as we continue to grow our own businesses.
Irene’s story is certainly a lesson in perseverance, taking risks and working hard in order to achieve success and make dreams come true. Irene left a career in Toronto, where she had raised her three boys as a single mother after having been widowed at an early age. Irene was looking for an alternative to city living and daily commutes. She had no experience in farming but the blueberry farm was already established and in her words: “I liked the property, the blueberries were here, so we decided that we could make a go of this thing. If I just learned how to grow blueberries and learned how to sell them, then we’d be fine, and that’s just what we did!” She adds: “I’ve been independent for a lot of years. I was widowed when my children were very young , so being a woman… I guess the independence the farm gives to me is a bonus after having worked so many years for someone else, and knowing that I can handle life having raised three children on my own, I’ve always felt I had accomplished something, but I never really had the confidence of knowing that I had done it right… “ She adds: “Being a woman in business has never been an easy thing; it has certainly improved a lot in the last few years, and WRED, I think has had a lot to do with it….”
WRED provided her with marketing, bookkeeping and business planning skills. She gained confidence from sharing ideas with the other women in the programme, in her words: “WRED encourages a totally different approach to doing business – it’s okay to work together rather than compete…” Irene also got involved with other community organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce and Elgin Tourism where the networking and collaboration with other business owners continued.
Although she had no related experience at all prior to buying the farm, and the learning curve was steep at the beginning, it helped that she enjoyed meeting people, “which helps a great deal during harvest time because we have a “You Pick”, and it’s constantly meeting people, and in order to get out and sell, which is something I’ve never been able to do , and I still don’t do it well, but I happen to have a product that is good and people enjoy so it’s not a difficult sell, I certainly couldn’t sell something I didn’t believe in….”
These quotes are from an interview with Irene completed in February 2000, four or five years after she established her farm and completed her WRED program. We know how successful she has become as a business woman, farmer, sales-person and community volunteer during the ensuing years. Irene’s blueberries regularly sell out at local farmer’s markets, and her You Pick has become a popular annual event for many of us. I can personally attest to her wonderful berries and the recipes she has shared over the years so we can enjoy them year-round – her farm is a popular destination for families and friends and we have shared this experience with the children in our families as we picked berries and made jam and pies together.
Irene brings both integrity and humility to her business dealings and her relationships. While Irene likely has mixed feelings as she prepares to leave her farm, she can take great pride in her accomplishments at her farm and within the larger business women’s network in our area. She is a valued member of the Elgin Business Women’s Network, and we are pleased to honour her this evening and wish her well in her retirement!
Elgin Business Women’s Network - twenty years ago a few gals who helped on the family farm, whether their parent’s or their husband’s, and wanting to assist financially to the wellbeing of their family, compared notes with others in the same position. About the same time as WRED was founded.
One of the teachers I remember well is still in business with a large farmgate operation just east of London. A fellow student is now the butcher for her on-farm meat shop – all of the meat comes from their farm as does the feed for their animals. The year we were students, they lost everything in a horrific barn fire. Neither of these gals live in Elgin but as you know, other successes have grown.
EBWN has strong roots after all these years (1994) and a membership to be proud of. Your current ADMIN committee is to be commended for their successful endeavours. Being part of this group as a whole proves your desire to be successful in your chosen field and we are all here for each other as well as ourselves. It’s one of the joys.
Thank you; I am so honoured to be invited as a “lifetime” member. That’s pretty special!
Hopefully Blueberry Hill will remain the peaceful, happy place it has become over these years for whomever takes over and that they are able to maintain the product as it has developed. While I am still here, you are most welcome to visit and enjoy the surroundings. During harvest time please feel free to pack a lunch and enjoy a day in the sun. Also, Port Glasgow Beach on Lake Erie is only 11 km away. A neat little beach to cool you. Don’t forget to bring your EBWN address list and visit your fellow members’ businesses along the way!
Aniko – thank you for your kind words. Aniko and Cecilia - Congratulations on your imminent retirement and may Lavender Lane be your successful, happy place always.
Again, THANK YOU !!!