Since starting Wildfibre Organic Tannery TM, I have overcome adversity and discrimination that I never thought would be so prevalent in the modern world we are in. Where we are told we can achieve anything we work hard for. In a world that preaches women's rights, gender equality and supportive memes are the icons of trendy inspiration.
While still married, I started tanning from my own flock and other local producers would kindly donate hides for me to work on and practice. My then spouse, would ridicule my efforts regularly and often belittled my online social media posts. My passion far outweighed any opinions of others, and my desire to develop my craft into something I could be proud of and honor the lifestyle I had been working towards with my flock as a sustainable endeavor was unwavering. I pushed on for years, despite the opposition and emotional abuse, that often included comments that what I was doing was disgusting, my efforts were worthless and my posts were insulting, when I spoke about my independent successes.
In 2020, I took a leap to stand on my own and separate in marriage at the peak of a global pandemic and uncertainty. I would find many opportunities to bring my passions to life and share freely without shame, but each would come at a cost that broke me a little more each time...
Shortly after separating, I was involuntarily estranged from my son for 18 months and endured the long process of separation and child custody agreements. Unexpectedly childless, I could not bare an empty house after having children and a family for 20 years, and the silence was crippling. I would give up several homes I had secured, while trying to regain access to my son, and each time I would attempt to have my son my efforts were met with hostility and deceit. I had to keep moving and keep faith that I would find my way in this new life, and never gave up hope that I could do it on my own.
Spring of 2021, I made the heartbreaking decision to sell my Icelandic flock, and give up my first home on my own. Purchasing a trailer to convert it into a mobile butchering unit, I would spend the summer traveling to several farms and ranches so I could have a safe place to park and stay in exchange for farm help. It was a blessing to be able to keep busy, and stay with those that also had sheep and all the livestock I was used to, even though I no longer had my own. I loved seeing how everyone else ran their farms and learned a lot that summer, all while I kept looking for opportunities to work and live in a location closer to my son.
Fall of 2021 I was contracted by a provincial association to expand and facilitate their tanning programs. This opportunity meant I could still teach in the height of the pandemic, since I was unable to legally hold private classes with the public. However, instead of harnessing my qualities that I was hired for, I was shunned, for doing things a different way, for creating a successful educational platform, and cultivating community with my social media following for lost arts. Claiming I was "too much competition". I received harassing emails along with Facebook bullying from board members, their spouses and other association employees, stating I would not be able to continue sharing my passions within the small nature of the industry, without them, and claims that I was not qualified or educated in my craft, attempting to slander my credibility.
Once again, I was in transition for my career and once again looking for a new location to live and work and hopefully have my son on a regular basis.
The hostility of separation and child custody reached its peak in 2022 with the RCMP involved on multiple occasions. I was exhausted and worn down in every way. All while holding onto my passion for tanning, and living out of my truck. Tanning provided me a purpose to focus on something positive, in the darkest of times, and provided for me in ways that I never expected; financially, spiritually and in gaining my own confidence as a woman, on her own for the first time. It was a rocky road and I stumbled often, wondering how to keep going.
Even with a strong online presence I was not sharing the many hard truths and private struggles that were happening in the background. Hoping that I would quietly overcome and carry on without having to admit the chaos of my private life. Maintaining the strong image of courage and independence that many had come to follow and appreciate was what I thought I needed to stay successful, and keeping the private horrors quiet. The messages of encouragement from strangers kept me going, if I'm being honest. It's a sad fact that those that knew me were not there, in this new version of myself I was no longer a wife or mother invited for playdates or mom talk... I'm no stranger to being the odd one out, but while I held many public events and programs across the province, there was a crippling loneliness, and each evening was like a never ending battle in my head with the silence often too much to bare. I threw myself into building my business, the only thing I could control and keep focused on in the chaos. My work was my lifeline quite literally as I travelled and shared my knowledge at cultural centres, festivals, schools and private events across Alberta.
In the summer of 2022, I abruptly and unexpectedly had my son back, and leased a property to live and continue to operate Wildfibre, however without any form of support, I was unable to travel for tanning programs without childcare, putting a hard stop on my main source of income. Thousands of dollars in refunds were issued when I was forced to cancel my upcoming fall workshops across the province.
Resourcefulness has always been one of my qualities, and in this new property I saw many new opportunities. Wildfibre Organic Tannery TM and farm stays with onsite accommodations, along with an expanded lineup of educational programs would allow me to be a full time mom, continue to share knowledge and still provide an income. In a few short months I interviewed others with sustainable skills and started to host other classes onsite along side my own tanning classes, and it was a huge success, initially. I hosted countless people on my property, and also hired others to help develop and expand facilities so more classes and accommodations could be set up, however each time I reached out for help I was met with empty promises, lewd conduct, manipulation and harassment.
A local mobile butcher that I interviewed for a collaboration in my whole animal use workshops, attempted to blackmail me into personal relationship, while he was married, in exchange for a bogus business partnership. He then further harassed and threatened me in many online posts and emails, often sending crude messages through my website, legal letters of demands and even sending strangers to my property over the course of several months.
My passions and dedication to my work have always been the priority, next to caring for my son. My independence was never something I would give up or sacrifice for anyone. An estranged partner even promised they would retaliate when I ended the relationship, and pledged that it was their goal to destroy my business... With that, I felt as though I no longer had the freedom to exist and earn a living, supporting myself and son, in peace.
