Carmel Ingram, the winner of this year’s Boomaroo Nurseries’ Women in Horticulture Award, almost didn’t make it to the stage. “I didn’t get up straight away. I didn’t hear my name!” It wasn’t until her husband, Keith, told her she’d won that she made her way to the stage to accept her accolade. “I was very nearly bursting into tears walking up there, and to be amongst a group of such dedicated women” she said.
The award, recognising outstanding ability and success in their chosen field, shines a spotlight on the significant contribution made by women to our industry. The growing prominence of such recognition made this year’s announcement of the Boomaroo Nurseries Women in Horticulture Award one of the highlights of the Hort Connections 2019 One Harvest Gala Dinner.
This year had 13 strong finalists in contention which was more than any other award category. Candidates presented leadership in an array of industry fields including growing, research and development, and farm management, with Carmel, a vegetable grower from Ingram Bonaccord in Gippsland Victoria, taking out the top prize.
For Carmel, the award is not something she sought out, but she is hugely grateful for the recognition.
“I find it hard to talk about myself, so to find out I was nominated… I was in shock,” said Carmel. “I’ve now learnt to go with the flow and embrace and enjoy [the win]. It pushed me out of my comfort zone, which is something I do with my employees, so for that to happen to me, I’m really stoked.”
Carmel and her husband Keith manage the pack house of the Ingram family farm, which is shared between Keith and his three other brothers and their families. The business moved from a dairy farm into vegetable production almost 45 years ago and is now one of the largest vegetable growing operations in the state.
Carmel married into the business in 1980 and, along with raising the couple’s three children, helped the brothers and their families build the business to what it is today. With no previous experience or formal education in vegetable production, Carmel had to learn as she went along.
As Pack House Manager, Carmel is responsible for managing all areas of grading, assessment, cutting, washing and packing of produce. She oversees a team that is up to 140 strong in peak season. One of her key tasks is coordinating the roster, and it was here, 25 year ago, Carmel recognised the need to provide flexible working hours to those employees that also had to juggle the school pick up and drop off.
It’s no surprise that Carmel has been inspired by strong, hard-working women her whole life – especially her own mother. Carmel’s father died when her mother was just 43 years old, with six young children to raise. “She knew what it was like to work hard. She taught us all about hard work and all six of us have taken it on board. It’s in my character,” says Carmel.
Carmel found her match in Keith and the whole Ingram family; “another family that works hard,” she says. “To be in the farming industry, that’s all you know. You’ve got to get up at all hours of the morning and do what you have to for the day.”
This sense of family is important to Carmel. With four couples involved in running the business, their cooperation and unity is one of Carmel’s proudest achievements. “You work together, you live within five minutes of each other and we get asked a lot ‘How do you function together?’ We just do. We’ve never had an argument. It’s an accomplishment in itself.”
She’s also excited to see the next generation of family members return to the family business. Carmel and her husband have encouraged their three children to pursue their own interests in study and careers outside of the farm, “it’s so important that they go away, do their own thing, work for another employer,” she says. But they are thrilled when the next generation shows an interest in returning. One of Carmel’s two daughters has recently returned to the family farm, working in quality control, and her son is looking to join the business as well. “The farm is instilled in them and it’s a proud moment when they want to come back,” she says.
Carmel would like to see more support for women in horticulture, with flexible working hours for mothers and promoting careers for women in the horticulture industry as a worthwhile path. She sees mentorship and support amongst women in the industry through initiatives like Women in Horticulture, as a way to continue to see women progress through the industry. For Carmel, this extends to her day-to-day, whether it’s passing on her instilled values and work ethic to the pack house team, to supporting primary and secondary college students to gain exposure to life on her farm.
And her advice to other women in horticulture? “Love and enjoy what you’re doing,” she says.
This is the second year Boomaroo Nurseries has proudly sponsored the award, recognising the key role that passionate and dedicated women play in ensuring horticulture continues to be a strong contributor to the Australia’s agricultural sector.