2020 Winners

2020 Western Australian Winner and National Winner – Cara Peek

Cara Peek is focused only on conscious business actions through her co-founded brainchild, The Cultural Intelligence Project. The “project” by-line says, one platform, seven culturally clever ways in. One of those powerful roads in, is Saltwater Country. A not for profit organisation that builds on the symbolic power of the Aboriginal cowboy in remote Australia and a uniquely powerful relationship to pastoral land.

As the chair of Saltwater Country, Cara is currently working to empower Indigenous people to improve their social, emotional and economic wellbeing whilst building on the legacy of strength and resilience of Aboriginal stockmen and women. Saltwater Academy develops evidence-based programs delivered with cultural integrity, allowing students to train in the safety of their own communities, across the disciplines and passions of horsemanship, equine therapy, agribusiness, creative industries, marketing and event management.

In 2019, Cara was one of 14 recipients from Western Australia to receive a prestigious Churchill Fellowship. Using the award, Cara will travel to the United States, Canada, Mexico and Brazil to connect with First Nation and African American-owned rodeo and pastoral based communities to learn more about the positive engagement other organisations have delivered, within a connected global narrative.

Cara is hopeful her RWA nomination will help increase public awareness about Saltwater Country’s vision whilst creating more traction around the national and international conversation of culturally appropriate action. By providing experiential, engaging and creative learning platforms which focus on cultural needs, she hopes to level the playing field between rural and metropolitan standards of living for Aboriginal people.

As a proud Yawuru/Bunuba woman and inspiring social innovator, Cara, lives and breathes only for positive empowerment; having dedicated her life to helping people, communities and businesses transform mind-sets that result in deep, true conscious change.

2020 New South Wales Australian Capital Territory Winner and National Runner Up – Cressida Cains

Cressida Cains has a life-long passion for the Australian dairy industry. Naturally, she is alarmed by the recent rapid decline in small dairy operations in Australia.  Cressida believes the current model of selling commodity milk to processors is having a devastating impact, especially on smaller family-owned businesses.

Cressida passionately believes there are strong and profitable alternatives for family-run dairies, specifically, by producing their own branded products such as cheese, yoghurt, gelato and Branded milk. Cressida is determined to provide a pathway for willing dairy farmers to begin this journey through her non-for-profit digital platform and support hub, Dairy Cocoon.

Cressida hopes to further encourage family operators and arm them with the skills and tools to create their own niche dairy products, tapping into a growing consumer demand for Australian owned dairy products. Cressida’s vision is to give Dairy Cocoon members the tools to transform their operations to be “price setters” and secure an enduring legacy for their family’s future generations.

Growing up in the Southern Highlands of NSW, Cressida remembers a time when small-scale dairy farms dominated the lush countryside. Cressida, like many others in the industry, laments the endangered species that small family owned dairy farms have become.

Dismayed that small-scale producers are exposed to the winds of commodity markets and oligopolistic market structures. Cressida believes some businesses will need to re-think their dependence on the mainstream dairy market and explore alternative pathways. Through Dairy Cocoon, Cressida wants to see family farms take control of their own production system, including marketing and branding, allowing them to become “price-setters” rather than “price takers”

Currently in its development phase, Dairy Cocoon is being guided by direct feedback from farmers with fewer than 200 milking cows. Once completed, the digital platform will be the first of its kind in Australia offering it’s members a curated  source of business tools, mentors, information resources, educational guides and an online community hub to help facilitate industry-wide networking and support.  By centralising these features, Cressida hopes to assist farmers in their journey to develop, launch and sell their own branded cheese, ice-cream, yoghurt or milk products.

As a founding member of the Kiama Farmers Market, Cressida was inspired to help family-owned dairy farms within her community and now seeks to make a difference more widely. With her partner Michael, Cressida own’s the extraordinarily successful Pecora Dairy located in Robertson, NSW and now hopes to give back to the industry in which she has found so much passion and fulfilment.

