CLIVE, Iowa — Trish Cook made the long drive from her farm in northeast Iowa
to the Des Moines suburb of Clive so she could attend a meeting at the Iowa Pork Producers Association headquarters.
It’s the type of trip more and more farm women are making, and the distance they have come is often a matter of more than miles.
Pam Johnson can relate.
Johnson, who farms with her husband near Floyd in north central Iowa, was the first woman to serve as president of the National Corn Growers Association.
In February, Politico reported a total of 13 women have either been elected or appointed to head state agriculture departments, surpassing the prior record of 10 women holding top ag offices, according to the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture.
Johnson says there are more women involved in agricultural organizations now than a generation ago, but says that it still isn’t enough.
“It’s still hard for women of my generation,” says Katie Olthoff, a farmer and director of communications for the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association. “We want to be a part of these organizations. … The organizations try to support us … but once there are kids in the equation it’s really hard.”
That can be especially true in rural areas, Olthoff says, because those areas often have shortages of child care options.
What often happens, she says, is that young women do get involved. They become a part of a local chapter or a state committee. But once they have children, they are still often the primary caregivers and that responsibility makes it more difficult to find time to work their way up the ladder in many organizations.
There are exceptions to that scenario and there are women who get very involved in agricultural organizations in a wide variety of ways.
For Cook, it began with the pork producers’ food booth at the county fair. But that area, which is often dominated by women, led to other roles in the organization. Work on various committees led to leadership positions. State leaders were generally encouraging.
She says the original push to get involved was in part due to a desire to meet and get to know people in a new community.
“When we got married we moved to [my husband’s] hometown. IPPA was a great way to get involved,” she says.
She had a day job off the farm at that time. Today she works full-time at the farm business while working with IPPA.
Johnson got her start due to a little bit of a push from another female leader. Helen Inman of Kossuth County approached Johnson almost 20 years ago.
“I started in 2001,” Johnson says. “Helen called me and asked me to run for office. She was terming off the Iowa Corn Promotion Board. I said that I was really busy, but she said, ‘It’s the best work I’ve ever done with the best people I’ve ever worked with.’ That convinced me.”
And that proved to be true, Johnson says today.
“We need leaders, men and women,” she says.