“Serve, don’t rule” With Penny Bauder & Jenni Tilton-Flood

Serve, don’t rule: Titles and leadership are not a crown, they are a mandate to serve the needs of your team by developing talents, inspiring creativity, instilling confidence, and creating cooperation. Iron fists and divine rule may churn out results but you’ll never know what more could have been achieved if harmony had been allowed. As […]

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Serve, don’t rule: Titles and leadership are not a crown, they are a mandate to serve the needs of your team by developing talents, inspiring creativity, instilling confidence, and creating cooperation. Iron fists and divine rule may churn out results but you’ll never know what more could have been achieved if harmony had been allowed.

As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jenni Tilton-Flood, Cabot Farmer Owner.

Cabot Creamery Co-operative Farmer spokesperson Jenni Tilton-Floodepitomizes today’s family farmer. Knowledgeable, hard-working, and successful, there’s almost nothing she can’t do. She is a forward-thinking farmer, one that works hard in the barn and fields while also trumpeting the lifestyle and causes near and dear to her heart.

The Floods have been farming central Maine for more than 200 years. Jenni is one of the family’s third-generation dairy farmers, working alongside 11 of her family members and raising two children who will continue the Flood legacy.

Jenni is working to Agri-energize the farm by converting manure into renewable natural gas. Flood Brothers is projected to help provide 45% of the natural gas to Summit Natural Gas Maine customers.

Jenni represents her farm and industry on social media, at legislative hearings, and serves on the Maine Dairy Promotion Board. She has helped further the #farm365 and #farmlove initiatives on social media and her blog, highlighting the importance of farming and family in the public dialogue. She also serves on a number of Boards, Councils, Bureaus and Foundations as an advocate for Maine, agriculture, and rural communities.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve never thought of my work as a career but I have certainly always thought of my life and the route I took to get to this point as a path, and as cliché as it sounds I truly feel that where I am at and what I do is a way of life…I just get the opportunity to make my living this way. Growing up in a very small town, in a very small corner of the world (Hey Oakland and Sidney, Maine!!), I wasn’t really aware of the fact that I was the first generation in my family, on both sides, to not be born into agriculture. But with a dad who was the John Deere guy and a mom who raised most of our food I straddled the two worlds of farm and non-farm and I really feel that was a big part of how I chose and traversed my path. It was always a dream of mine, a goal, to go off and feed the world…especially those corners that were so far flung and that I only knew about because they were on the evening news. So half drunk with wanting to get out of my small town and leave home behind and half infatuated with making a change and making a difference I went off to university convinced I was going to change the world and feed people far from my home in Sidney, Maine. The more I immersed myself with comparative foreign policy and international relations at a time when literal walls were being torn down between East and West and our country was moving at such a fast pace towards military mobilization the more I started to trip over what felt like obstacles at the time in my path. Looking back I realize that they were just signs telling me I had gone in the wrong direction and I realized that it wasn’t necessarily the world I wanted to feed…it was my small corner of it, and that’s where I felt was where I belonged and where I should be working. So I headed back home and the rest, as they say, is her story. My story.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started farming?

I think what I have found to be most interesting is that since I started farming the world has become a much smaller place for me. As isolating and solitary farming can be I have had opportunities that are 100% due to agriculture that I don’t know would have been even possible if I had chosen another field. So many of those opportunities are because our farm is part of a Co-op. Being a farmer owner of Cabot Creamery Cooperative has brought me to places all over the country to meet people and do things I could have never imagined. Just the simple act of sharing cheese in NYC as part of our Farmer Gratitude turns into meeting a farmer from Senegal in Bryant Park, striking up a conversation and the next thing you know I’m sharing pictures on my phone of my cows and the green grass of my home that he misses. Basically a Cabot farmer from Maine and a dairy farmer from Senegal sitting on a bench in Bryant Park, eating cheese, homesick for their cows.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

