A Trip to Iowa

Visiting the I am FarmHer Convention in Des Moines, Iowa was an opportunity to leave my farm and make connections with other female farmers. I would encourage female farmers, ranchers, ag business professionals, and anyone even considering farming to look to the 2018 convention for motivation, networking, and educational speakers. Not to mention making some lifelong friendships through a shared love of farming.

When Mr. Steve Butler called to ask me if I’d be interested in being one of two female farmers to represent West Virginia at the inaugural convention, I jumped at the opportunity. Normally I wouldn’t leave the farm during harvest season, but I was flattered that he asked me and also excited to see a part of our country I had not seen yet.  Then I asked if I’d be able to take my younger sister, Olivia Orr,   as well. She had recently returned to help at the farm, and it seemed like a great trip for bonding and learning about our family trade together.

Conventions are one of my favorite ways to learn current trends in agriculture, and I try to attend them every year during the off season. I did not study Agriculture in college, which I have regretted.  I returned to our farm in 2006 to manage the retail market after leaving a 5-year career in Elementary Education. Since then I have gained a wealth of knowledge about ag business and agritourism, mostly through trial and error, conventions, classes, and studying what others do well.  I still remember one of my customers asking me, “How do your parents feel about you leaving your profession to work at the farm market?” I politely explained that farming IS my profession and my parents were actually quite happy since they are farmers as well.  Since that day I’ve tried to show that what I do for a living is indeed a profession by trying to better myself and my family business at every turn. As I watch my sister entering the arena of agriculture as a woman, I want to help inspire and educate her to reach her goals as well.

The Only Orchardists out of 100 Attendees!

We boarded the plane, not really sure what to expect. But we knew we had a few days off from work to get to know ourselves and each other better. Upon arrival in Des Moines, we immediately met some ladies who were waiting on the airport shuttle, and we giggled because we recognized that we were all farm girls headed to the convention. As we traveled to the hotel, I noticed that most of the other ladies in our group were in the beef, pork, poultry, and row crop industries.  Later we would realize that we were the only orchardists in the group of about 100 women. There was one other lady from West Virginia, Britney Hervey Farris, who we would later meet at dinner. She has a farm called “Family Roots Farm” and we were able to chat a bit and discuss her maple syrup and her recent venture into the world of pick-your-own berries.

The opening of the convention was a welcome that featured the T.V. series highlights from “FarmHer” that was shown on RFDTV. I had seen it a few times and found it interesting. However, Marji Gyler-Alaniz , the founder of FarmHer left us all speechless when she showed “So God Made A Farmer,” the popular Super Bowl Ad.  She explained that as powerful as the imagery is in that ad, she was struck by the lack of women in that advertisement.  That’s when I felt an overwhelming kinship with these women in the room that is hard to explain. I’ve been the minority so many times. Whether it be as a woman in ag, a farmer amongst many “professionals,” or a West Virginian judged by folks from other regions. Don’t get me wrong, I never give that much thought, but this was the first time I was part of a group of female farmers who were THE SAME as me! Even though we are part of agriculture in different realms of the industry, we all share a love of farming, and it was palpable in that room.

10 Habits of Highly Effective Women in Agriculture

Throughout the three days, I spent in Iowa there was a number of classes and speakers that left lasting impressions on me.  My favorite was called “10 Habits of Highly Effective Women in Agriculture” by Jeanne Bernick.  “Our Political Reality” by Amanda DeJong of the American Corn Growers Association highlighted how we should be more involved in Washington by sharing our voice. We can do this individually through letters and feedback to Congress, but we can collectively share our voice through trade organizations and groups like WV Farm Bureau.  Holly Hoffman held a class called “Lead Simply” which went over leading and communicating effectively.  There was also a tour of The Meredith Corporation, home of many publications including Better Homes and Gardens.  Then we dined in Downtown Des Moines which I found very fascinating.

My take away from this event has been large and lasting. I came home to West Virginia energized by the amount of great advice I received. However, I was astonished by the opportunities I saw highlighted for women just like me in the agriculture industry.  Sometimes farmers become limited to our fence rows due to the large workload that comes along with our career choice. However, getting out in the world to see the opportunity that awaits us is so important.  I know my sister felt energized as well to bring some new ideas to our family farm.  I plan to attend this 2018 FarmHer convention to see the friends that I made this year and continue to educate myself….because farming is a profession!

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