In an effort to make ends meet, I also maintained a part time position with an ecological consulting company, that was owned by someone I thought was a genuine friend, yet was again terminated because I refused a romantic relationship with them, and once it was public that I had a new life partner, I was let go with a single hard hitting text message ending my employment, and so called friendship.
As a single mother, living alone in rural Alberta and being bombarded with shady offers of help, fraudulent business deals and threatened by others if I exposed them, I was in shock... the events were all so surreal and I felt like nobody really believed what was happening because of how extreme it was, except for both my children who were living with me, that witnessed the events as they happened. I tried my best to shield them and maintain a safe home, but the harassment resulted in many stressful, sleepless nights.
All while everyone I had known, stood by and viewed me as unstable, unfocused, disreputable or unreliable, some cast self-righteous judgement, some even took it as opportunity to use my guidance and advice for their own paths to success without recognition or acknowledgement. I stood against this onslaught without any support from a network of people that so boldly claimed to be on my side. The public preached "support local small business" & "women supporting women" Instead when I was seen to be drowning, backs turned, and in some cases new personal attacks were sent to me via text messages and emails outlining their opinions of my failures... I tried to throw in the towel multiple times, convinced I wasn’t strong enough for this cruel world, and questioned often if my path was worth it on my own. What was I fighting for? I was not able to live my life peacefully with my children, I kept the gates locked and personal protection items within reach each night. This is something nobody should ever have to endure.
Each time the pressures and fears took over I would withdraw personally and online... but my work depended on social media as the main driver of marketing. And so the cycle of burn out and survival would ensue. Every time I posted to social media I was vulnerable, waiting for yet another attack from those that no longer had the privilege of being part of my life personally or professionally. Each time I chose a different path of independence, I would be presented a small gift of opportunity where I would have the chance to rise taller. Each time I rose, weary but wiser and was shown that my purpose was to do it on my own. To blaze trail and lend a compassionate hand to those that also are on the same path. To create the supportive community where we actually thrive, and when times get tough (as they do for everyone) we step towards the impossible and help lift those up so they don't have to question if they still have the strength within themselves, to rise again.
My story isn't meant to seek anyone's sympathy, my story is for those that are struggling out there on their own as I was. Find your tribe, or build it, because while we can do anything, we can't do everything on our own and there is zero shame in that. I refuse to be pushed around and bullied into silence. The actions of others that I had to pay consequences for and continue to experience, were not just unfair or cruel, they were in fact unwarranted and in some cases illegal, breaching human rights and employment legislation along with blatant sexual harassment.
Some would ask why I have not sought legal recourse, and the simple answer is that I could not afford to retain legal counsel during the periods that these events were unfolding, and was emotionally unable to focus on fighting those perpetrators directly. I had to keep focus on surviving and providing for myself and my son, on my own.
I have chosen to speak out now, because I am no longer in danger of retribution or retaliation. I am happily engaged and in a safe place with a truly remarkable partner that is not only supportive but also part of everything that I hold so dear to my heart, including my business. I no longer live in fear, and no longer am bound to silence for the atrocities of others actions that were forced on me. Weights that are too heavy to carry, so in speaking out, I can let them go. Thankfully this is just one chapter completed in my story... And the new chapter that is unfolding is something I wish to share, without fear of judgement or continued harassment, based on rumors, and deceptive claims on my character.
Together we can learn from each other and make a difference. I refuse to let my experiences make me bitter or jaded, I choose to learn from them and share them so perhaps they are not repeated and hopefully bring some light to some hard topics.
Have you really supported the people in your life? Or have you turned your back because it's easier to ignore?
Have you used someone else's knowledge to help launch your own success without acknowledgment?
Have you offered support to someone who genuinely needed it, without your own personal gain or agenda?
It's free to support others, it's free to be kind, and most importantly, it's free to let someone know they aren't alone when you see them stumble. Nobody needs a hand out, but everyone can use a hand up in difficult times and it's a shame that this isn't put into practice as much as it's preached. Truly strong women walk the talk, lip service is a disservice to everyone, we support each other when times are tough and recognize that everyone is fighting a battle. Ultimately we need compassion, not only privately, but also in business. We are all human, living just one life and all destined to complete our journey the same humble way. We owe it to ourselves and humanity to be the change we want to see.
I am proud that in 2023, Wildfibre Organic Tannery TM has also expanded, with a strong circle of women that have helped create a foundation that is not only supportive to our individual lives but also supportive as we continue to grow in the future. The launch of Prairie Rose Sustainable Skills Inc. encompasses all that I have dreamed of, in educational programs for lost arts and skills, along side helping others start and maintain their own independent educational focused businesses. I am not alone, I found my tribe, or perhaps I created it, by staying true to myself, unapologetically, no matter the consequences. The fight was worth it, and now standing strong on the other side of the storm, with my new business partner and fiancé, life has never been so amazing. I was never unstable or uncommitted or disreputable, I was surviving, and somehow continued to build something worth fighting for, that now allows others to share their knowledge and cultivates community across the province one class at a time.
Wildfibre Organic Tannery TM
Prairie Rose Sustainable Skills Inc.
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