CONTINUING with our Women in Agriculture series, we delved into the world of the Scottish Association of Young Farmers Clubs this week, and met with the organisation’s national events and communications manager, Sheena Foster, to find out what life at the helm of the Young Farmers’ ship is like.
She is based at SAYFC’s head office, at Ingliston, Edinburgh, and spends her time dealing with Young Farmers Clubs across Scotland, while travelling up and down the country, ensuring that the organisation runs to its full potential.
A past chairman and secretary at various levels, Sheena’s knowledge of the organisation is quite possibly one of the most varied we have come across, meaning she is more than suited to the role, which she has now been in for almost two years.
She welcomed us into her home, just outside of Larkhall, in Lanarkshire, to open up about her career at the organisation and also to  discuss how she ended up working for Scotland’s top rural youth organisation, and what she did before getting there.

What is your background?
I was brought up at Udstonhead Farm, Strathaven, by my parents, Willie and Janette. 
My dad is a beef and sheep farmer and I always helped him at home when I could, and still do today. My mum also has Country Bake which is a coffee shop found within L S Smellie and Sons’ premises at Strathaven.
I worked between the farm and there until I took my position at SAYFC. I still help my parents whenever I am able to, as it’s very important to me and I also really enjoy doing it.
Before I worked between my parents, I studied microbiology at Glasgow Caledonian University, which I completed, but  chose not to pursue a career in.

Were you always involved in SAYFC?
I held numerous office bearer posts more than once during my time as a member of East Kilbride Young Farmers Club.  A lot of people think that’s quite dedicated, and it was, but during those years, the club membership was quite small and there was nobody else there to take on those roles and I didn’t want to see the club dissolve, so I went on any time it was required and I’m glad I did, as the club has grown again and is now in a strong position and that is great to see.
I was also chairman and secretary of the Lanarkshire district, and went on to become the west area chairman, so I’ve certainly always had an involvement in SAYFC. Becoming a member was a natural path for me. Being a farmer’s daughter meant that I always had a connection to farming, as well as a lot of friends who were joining Young Farmers, or were already members.

How has the organisation shaped you?
It has been fantastic. It’s such a great thing to be part of, and it gives you so many skills that come in so handy in later life. 
It also gives you a fantastic social life, not to mention a great number of friends. 
I would recommend joining Young Farmers to anyone.

What does your role at SAYFC involve?
Being the national events and communications manager means that my role is varied and covers the whole of Scotland.
I am responsible for organising all of the national events that take place throughout the year, and I also deal with SAYFC’s marketing and communications, meaning I promote the organisation in the press and ensure that it gets as much publicity as possible.

Does your job come with a lot of pressure?
Most jobs can get stressful at different points in the year, particularly when it’s related to farming, so I wouldn’t say it is much more pressurised than any other job. 
My busiest spell of the year would be the Royal Highland Show – not just the week itself but leading up to it as well. It is my responsibility to ensure that all entries are submitted, and all competitions held at the show are in place and run smoothly – as you can imagine, that can be pretty stressful and nerve-wracking, but the adrenalin of it all is what I enjoy.
A lot of national competitions are held during Highland Show week, so there is a lot going on.
I love it, though. It’s a great buzz and it’s fantastic being able to work at the heart of it.

What are the biggest challenges in your job?
SAYFC is a big organisation, with a lot of members, with a lot of different opinions, and sometimes it can be hard to keep everybody happy, but as I said, that can be the case in many other occupations and I think it’s just par for the course. 
Young farmers are sometimes given a bad name and that can be difficult at times – one bad story can tarnish a reputation forever.
It’s especially hard in that situation because I know that Young Farmers is a fantastic organisation and it has given so much to so many young people in Scotland.  The members are amazing, they are so enthusiastic and they are the future of our industry, so it’s a shame that they are sometimes portrayed in a bad light, when 90% of the time they do wonderful things for society – all you need to do is look at how much money the clubs, and the organisation as a whole, raise for charity each year. 
Not many other organisations can say they raise as much money as that, year after year.

Do you enjoy working with young people?
I was always very passionate about Young Farmers and I would say my involvement in it over the years proves that.
However, you do come to an age where you can’t really attend a lot of the events anymore, which is quite sad, so my job means that I can still be a part of it all and be involved and that’s something I really love about it.
Working with young people is great. They are all so enthusiastic, and that just makes my job even more enjoyable.

Would you say the organisation has changed much over the years?
Young Farmers has certainly changed with the times. 
Social media has obviously been a big factor in how things are done nowadays – events can be organised much easier than before - one event on Facebook can reach thousands of people within minutes, so I would say the whole organisation is connected more now than ever before. With that in mind, I think more people attend more events further afield now than they used to, because social media allows them to see what’s going on out with their district and I think that’s a great way for members to expand their knowledge and their friendships.
There’s also the fact that young people coming into farming is becoming less frequent, which is a shame, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we are losing members. 
We now have such a big mix of people involved in our organisation, who perhaps have family links to farming, or none at all, and I think that’s a very positive thing because it means it isn’t just always about farming and new ideas are being brought in and implemented from further afield. It also shows that we are an inclusive organisation – it’s not just for those who wear wellies.
Our travel and exchange programmes have obviously always been a fantastic opportunity given by the organisation, but each year they get better and better. We now offer travel to more than 10 countries as part of our annual exchange programme, as well as a group ski trip and a group trip abroad during the summer.
So, far we have been as far afield as China and South Africa, and this year, the destination is Peru.
Being able to travel to such a wide variety of countries is by far one of the best things about SAYFC. It’s a great way for our members to see parts of the world that they might never have ventured to before.
Of course, it isn’t totally free of charge, but most  of the trips are subsidised in some way or another, while costs are kept to a minimum during the trip itself, meaning that almost anyone involved in SAYFC can go on them.
You don’t see many other organisations that offer such a fantastic opportunity and I feel that the travel programme has been well adapted over the years and continues to be as popular as ever.
I think it’s something that will always be enjoyed by our members, provided that desire to travel is always there, which I think it will be.
We have also introduced the Are Ewe Okay? mental health campaign which encourages our members to ask one another “are ewe okay?”.
One in four people in Scotland will suffer from poor mental health at some point in their life, and given that our members are aged between 14 and 30-years-old, there are a lot of things going on that can influence how they feel, and we wanted to introduce this campaign in order to break the stigma around mental wellbeing.
It’s about looking out for one another and asking people how they are doing, ensuring they are not being affected by poor mental health triggers and causes. 
It’s also about being able the recognise the signs, and how to seek help if you or others are suffering.
It has been a fantastic awareness campaign and we were quite early in detecting the need for it.

How do you see the future of farming?
Obviously it is a concern that less young people are coming into farming, for one reason or another, and sometimes you can’t help but wonder how things will look in 20 years’ time.
However, I believe the industry will still be in a good way because the young people we work with are all so enthusiastic, and many of them are very forward-thinking.
I think diversification will be a big factor in years to come, there’s a lot of young farmers out there who have fantastic plans for the future, and good business heads on them, and so I think with a little bit of positive guidance and some practical training, they can only succeed.