More than 250 women producers gathered Feb. 21-22 in Kearney, Neb. for the 34th annual Women in Agriculture conference. Born out of the need to educate and uplift women involved in all aspects of the agriculture industry in the throes of the 1985 Farm Crisis, the two-day event continues to draw women from across the state for networking and educational experiences.
The theme for this year’s conference was “Take Charge of Change” and more than 30 concurrent workshops focused on production, market, financial, human and legal risks associated with the industry.
In addition to the workshops, a series of guest speakers punctuated the meal breaks during the conference. Kick-off speaker was Tim Hammerich of Idaho, founder of Ag Grad and a former National FFA President.
Hammerich partnered with Jeremy Turner to develop Ag Grad, a firm devoted to helping those interested in agriculture careers find jobs through online resources. His motivational speech centered on “Clarifying Your Impact.”
“Impact can mean any number of things,” Hammerich explained. “You can have a major impact in your area or community, just by clarifying a need.”
He cited three ways to clarify impact: 1) Think long term; 2) clarify your value and intentions and 3) optimize for the starting line.
Hammerich noted that some people get discouraged when they can’t see immediate results and shared a quote from technology mogul Bill Gates: “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in 10 years.”
“Stick with the impact you want to have and day-by-day it will multiply,” Hammerich said.
Using his mother’s decision to become an emergency foster care provider as example, he noted she started with one child and today has provided care and comfort for 1,500 youngsters.
“Some people are very good about articulating the problem, but not at clarifying how they can solve it,” Hammerich said. “Tiny changes bring remarkable results so the key is to optimize for the starting line, not the finish line. Positive change takes time.
Another highlight for participants this year was the opportunity to hear from Marji Guyler-Analiz, founder and president of FarmHer. Guyler-Analiz spoke during the event’s Thursday evening banquet and discussed the inspiration for and evolution of FarmHer and the image of women in agriculture.
While she grew up in the country near Webster City, Iowa, and was around agriculture, Guyler-Analiz noted she wasn’t a farm kid. Following her graduation from college she spent 11 years in crop insurance, moving through the corporate ranks.
“I was at a point where my kids were one and three and that life just wasn’t for me anymore,” she said. “On Feb. 1, 2013 I quit that job but didn’t really know what I was going to do.
“Who quits a job without knowing what they are going to do? I am a Type A personality and it really changed our life.”
The Super Bowl that year proved to be pivotal for Guyler-Analiz.
“Remember the ‘God Made a Farmer’ commercial with the Paul Harvey voice over,” she remarked to the crowd. “It was the most popular commercial during the Super Bowl that year and is still one of the most popular ever. While moving, it struck me, where were the women?”
According to the 2012 agriculture census, there were 969,672 women involved in agriculture, which means 30 percent of farmers were women at that time, she added.
“That hit me really hard. I went to bed that night and woke up about 2 a.m. the next morning with an idea, ‘Why don’t I do something?’ In my mind, I had free time on my hand,” she joked.
An article on seven women producers caught her attention and she decided to put her journalism skills to work by going out and taking pictures of them on their operations. She set up her schedule and on April 17, 2013, took the first pictures.
“It was amazing, I got exactly what I wanted,” she said. “I was so excited to get home and get the pictures off of my camera.”
In the early years, FarmHer was simply a photo project, said Guyler-Analiz.
“I quickly had to turn it into a business at advice of my accountant,” she explained.
Off-shoots started mushrooming as she started GROW conference for young women, and when people began asking for FarmHer T-shirts, she started a line of FarmHer products.
Then the third year into her photography project, she began having doubts. She had just completed a stint working at the Clay County (Iowa) fair experience.
“I was dead tired,” she began, “and on my way home I began asking myself, ‘What am I doing?’”
Then came the phone call that changed the trajectory of FarmHer. The founder of RFD TV called and pitched taking her photography and interviewing skills and turning it into a regular show on the rural TV network.
“In 2016 we started the TV show,” Guyler-Analiz noted. “It meant 12 weeks traveling and for me, it was hard being out in front of the camera. To date we’ve been in almost 30 states and done 80 30-minute TV shows.
“One thing that I absolutely love about our TV show is that it airs in every state in the country, and there are amazing women all over the place.”
She shared clips from several of the current season’s shows, such as oyster farmer Joanna Fogg from Bar Harbor, Maine; Wanda Shanks from Tennessee, who — at age 87 — still raises cattle with her son and plays on a championship Senior Olympics basketball team whose members are all over age 80; and Michelle Erickson Jones from Montana, who is the first woman president of Montana Grain Growers and mother of two young sons. Her special story concerned handling the mental health issue of post-partum depression.
Other clips showed Erin Brenneman, who grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. She loved horses and went to college to become a vet. She ended up marrying a farmer and living on and working on Brenneman Farms, a large hog farm. Guyler-Analiz noted she is now a staunch advocate for agriculture and has embraced her country life. The Brenneman family built Pig Pen Park, a baseball field, for their kids to play on.
“No matter what you think about her farm, she invites you in behind the scenes,” noted the FarmHer founder.
Guyler-Analiz gave a sneak peek for shows coming up in the fourth season of FarmHer and challenged those in attendance to keep telling their stories, whether through print or digital media or by opening their farms to the non-farming public. Education is key, she concluded.
Barb Bierman Batie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.