One of the things I so appreciate, somedays less than others, about being a farmer is that I have ample opportunity to make countless mistakes every day. Somedays it feels like I am driven to make ALL the mistakes in one 24 hour period. But as with most things, mistakes are often lessons, though around here those lessons generally leave us very dirty and more often than not, smelling very piquant. Operating equipment and machinery can sometimes seem a little daunting, and toss in some lack of confidence, some pressure to not perpetuate stereotypes, and the mistakes start to pile up. Getting my tractor stuck in the field is no big deal, but getting more stuck than it should be just because I didn’t want to ask for help didn’t feel funny to me at the time, but it was funny to others, and even I laugh now. Knowing your limits and knowing when the best strategy is to ask for help is an incredibly important lesson. One I keep learning, since day one to present…and believe me, when the lesson is forgotten there is nothing more humbling than having to ask your pre-teen son to come tow you out.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I don’t think, I KNOW that what makes Cabot stand out isits sincere and ingrained belief in the Cooperative way, its commitment to serve its farmer members, its dedication to the communities we are a part of, and its forward thinking, leading the pack, doing what’s right not what’s popular vanguard way, and of course the World’s Best cheese and dairy. We have a Department of Gratitude dedicated to honoring our farmers’ values and commitments, sharing gratitude to those who volunteer in our communities, and of course, thanking our customers who trust us to be the food they put on their table. There are stories to tell about hundreds and hundreds of Habitat for Humanity volunteers being fed some of the best grilled cheese sandwiches and patch programs for scouting programs, classrooms, and young people devoted to gratitude, environment, and even pollinators! But our commitment to volunteers and supporting those who support their community is what is key to me. Whether we are helping to empower or embolden, equip or enable, we see the value in those who fill the cracks, inspire the sparks, and embody the action of being the change in our communities. Through investment of services, resources, experiential knowledge, and of course cheese we foster and support those doing the good things. We know how important volunteerism is so it’s one of major focuses, as it reflects our farmer traditions and values of volunteering so we’ve made it easier for hours to be logged and for both organizations and volunteers to be supported through our

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Right now making time for volunteering and focusing on ways to connect the dots between agriculture and need have been my priorities, outside the business of the everyday. Making connections with the groups and people who are serving the needs of the underrepresented and the underserved and finding ways to help with that lift is what I’m working hardest at right now. Helping to match up 5.730 pounds of Cabot Greek Vanilla Yogurt with Waldo County Bounty (a local coalition and initiative seeking to increase the resiliency and health of its community, both the people and its economy, from the farm to table) that was distributed to over 2,000 residents, food pantries, schools districts has whetted my appetite for more avenues of helping to serve my community and the people doing all the heavy lifting. Finding ways to advocate for the ag workers that are so crucial to our food system but so often underrepresented due to systemic injustice and racism and being a volunteer for Meals on Wheels are on my front burner right now as well as continuing to push for change and education within the ag organizations I am a part of so that inclusivity is the norm and archaic, detrimental biases become the rarity. We are never going to be better if I don’t do better and when that happens we all win.

Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in agriculture? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

Is satisfaction with the status quo a thing? Especially as a woman, anywhere? In a word- no. I am not satisfied, I am not satisfied that agriculture, despite the fact that it is the farthest thing from a monolith appears to be so damn monotone. The diversity that exists at the ground level is enormous. The diversity that exists knocking on the doors to be let in is beautiful. The lack of diversity we see and we experience in our every day in agriculture is an embarrassment. And it has to change. From leadership to participation, ownership to policymaking, field to table- women, of every background, culture, religion, love(and the menfolk too!), need to be SEEN for the work they do and they need to be reflected in agriculture’s images, scenes, leadership rosters, deeds, contracts, shareholder lists and partnerships, marketing, footnotes and research, patents, awards…if we aren’t there in all those places then we will not be seen nor heard and the status quo will remain just the way it has always been and we will all lose in the end. Those of us in agriculture have to open that door. Folks have been pounding on the door to get into agriculture for centuries, and our society, through policy and ideology and system, has locked that door and tuned out the noise. We have to raise up the bar and the conversation to shift our monotone culture just like we raise our crops and our cows. And if we can’t unlock the door we need to tear if down, throw out a welcome mat and invite folks in. To do that we need to ensure that we are welcoming, that we are open, and that we change our minds and attitudes, syntax and customs, to language and actions that elevate everyone.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Agriculture that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

