Despite growing up in Melbourne, a career in agriculture was always on the cards for Harriet Bawden, Shepparton, Vic, who hopes to inspire others to follow her footsteps.
Ms Bawden's parents had a hobby farm near Colac, Vic, 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 co-ordinator of Murray Dairy's Young Dairy Network (YDN) and a member of the Goulburn Valley Young Professionals, Ms Bawden is helping a new generation to appreciate the challenges and joys of working in the country.
She's also the Shepparton Chamber of Commerce and Industry Awards 2019 Young Professional of the Year.
Ms Bawden, 29, says a Gardiner Dairy Foundation sponsored place in the Fairley Community Leadership Program is helping her to achieve her goals and harness the enthusiasm of other young people.
"I saw it as a great development opportunity in terms of leadership in a traditional sense but also with the emphasis on community leadership," she said.
"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," Ms Bawden 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.
"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."
Ms Bawden 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.
Ms Bawden 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, Ms Bawden said there was 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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