Pecora Dairy continues to grow and has consistently been recognised for its excellence and its industry leadership. The first in the country licensed to make raw milk cheese, Pecora Dairy continues to push boundaries for the industry and was most recently recognised for this work by taking out the National Trophy for the Delicious Produce Awards.

Cressida believes an on-going presence of small, independent dairy brands will ultimately lift the profile of the sector, especially as consumer consciousness shifts to preference for locally made produce. She hopes to use her position as the NSW Agrifutures Rural Women’s Award winner to tell the stories of hard-working dairy families, educate consumers on the benefits of high-quality dairy products and preserve this unique industry for generations of dairy farmers to come.

2020 South Australian Winner – Stephanie Schmidt

As a clinical psychologist, farmer, wife and mother, Stephanie understands first-hand the difficulties faced by those on the land when it comes to access to mental health resources.

Passionate about advocacy and access to services, Stephanie is looking to bridge the gap for farmers looking to access psychological resources which offer practical skills to thrive in the face of adversity.

Thanks to the SA Rural Woman’s Award research bursary, Stephanie has been able to launch her pilot program, ACTFORAG. Combining her clinical knowledge and on-farm experience, the program offers practical strength and resilience building strategies for farmers, businesses and families via the online conferencing platform Zoom.

After experiencing post-natal depression following the birth of her son, Stephanie deeply understands the benefits of the strategies that ACTFORAG teaches. This includes focusing on building skills in psychological flexibility, which encapsulates the ability to prioritise and think clearly in challenging situations and choose what is more important to the individual.


Originally slated to include face to face sessions, the program use of Zoom, with three 90-minute sessions per week, means there is now the opportunity for the program to reach wider geographical areas.

Stephanie believes her win of the SA Rural Woman’s Award is a win for mental health in general, and that it shows recognition of the importance of mental health and wellbeing for our farmers and rural communities. It’s her hope that by building skills to approach and manage everyday challenges – whether on farm, at home or in business – country areas will have healthier, more vital individuals and communities that don’t just survive in adversity, but thrive.

Stephanie says adversity is a significant issue faced by her local community and the Australian rural community at large; suffering through one of the severest droughts on record, then bushfires, floods and now the impact of COVID-19. For Stephanie, addressing the mental health challenges faced by rural communities is one of the biggest concerns facing rural Australia; and she believes the adversity that comes with environmental volatility is going to increase with the changing climate.

Stephanie’s pilot program has been co-funded by Country SA PHN, with a specific focus on the drought impacted regions of South Australia. From this initial pilot, Stephanie hopes to expand the program and run additional programs in both SA and potentially throughout the rest of Australia using online platforms. Stephanie’s long term goal for ACTFORAG is to develop a ‘Train the Trainer’ program, so that other mental health workers and community workers can run the program out within their own communities and then be connected and supported within a network through the training.

2020 Victorian Winner – Kelly Barnes

Winner of the Victoria 2020 Rural Women’s Award, Kelly’s project aims to combat social isolation while raising the resilience and well-being of farmers through the implementation of working dog training programs in rural communities.

The avid dog lover is passionate about utilising resources that livestock farmers already possess to aid their own well-being – the working dog. Having experienced isolation and chronic pain and fatigue, Kelly says her own team of working dogs proved invaluable in maintaining her mental well-being; a framework she would like to see rolled out throughout many other rural communities.

Kelly is designing a pilot working dog training school in her local area as a way of helping farmers engage and work with their dogs at a deeper level, while enhancing the social and mental well-being of residents. Kelly intends to use part of the Rural Women’s Award funding as seed funding towards the running of her working dog school, including marketing and promotional costs. Funding is also allocated for a research trip to NSW to study existing drought resilience and mental wellbeing programs, and to enlist the expertise of research and psychology professionals with the program design and evaluation.

Kelly says that one of the biggest issues in any rural area is isolation. This isolation may not always be geographical in nature and can also include working alone on farm all day with extremely limited human contact. With many environmental challenges beyond farmers’ control, she says the constant stress and feeling of lack of control can take its toll on physical and mental well-being. With access to mental health resources extremely limited rurally and often difficult to access, and the evidence of enormous benefits of therapy and assistance dogs in other settings, the connection between farmers and their dogs can prove an invaluable experience.

