As I waited for the opening session of the 2019 Farm, Family, and ME! Summit for Women, I enjoyed being a fly on the wall. I knew no one there. The room filled; the noise level rose, and various conversations began to flow. As with most conferences, the individual participants had their own motivations for being there, but each was there for one reason. They were there to grow in the field of agriculture.
With each introduction, I was pleased to learn my new acquaintance’s name and what branch of farming they represented. Many were there with backgrounds in cattle, hogs, and row cropping. Others represented agri-tourism, sustainable, organic farming, and accounting and farm investment firms. (I was the only turkey farmer.)
The pride each woman showed for her role in the world of agriculture added to my own joy in having grown up and now seeing my own family raised on a farm. The hard work, dirty jobs, and relentless demands of livestock and crops all seemed to be fodder for the flames that grew with each presentation and sharing of information.
While this conference was intended to create networking and educational opportunities, it had a feel of an agricultural retreat. The breakout sessions, locally sourced meals, Missouri-made wines, and positive ideas and options for female farmers were highly therapeutic and invigorating. I definitely left there with a renewed sense of purpose and a brighter view of what I wanted my role in our family farm to be.
Having Marji Guyler-Alaniz, host of FarmHer television, as the opening speaker elevated us to rural rock star status. But before Marji even took the stage, Missouri’s first lady Teresa Parson made a cameo appearance and took the opportunity to meet many of us, asking where we were from and about our farms, and then spoke on the importance of agriculture for our state. She was positive, professional, and approachable. A perfect tone-setter for the summit.
The motivation and story about how FarmHer came to be was one that resonated because of its non-traditional roots and the earnest desire to give the female farmer a voice in our nation’s most necessary industry. With her statistics and experiences, it was impossible to ignore the message being shared by Marji. (I was already a fan of the show, but now my DVR is set to record every episode.)
With the knowledge that FarmHers have increased over 20% in recent years, it was clear that those at the summit were representative of a power surge. With opportunities like the Summit and FarmHer television, agriculture and its business can only flourish because of the efforts of the women and men working the fields, handling the crops, raising the livestock, and driving the tractors of American farms.
Marji’s desire to gain acceptance and respect for female farmers was reiterated in the words of Missouri Director of Agriculture Chris Chinn when she said, “Farming is gender neutral.” While this statement may seem contrary and too contemporary to some, it is the backbone of what farmers have known for centuries. To farm you do not have to be male or female. To farm you do not have to look a certain way. To farm you do not have to fit into any one mold. To farm you have to have faith, determination, and strength.
The 2-day summit offered three group sessions and eight breakout sessions for individuals to navigate based on their interests. During these sessions attendees were exposed to diverse messages for growth. Everything from networking to legal aspects to cooking with fresh farm produce was on the table for discussion. Valerie Tate and Mark Green were on hand to discuss grazing processes and electric fencing tips. Attorney Patricia Shilling spoke on common estate planning mistakes, while Dr. Andrew Zumalt held open, honest discussions about investing and retirement planning. Lorin Farmeier tackled the topics of agri-tourism and farm fresh cooking.
Mid-Missouri Bank Bolivar Community President Janieca Hancock’s presentation helped make sense of the tough balancing act of home vs. farm financial management. Mary Sobba, Field Specialist in Agricultural Business, shared some solid information on cash rental rates and land pricing. To build on the financial aspects, State Specialist in Diary and Beef, Joe Horner, explained how Livestock Risk Protection (LRP) and Pasture Range and Forage (PRF) protect farmers in cases of animal loss or drought. Dr. Todd Lorenz covered cover crops and their benefits and challenges. Protecting and marketing crops were discussed by Shane Albertson and Bev Henke. If this wasn’t enough, Brent Carpenter offered a session on the 2018 Farm Bill and its Safety Net Decisions. Just to make sure we weren’t all overwhelmed, Jennifer Schutter, Field Specialist in Horticulture, provided “Live Life in Full Bloom,” a session on how to find time to appreciate the small things and stop and smell the roses in our crazy schedules.
Before the closing speaker, a panel of four farm women were invited to share their stories and answer questions from the audience. The panel was terrific! They were honest, funny, and intelligent. Hearing their personal stories and answers to questions was extremely inspiring and educational. I took so many notes it was hard to keep up with the great advice and information being shared. (For future planners of the summit: Keep this panel!)
Farmer and accountant Kalena Bruce was the closing speaker. (If you have not heard of Kalena Bruce before this post, you will.) Her path to success in business and heart in farming empowered all who witnessed her presentation. With her stories of family and farming, visits to the White House, and a plethora of positive adages, Kalena provided tremendous prospective on what women mean to farming and the need for us to find our voice in the industry. As she discussed the fears and reservations of stepping up to represent farmers, Kalena expressed her original misconception that “All that I need is inside my own fence rows.”
With each call to speak for agriculture, its importance, and the women who fill those very necessary roles, this falsehood of safety within her own fences was abandoned. She called on everyone at the summit to “windrow your personal connections,” including those made there at the conference and within local communities. By building strong networks and encouraging communication, Bruce challenged all of us to break away from the barriers of hiding behind our fences and broaden the spectrum of how agriculture is understood and appreciated.
Before attending the Farm, Family and ME! Summit I knew that I wanted to have a stronger voice in my role as a farmer. After the Summit, I felt called to make that voice heard. Thank you to the Missouri Farm Bureau for the work put into the conference and the opportunities it provided. Thank you to all those who spoke and shared insight into the various fields of agriculture.
To all you farm women out there, whatever field you’re in, find a way to cultivate understanding, support, and appreciation for the work you do. Be proud to be a FarmHer!
By: Melanie A. Peters
P.S. The 2020 Farm, Family and ME! Summit for Women is scheduled for September 3-4, 2020.