I feel like the biggest challenges facing women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ in Agriculture all stem from our historic exclusion and lack of representation from leadership roles. Whether it’s challenges to parenting balance with work that are not in sync with *traditional* roles or the rampant misogyny, bias, stereotypes, and racism, etc. that seems to never work its way out. It’s all rooted in the fact that without having us in the rooms of leadership, and keeping doors locked through policy and system and marginalization we weren’t able to keep them accountable and leadership continued to be a miserably inaccurate reflection of those who make up Ag. Now that we are here and refusing to remain invisible there will be change — we just have to keep speaking up for those that are still being ignored and still being relegated to the shadows, no matter how integral and crucial they are to our industry.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Agriculture. Can you explain what you mean?

The myth that the women in agriculture are all the same. We are not. We are all ages, all different ideologies, different politics, cultures and religion. We are people of color and we are of the First People and just as much as our diversity should be acknowledged and recognized so should the lack of equity among the women in Ag. I am one of the 34,000 dairy farms in the US and one of the 820 farms that are Cabot Creamery Cooperative and for every one of me there are dozens if not hundreds more of women working fields, picking produce, milking cows, raking blueberries, and more who don’t even come to mind when we think of “Women in Agriculture”. If we don’t think of them then we will not do right by them. So when you think of Women in Agriculture, don’t just think of me, think of me standing beside all those women from all over the Earth and in every different circumstance.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Agriculture” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

Be honest: It seems so simple but it can be hard. Be truthful about expectations, appreciation, and even disappointments. Be sincere about your own strengths and your weaknesses. Be honest about what you believe in and stand up for it.

Be proud: Make sure you do things that make you proud and make sure you express pride, both in yourself and in your team. Be proud of you and the work being done.

Be yourself: Authenticity inspires and comforts others and it gives you the freedom to work harder and better instead of focusing energy on being something you are not.

Have conversations, don’t lecture: Part of having a conversation is listening and when we listen and hear others we learn. The more we learn the more we move ahead. .

Serve, don’t rule: Titles and leadership are not a crown, they are a mandate to serve the needs of your team by developing talents, inspiring creativity, instilling confidence, and creating cooperation. Iron fists and divine rule may churn out results but you’ll never know what more could have been achieved if harmony had been allowed.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

We can set goals for our team but if we dedicate ourselves to learning something about them and inspiring them we attain the goals we hadn’t even thought of. Investing time in discovering people’s strengths and potential has some of the best ROI ever. And never setting your work plan in permanent ink-if you’re not open to the options and opportunities there is so much that can be lost. Sure, we have to meet our stated goal, but if all you’re getting out of an effort is meeting the deadline and attaining the goal what did you grow? If you want your team to thrive you have to nourish them, and if you want to lead them you have to show them that possessing knowledge isn’t the goal, attaining it is. Nourish yourself and you will grow and your team will see that value,

What advice would you give about managing others?

