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Athabasca’s Penny Miller selected for Ag Women of the Year award

Miller designated as the 2024 ‘Operator’ of the year

ATHABASCA — Farming isn’t a job many pursue for the accolades — feeding livestock, administering vaccines, and other daily duties aren’t usually synonymous with awards or recognition. 

Except in the case of Penny Miller, the 2024 recipient of the Agriculture Financial Services Corporation’s (AFSC) Women in Ag ‘Operator’ award. 

Miller is a dedicated Athabasca-based farmer who runs her family operation alongside her husband of 16 years, Kyle Miller, and their children. But on March 17, Miller could not be found performing her usual chores or helping with the ongoing calving season. 

She was attending a ceremony in Calgary, where she and seven other women in agriculture across Alberta were recognized for their contributions to the industry. 

“It was just a really extraordinary experience,” said Miller. “In some ways, being a part of it was like, ‘This is really fantastic that I’m here,’ but then on the other hand it really makes you motivated in a way too.” 

The ‘Operator’

The ‘Operator’ award is reserved for primary producers or ag business owners who function as the backbone of their operation and provides support for others in the industry. Miller was nominated by Rachael Schiller, fellow farmer and friend who said Miller’s work ethic and tenacity has inspired many in the area, including Schiller herself. 

“She does probably 80 per cent of the farm work and the daily operations and stuff, which is why I nominated her for that award,” said Schiller. She said Miller’s willingness to tackle any job that needs doing, and her continuous efforts to help out neighbours and community members is what puts her in a league of her own. 

Miller said the feeling is mutual — she garners motivation by looking to what Schiller, and other women in the industry, are learning and implementing themselves.

“It’s really neat to realize if you think that you’re small potatoes, per se, there’s somebody else going, ‘Holy man, they can do that.’” 

In a write-up on the AFSC 2024 Ag Women of the Year website, Miller is described as passionate, hard-working, and an advocate for equality in the industry.

“Penny’s tireless efforts and commitment have left an indelible mark on the agricultural landscape. She rises with the sun and tends to over 200 animals with a dedication that knows no bounds.” 

The Miller operation consists mainly of cattle; 250 breeding heifers and an equal amount of yearlings are Miller’s main focus throughout the day. Horse care and riding are a part of the job and are classified as recreation time as well. 

“We do raise our own horses for use on the pasture with the cows, and also for rodeo purposes,” said Miller. “Myself and the daughters, we all use horses for barrel racing and roping events.

“We don’t compete on a professional level, but it’s still something we enjoy doing, and the horses serve double duty,” she added. “They have a job to do with the cows, but then we also get to use them for enjoyment.” 

Although she was described as an advocate for women’s equality on the farm, Miller said her perspective on division of labour isn’t about gender. 

“I don’t ever think about things where I’m like, ‘We need to do this because we’re girls,’ kinda thing. I just really try to promote that we need to do this because it needs to be done. 

“In the whole scheme of it, every member of the family is important in getting things done,” added Miller. “And if you can’t do something, asking for help doesn’t mean that you’re weak, whether you’re male or female.”  

2024 AFSC Women in Ag awards

In addition to the ‘Operator,’ seven other award categories were presented in Calgary, including awards for ‘Notable Lifetime Achiever,’ for those who’ve demonstrated leadership and mentorship in ag throughout the years; the ‘Innovator,’ who finds new solutions to challenges that take into account environmental and social issues; and the ‘Rising Star,’ leaders under 40 brimming with potential. 

The award ceremony was dubbed The Notables, and was held the evening before the Advancing Women in Agriculture West Conference. A list of the winners can be found on AFSC’s website

“It was really neat to see … the variety of age groups and all of the dynamics involved with it, and how agriculture can take you through your whole career of your whole life in different avenues,” said Miller. 

About the Author: Lexi Freehill

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