IT’S not often that you speak to someone in the same week as they’ve been out and about with their job, in fields of crops and sleeping in a tent, but that’s exactly what happened with Rebecca Dawes, a member of the team at Jane Craigie Marketing. 
A graduate of the Scottish Enterprise Rural Leadership Programme, this farmers daughter is a former director for Scottish Rural Action, a judge for Lantra Scotland’s Learner of the Year Awards and Scottish co-ordinator for LEAF Open Farm Sunday, so to say she leads a varied life would be somewhat of an understatement. 

Can you tell us about your upbringing?
I was brought up on my family beef, sheep, pig and arable farm in Oxfordshire, and have lived all my life on-farm. 
We stayed in England until 2013 and ran the farm alongside our farm shop and butchery, as well as putting on events and encouraging visits from local schools and community groups. Bringing public on to the farm is something we are all very passionate about.

Were you involved in the family business? 
Very. I was working in the farm shop from 12, including going to farmers’ markets and outside events to sell produce. All the beef, lamb and pork we reared on our farm went through the butchery so we were in control of our supply chain.
I never wanted to be a hands on ‘farmer’ working the land, but I loved the upbringing of being involved and how important it was to our everyday lives. 
I eventually moved to Derby and did events and business management at university off the back of my experiences helping with our farm events. 
I was actually asked at uni what I wanted to specialise in and specifically said not farming, so when I first graduated I took a job with an international events management company organising pharmaceutical conferences. I travelled the world doing that but quickly realised agricultural was for me. I started managing the family farm shop with my mum and ran my own freelance event management for food and drink festivals.

How did you end up ‘north of the border’?
The family business won England’s top farm shop in the early 2000s and the business got bigger and bigger, which was very exciting to be part of but made us look at our long-term plans. As a family, we decided to run it for 10 years and then review the next stages. 
Unfortunately, when we got to 2013 we decided we didn’t want to take it to next stages because of restrictions with planning so we sold up.  
My granny was originally from a dairy farm in Auchenlarie, near Castle Douglas, and dad always wanted to move back that direction. It’s worked out that I have just moved to Dumfries and Galloway in Kirkinner to live with my partner, Colin, a dairy farmer and NFU Scotland Next Generation chairman, so in a way, nearly 80 years after granny left with all the cattle on a train, I moved home. 
The rest of my family farm in Kinross and it is still a very large part of my life. 
We had two goats, Holly and Ivy, when we were children and I’ve loved them ever since, so I now have a herd of 35 pygmy goats and currently 30 kids running around causing mischief. However, I am the worst commercial farmer ever – they just need to look cute and they are not for sale!

Is the farm involved 
in anything else? 
We host RHET visits and dad is on the Perth and Kinross RHET committee. We also welcome a local nursery school on a regular basis. 
We are passionate about LEAF Open Farm Sunday and have been involved  ever since it was launched in 2006, so it was always in the plan to continuing taking part when we moved to Scotland. 
We’ve never been a family that sits back. Open Farm Sunday really helped our diversification business in England because it was good PR but it all started because we wanted to help our local school. Over the years, we’ve probably raised near £100,000 through our involvement and that’s gone back into the local community. 
We don’t have a diversification business in Scotland now but we still believe in community engagement and it was a great way to meet everyone in our first year. Dad likes to invite the public on-farm so they can see what we do and why – we believe it helps reduce the false information that is often shared on social media. 

What does your day job involve?
I used to work for SAYFC as their communications and rural affairs manager. That was my first job when I moved to Scotland and it was a great way to settle into Scotland and meet people.
I now work for Jane Craigie Marketing, as well as being the Scottish co-ordinator for Open Farm Sunday. We’re there to support and work with businesses and organisations to help them promote their products and services.
I can be out capturing films, writing features, doing press briefings, brand design and strategy work, communications planning and promotion, to social media training, vlogging and storytelling … I don’t have a ‘normal’ week – a standard week can mean anything.
We’re very adaptable as a team and we understand that working in the rural sector means working within the seasons. Plus, we also know that our clients need to be at the forefront of technology and communications, so we invest time in training and research to ensure we know what the latest trends are and remain current. 
Part of this led us to discover that a lot of rural areas are losing young people to towns and cities, so that spurred us on to launch the Rural Youth Project, an initiative that brings together young people from across the world to share ideas, inspire one and other and come up with practical solutions. 
We’re waiting to hear about funding to continue that project for the next few years.