By educating farmers on how to handle, manage and bond with their dogs, Kelly says these strong partnerships can significantly help to reduce the stress and improve the mental well-being of those on the land, much in the same way as therapy dogs and assistance dogs.

The program aims to teach farmers low stress stock handling skills and dog handling skills whilst encouraging them to bond with their working dogs and see them not just as a work tool, but as a best friend, work partner and source of comfort and support when things get tough. The working dog schools also encourage networking and socialising with likeminded people, thereby kindling friendships and support networks.

Kelly envisages the training school will comprise of a small group training formula of six one-day sessions over a 12-month period, to provide practical skills in a training environment. Facilitated by master dog trainers, Kelly says participants can expect to walk away from the program feeling a stronger connection with and appreciation for their dogs, and a deepened understanding of how these working companions can aid quality of rural life.

2020 Tasmanian Winner – Karen Brock

Karen is changing the face of the plant supply chain, through her specialisation in plant tissue culture.

Working from her laboratory in the Tamar Valley hinterlands, Karen uses plant tissue culture science to produce more than a million genetically improved plants every year, with a focus on disease resistance, climate tolerance and high yields. Alongside her wholesale horticulture nursery, Karen has created a process which drastically accelerates traditional propagation methods, creating faster harvesting timeframes for farmers and providing future food security to the agri-business sector.

Working from Tasmania is a significant advantage for the grower, with the state’s status as an ‘area freedom’ entity from many major pests and pathogens allowing delivery to all states on the mainland. Boasting full traceability from pot to paddock, Karen’s laboratory specialises in cut flowers as well as blueberries, apple root-stocks, cherry root-stocks, avocado root-stocks, raspberries, strawberries, ginger, garlic and essential oils.

Karen aims to use her RWA bursary to develop new plant culture technologies called Temporary Immersion Systems. Traditionally, the plant tissue sector cultivated and multiplied microscopic plant material in agar gel solution. Through the RWA platform, Karen has engaged with international experts to develop protocols for woody and perennial plants to perform in a hydroponic environment. Karen’s work in this area has seen plant samples propagated in hydroponic systems double in productivity compared to the traditional agar practice.

With global kelp reserves beginning to decline, Karen believes her research into hydroponic growth could help future-proof the horticultural industry and relive its dependence on the algae-based agar solutions. Karen says kelp is now a prized component in the cosmetic and food industries, and is also being affected by environmental temperature changes. With the future of seaweed harvest looking shaky, Karen says an alternative product for the multiplication of plants in Australia needs to be developed.

Karen says her work could also powerfully aid Australian apple orchards which were significantly affected in the 2020 bushfires. Using the new plant tissue production technology, Karen’s team hope to supply pathogen-resistant apple rootstock to the orchardists, which could potentially slash the growers’ first harvest timeframe from eight years to four. Traditionally, once an apple tree was planted, the ability to plant in the same hole was difficult due to residual pathogens, meaning the new plant often didn’t succeed. New rootstock genetics have overcome this, while also proving suitable for robotic harvest, reduced chemical spraying and uniform harvest.

2020 Northern Territory Winner – Amy Kirke

Amy’s goal is to be a positive role model in her community by inspiring both women and girls around Australia to seek careers in Science, Technology, Math and Engineering (STEM).

Due to the distance and remoteness faced by some communities in the Northern Territory, there is limited continuous and specific outreach about STEM. This is something Amy is passionate about changing through her Rural Woman’s Award research project that will see the creation of a program to bring sustainable fisheries and science education to schools in these communities. Amy believes it’s important to support these communities because we only get out what we put into them.

With the knowledge that consistent community engagement and early education are key to sustainability in future fisheries, Amy is passionate about utilising her program to begin making a positive difference today. Through its presentation, Amy is also in a position to gain valuable insights into what sustainable fishing looks like to children in these communities.