I think when it comes to managing others we have to remember that inspiration, support, leadership, and most importantly a balance between confidence and humility is necessary. I look at managing others like I look at conversations- not a means to get my way or preach my message but an opportunity to learn.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Back at university when I was deciding whether to leave and change my direction I was still a little worried that I was making a wrong decision and ironically it was sitting on the steps of one of the University buildings with one of my most favorite professors, Prof. Zenia Sochor- a woman who was, to me, a trailblazer and a role model like no other I had ever had in my life, and the embodiment of the globally visioned woman with deep roots that I wanted to be, that I heard someone say, “This is what you need to do. Your heart is telling you this.” That’s what she told me. That’s where I heard someone tell me to follow my heart. She gave me all the reasons why I should stay and continue on in my studies and gave me far too many compliments about my skills and promise in policy and politics, but she laid it out bare and it was good and necessary to hear from someone else what my heart had been telling me all along.

Life brought me to where I am and to who I am… all these twists and turns aren’t wrong turns. I got here because I chose the turns and because people along the way helped me read the signs.

I’m a farmer because a professor of government and international relations and leading expert in Ukrainian politics believed in me and my heart before I did. I wanted to feed the world and the world ended up feeding my soul.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I’m trying. Isn’t that what success is? If it isn’t it should be. That should be the definition: Goodness required. I really hope that the Butterfly Effect is in full force when we get up and grow our crops and care for our land and our cows and send our milk down the road to be bottled and find its way to our neighbors’ tables…and that from there a well fed human gets up and does good things and those good things spur someone else to a good thing and so on and so on…I just believe the good is the reason we do things. I firmly believe that good happens when our communities and neighbors are well fed and nourished, and that our lands are cared for and protected, and that people, all people, don’t have to seek out protection or search for caring; that 820 million people in this world shouldn’t go hungry every year; that leaders and people should not have to be reminded that lives matter. But, since I don’t live in that world of universal good yet I speak up, I listen, and I stand up. Success isn’t a trophy, it is a tool and for me it is a box to stand on so people can see me and hear me. That means speaking up for the folks not in the rooms I am in, those rooms where people look a lot like me. If the folks we depend upon and need in our communities and industry aren’t in the room I will speak up to make sure they are not forgotten or dismissed. A lot of times that means speaking louder for the folks in the back, my peers and industry leaders, and I’m okay with that. Being quiet isn’t an option.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? 

A grilled cheese sandwich for everyone would be the simple answer. Because what is a grilled cheese sandwich really? It’s comfort and it’s nourishment and it’s caring. I feed people. I am partial to milk and cheese and yogurt but what I am most partial to, from the core of my being to my Cabot plaid heart which I wear on my sleeve, is nourishing communities from the inside out. Good doesn’t just come from producing food, it comes from making sure it is accessible, affordable, and available and from making sure it comes from a good place. I look to the importance of people, place, and profit within our Cooperative and our commitment as a BCorp to not just make the World’s Best cheese and dairy but to deliver what is best for the world. That’s the movement I want to inspire and to take place, nourished and resilient communities and a good world.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“You’ve got to learn to leave the table when love’s no longer being served.” ~ Nina Simone

We always hear about leaning in and digging in and I think we sometimes internalize that to mean ‘sit there, tough it out, and take it all because it’s the only way we are going to get there’. For so many of us, we see pushing back from that table and walking away as being an act of defeat and giving up. We have to rephrase it inside us, recalibrate our warrior spirit to recognize that when we push back from that table where there is no love, or acceptance or willingness or respect we are not giving up, we are STANDING UP. We are not walking away, we are walking tall. And when we do find those tables where love is being served, we need to make room for more people and we need to grab them by the arm and sit them down next to us and share it all.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I am horrible at choosing when there are questions posed like this. So I am giving two answers because both satiate all the parts of me and who I am and who I want to be. I just keep coming back to Madeleine Albright and Mashama Bailey. Both because their lives and mission speaks to my heart. Fiery and composed, rooted and yet global. Two completely different people from different times and yet so timeless. These women have moved mountains. The ones placed there intentionally to hold them back and those that nature and life give us all, and they have not only climbed these mountains but they’ve brought us with them. In a way they’ve taken a different path to feeding the world and their corner of it, and I am just awed by them for all their heavy lifting and their grace in lifting us all.

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