What’s most interesting about your role?
So many things. I’ve not yet met a farmer who isn’t passionate and proud of part or all of their job, and I love that. It’s an industry wide attitude. I love the stories people have to tell and they way they bring them to life, it’s so inspiring. 
I also love the technology that the industry is starting to embrace. I don’t feel we are quite using every tool to tell our story to the full advantage but it’s coming and we’re going in the right direction.
There is definitely still a place for traditional PR, like newspapers, but that can go hand in hand with social media and digital. 
I never have to drag myself out of bed. I love my job and the flexibility to work anywhere as long as I have a power source and can get online. 

Why would you encourage people to get involved in OFS?
For me it’s the industry’s annual open day. It’s a day to tell our own story without relying on media. It’s very much about showing what you do on your own farm with the support of LEAF who have a lot of tools to help. 
People worry about how many people will come onto their farm and who they will be, but we have a ticketed system to help police so that farmers remain in control.
Every farmer has a story to tell and they’re all interesting. I think we sometimes forget that our audience is not farmers but local people that are keen to find out what farmers do. Even if you don’t think what you are doing is ‘special’, it definitely is, and it’s interesting to them. 
Last year one in five people had never been on a farm before so, for some, they had no knowledge at all. And, there’s not a farmer in my network that hasn’t thought it was a heart-warming thing to do. Personally, I love seeing kids interacting with our animals, speaking to the family and enjoying the countryside.
LEAF Open Farm Sunday has a long-term impact and helps encourage young people into the industry. There are so many jobs that don’t require you to physically work the land.

Can you still take part this year? 
Yes! It’s not too late. You don’t need to have months of promotion – social media can be all you need and word of mouth. It doesn’t need to cost anything and you can restrict what visitors see so a mass clean-up is not necessary. 
Farm walks can be a great way to start and there are free resources on the LEAF website. I’m also there to help talk you through any concerns or ideas you may have. 

Have you ever felt any discrimination as a woman in the rural sector?
No. If anything, I’ve found people really accommodating and so helpful, especially in the early days when I was finding my feet.
However, when I was young, I did probably think I didn’t want to be women in agriculture because I couldn’t see a role. I don’t work on the land, I didn’t necessarily work with livestock, so how can I fit into agriculture? 
In reality, there were actually so many ways but these were not widely promoted at school or college. 

What problems do you see the industry facing?
Two big ones. The first is the misinterpretation of information and the way it can sometimes appear to be correct because it’s on social media. I’m concerned this will have a detrimental impact to those that could tell their story but don’t want to for fear of it been misinterpreted or not knowing how to tell it. 
We need to make sure our voices are being heard and that we can get our message out there. I don’t think we should be shying away from our own story. 
The second big issue is keeping young people in rural areas. Broadband connectivity is an issue and occasionally it does put young people off living or working rurally. We need to improve infrastructure, in particular public transport, so you can live rurally but still work or go to college in urban areas. 
The urban/rural divide is still huge and we need a collaborative approach to help remedy that. For me, agriculture has a big role to play as it offers so many fabulous opportunities. I hope the Rural Youth Project does receive support so we can play an active role in bridging the divide and inspiring young people to consider careers in the industry.

How do you like to spend your spare time?
I do love my pygmy goats and my friends and family will tell you that I drop them into any conversation given an opportunity. 
I’m still busy settling in and adjusting to living on a dairy farm. I also consider myself a to be a book worm and I love to cook … especially anything chocolate based!
My role as a judge for LANTRA ‘Learner of the Year’ is something I look forward to immensely each year. I love hearing from all the candidates, young and not so young!
I’ve recently come back from the Royal Agricultural Society of the Commonwealth Conference in Canada, kindly supported by RHASS. I found myself learning so much about myself as well as agricultural world-wide.
I loved being involved and I’m honoured that, on the back of that trip, I’ve been asked to go on the RASC board as a trustee, co-facilitating the Next Generation sessions at the conference in Norfolk in 2020. 
It’s certainly been something that’s inspired me to do more than ‘just’ my job. 

What are your plans for the future?
I’d love to continue to go the way I’ve been going. I love working with Jane and the team and I’m really content, so I certainly don’t see any career changes on the horizon. I want to give back within the industry and will continue to push myself to take on roles and opportunities.  
Don’t get me wrong, though, as much as I love work, I would also like to fit in a holiday sometime!