The workshop Amy has developed, titled the Totally Territory Science Roadshow, is ready to be rolled out to schools in Darwin in time for Science Week and includes the development of a website that provides information about shark dissection as well as further analysis of the species that inhabit the Darwin area. Amy has also created resources for schools to utilise themselves and has been writing a children’s storybook on this topic.

Amy in the process of contacting schools in Arnhem Land and near Kathrine to arrange its adaptation and delivery, with the potential for the information to be altered into a cartoon or video. Amy believes it is important to alter the program for different schools to ensure it is particularly relevant to the kind of fishing their communities undertake the most and compare this to the commercial fishing industry.

With more indigenous fisheries entering the market, Amy expects her research to impact these communities by allowing them the capability to influence Australia’s fisheries management. She knows now more than ever is an exceptionally important time to collaborate in regards to the future management of these fisheries.

In addition to being the winner of the 2020 NT Rural Women’s Award, Amy is a PhD candidate undertaking study in sharks at Charles Darwin University. Originally from Perth, Amy is a trained Marine Biologist whose research focuses on the commercial exploitation of sharks and works alongside the Northern Territory Fisheries as well as the seafood industry.

Amy’s research centres around two shark species caught by offshore snapper fisheries; the Australian Blackspot Shark and the Milk Shark. Through the study of the biology of these species, we can understand how their population size and resilience, for example, are impacted by local fisheries. This in turn will help fisheries to become more sustainable by reducing waste.

2020 Queensland Winner – Elisha Parker

Elisha has a strong interest in agriculture and aims to benefit the livestock industry by solving the issue of the industry’s limited geographic market reach and the absence of a specialised online advertising platform and search tool for sale cattle.

Elisha Parker also wants to support the agriculture industry to stop operating reactively out of external pressures from misinformation and instead, act proactively and openly communicate facts about the truth of producing food and fibre and issues the industry faces in food and fibre production. As the winner of the QLD Rural Woman’s Award, Elisha is undertaking a project by delivering a new online catalogue marketing tool to assist livestock agents with marketing stud stock sales and assist buyers with undertaking pre-sale preparation for better sale outcomes for stud vendors and agents.

As the agricultural industry is essential and provides fresh food and produce to Australian communities, Elisha is passionate about communicating the way it functions to consumers and political representatives to ensure its operational longevity. Elisha further plans to support women in her community by sharing her award experience and contacts within the industry to create a local purposeful workshop and forum.

Elisha’s avid interest in the agriculture industry saw her co-found Cattlesales.com.au, a marketing and advertising website that provided a time saving solution and ease of access online platform to producers, studs and livestock agents seeking to both sell and buy cattle. The website makes it possible to list cattle for sale via any sale point and incorporates smart searching tools that makes the searching process more convenient.

Cattlesales.com.au offers a free system alert that allows buyers to receive notifications based on their cattle requirement specifications as well as the use of social media tools for sharing. This is how the website increases market reach and has revolutionised the way the Australian cattle industry connects.

During the coronavirus pandemic, sale yards for cattle sales were not able to function in their traditional format with open access to any buyers, with only essential persons being allowed onto the premises during a cattle sale. This led to prove that the cattle industry needs marketing tools more than ever to help further market reach of sale cattle and to utilise online technology to advertise cattle prior to sales.

Elisha developed the website with friend and business partner, Anabelle Spann, while living and working over 1,000 kilometres apart, combining their differing knowledge of the cattle industry to see it come to life. Elisha and Anabelle believe agricultural industries, the beef industry included, have realised the potential for online platforms like theirs to save time and provide improved outcomes with cattle selling quicker and offering greater competition for sale price.

Elisha is also a founder and director of the agricultural advocacy group QLD Food Future Inc which educates consumers about the agriculture sector. She was also named the 2020 NAB Agribusiness Cattle Council Rising Champion in 2019.

Elisha often lends her voice to important campaigns and initiatives impacting Queensland’s primary producers including campaigning to prevent vegetation management and reef regulation changes in recent years.