Over the last decade, AUSVEG has recognised the leading female members of the Australian horticulture industry who have demonstrated outstanding ability and success in their chosen fields.

Those who have received the Women in Horticulture award continue to inspire and influence the industry, and it recognises the key role that women play in ensuring Australian horticulture continues to be a strong contributor to the country’s agricultural sector.

In Vegetables Australia – Summer 2020/21, Michelle De’Lisle speaks to four horticulture industry members who received one of the industry’s highest accolades from the National Awards for Excellence, which is held each year at Hort Connections (formerly known as the National Horticulture Convention).

Belinda Adams, Deborah Corrigan, Rachel Mackenzie and Sharron Windolf share what has changed since they received their awards as well as what they’re doing today, and their plans for the future. Keep your eye out for next edition of the magazine, with more profiles to come.

Deborah Corrigan (VIC, 2011) 

It was humble beginnings for Clyde vegetable grower Deborah Corrigan, the 2011 Women in Horticulture award winner.

Deborah casts her mind back to the early days of her horticulture career, which she says were not glamorous.

“Women weren’t allowed on the farm when I was growing up. I sat in my gender appropriate position as a beauty therapist, while my brothers learnt farming alongside my father,” Deborah recalls.

“I was always proud of my father and wanted to be included in the family business in any way possible. My initial workload involved answering phones and general office duties that I completed in my state-of-the-art office facilities – a caravan!

“I was motivated to prove myself useful and become involved in the agronomic and production areas. I engaged in as many courses as I could and soaked in information from my peers, the internet, and my family. I am grateful that my father changed his stance – that the farm was no place for women – and accepted all the effort I had put in over the years. When he retired, my brother Darren Corrigan and I took over as Managing Directors. It was goodbye G.C Corrigan & Sons, and hello Corrigan’s Produce Farms.”

Pride of place

Deborah’s proudest achievement is being accepted as a vegetable grower and paving the way for future generations, including her children, to work on the farm.

“I was a late-comer to the industry. I wasn’t really involved until my 30s, and from there had to work my way up from the bottom. I take pride in seeing my two daughters, Stephanie and Daria, and son Tate grow to love the farm as much as I do,” Deborah says.

“I spent a greater part of my working life fighting my way to show my worth in an industry that was hesitant to let me in. I was the first woman employed at Corrigan’s and now approximately 40 per cent of our staff are women. There are also a lot more women involved in the industry across the board now.”

Thirty years later, Deborah says she feels a sense of responsibility to nurture the next generation.

“My role is no longer about building myself up, it is about utilising everything I have gained in my 30 years in the industry and using it to build up others around me,” she says.

A large focus of Deborah’s position involves actively engaging with customers, suppliers, Corrigan’s employees, and industry associations. She believes receiving the Women in Horticulture award strengthened her stance in the industry.

“Acknowledgements like this act as a confidence booster and a reminder of my personal achievements. This confidence alongside a formal recognition assists in fostering respect from my community and strengthening these relationships that are crucial for successful business operation,” Deborah says.

“When I won the Women in Horticulture award, it was a truly satisfying accomplishment for what it represented. It acknowledged all those years I endured at the bottom of the ladder and recognised that women had to work that little bit harder to be taken seriously. It was rewarding to tell my story, and I truly hope I inspired someone else to keep reaching for their goals.”

Deborah Corrigan received the 2011 Women in Horticulture award.

Click on each name to read the stories of three other previous Women in Horticulture award winners: Belinda Adams, Rachel Mackenzie and Sharron Windolf

This article features in the summer 2020 edition of Vegetables Australia. Click here to read the full publication. 

Find out more

Hort Connections 2021 will be held from 7-9 June 2021 at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, and early bird registrations are now open.

More details around the event will be released in the coming months. For more information or to register, please visit the Hort Connections website.