This morning I’m working away at the kitchen counter while I have a sick kiddo home from pre-school. This is day two that he’s home, during my usually three-day work week. I’ll note that as a farmer, I’m truly never off duty, I still have to chores, check livestock and carve out time here and there for other projects outside of my Monday-Wednesday “8 to 5” work week. Don’t get me wrong. I am very glad I have the flexibility to take time off to be here for my kids when they aren’t feeling well. And, I do want to be here for him. But, that means I also had to cancel an onsite meeting I had with a meat processor and will likely sort of get to the rest of my tasks today (working on business marketing, a community outreach project, and of course the day-to-day work of the farm). That’s ok. It’s part of being a parent. But, if I’m really being honest as a one-woman shop, I admit it’s a little disheartening to feel like I’m losing traction on getting things done and moving the needle on my farm business.
Aside from my parent duties today (and, of course every day), part of the reason we’ve chosen to have daycare for our kids, is so I have designated time to focus on my business. It’s for a variety of motives: being present with my work and with my family, being safe around the farm, effective use of time in the office and on the farm, balance (or attempt!) between work and family time, and (also, an attempt) to prevent burn out in work and, even in our marriage. I know others who make it work and kudos to them! This is what fits for our family and farm. [Side note: Did you know that Bert on Sesame Street was just reading “50 Shades of Oatmeal” before he got interrupted by Ernie to make a movie? Ha ha. Got to love PBS Kids ]
I’ve written and talked about this balance of being a parent and farming before. And as others may also know, one of my favorite “hobbies” is to listen to podcasts for both fun and professional development. This morning seemed to be a nice fit for sharing several “good listens” in the world of podcasts as it relates to women in agriculture and leadership. Note these link to Apple podcasts since that's where I listen, but you should be able to find them on other podcast platforms.
Do you know of other relevant podcasts? I’d love to hear your recommendations! I know have a few more Female Farmer Project and Sharpen podcasts on related to this topic on my "listen list."
To others in Wisconsin, Northwestern Wisconsin may seem like it’s home to a scattering of rural communities in farm country. But, for St. Croix County, were we live, that could be farther from the truth. Neighboring the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro, St. Croix County’s population is one of the fastest growing counties in the state. According to the Department of Administration, the county is protected to grow 41 percent to 119,010 by 2040, making it fourth to first place Dane, followed by Brown and Kenosha Counties, which are home to the Madison, Green Bay and Milwaukee metro areas, respectively (New Richmond News, 2014).
Increase in population in our area translates to sprawling communities of Hudson, New Richmond and River Falls, as well as increase in the number of people moving to the country on their own little piece of acreage. While this growth is good for the local economy, it also contributes to fewer of our residents having connections or understanding of agriculture and rural life. This divide presents both opportunities and challenges when it comes to working with our local decision makers, neighbors and fellow community members who live in our county’s larger communities.
This trend is part of the reason I attended the Wisconsin Farm Bureau IGNITE Conference, which focused on Policy, Issues, Advocacy, Governance and Organization, Building Farm Bureau and Communicating for Agriculture and Farm Bureau. This conference offered an opportunity to draw on resources and information, so I can continue to advocate for agriculture as a farmer, community leader and through Farm Bureau in my county. It's up to us in agriculture and rural communities to have conversations, do outreach efforts and tell our own farming story right in our own community.
In addition to hearing from the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Secretary Sheila Hardsorf, I also attended sessions on agricultural education and outreach programs, political trends impacting the fall state and national elections, tips for working with local media and strategies to work with local issues in our communities.
Here’s an article from The Country Today, which highlights the conference, including a few of my own comments: Read the article here.
On occasion friends and colleagues ask me why I’m involved with Farm Bureau. I’ll often share how I love the leadership and education opportunities. This last weekend I graduated from the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Leadership Institute, a yearlong personal and professional development program. It wasn’t until this week, following that graduation, I was able to reflect on what this organization truly means to me. It’s about friendships and a shared love for agriculture. Here’s why I’m a part of Farm Bureau:
If you’re already a member, I’d encourage you to think about what this organization means to you and where it can help you in the future. If you’re not a part of Farm Bureau, think about joining. Just like other organizations, you can pick and choose what and how much you want to do. It’s what you make of it. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d be glad to share more information about membership or simply answer questions.
I had the opportunity to be a guest blogger for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau recently. This post was published here.
I don’t have enough time. I’m not experienced enough.
I’m too young. I’m too old.
I’m not a “typical” farmer.
There are dozens of reasons that could be given for not stepping into a leadership role in agriculture or our communities. I’ve been thinking a lot about what it takes to be a leader ever since I made the three-and-a-half-hour drive home from our first Farm Bureau Leadership Institute in Madison last month.
Vince Lombardi once said, “Leaders are made, not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.”
This quote sheds light on a common myth that only certain people are destine to be leaders. However, leaders come from all backgrounds and demonstrate strong character, while utilizing their skills and talents to benefit their communities. Leaders recognize and step up to opportunities when asked or on their own initiative. Either way, it’s a CHOICE.
Similar to many in agriculture, I’m busy. I have a young son, a job off the farm and manage a growing farm. Through life experiences, I recognize the importance of taking care of oneself and family. That aside, there will never be a “good time” to be a leader.
As members of Farm Bureau and other ag organizations, we need to choose to step up and take a leadership role. It could be simply volunteering with the local Ag in the Classroom program or serving on a county or community organization board. Find the right fit and what works for you. Say yes and do it well.
Just like our day-to-day work, we also need to find ways to grow as a leader, developing personal skills and challenging our own views and perspectives on life. I’ve recently made the choice to purposefully grow as a leader through the Farm Bureau Leadership Institute. During our first session we learned about ourselves, evaluating who we are as leaders, understanding our personality types and intellectual intelligence and building and practicing speaking skills.
The best part so far has been getting to know my classmates. We all come from different places in life, from being fresh out of school to seasoned agriculturalists, single, married, county board members, new members, range of agricultural experiences and so on. Even though we only spent three days together, I already consider them friends and am looking forward to getting to know them more as we continue on this leadership journey together over the next year. In fact, I know they’ll be future connections down the road when working on county Farm Bureau projects or other community work.
Fellow agriculturalists, here’s my challenge to you: CHOOSE to make the time to step up as leader in your community and consider adding the Leadership Institute to your personal development to do list.
Earlier this year we received board election information in the mail from an agricultural cooperative. As I paged through the candidate biographies, I was impressed by how experienced many of the individuals were as farm operators and involvement in their respective communities.
When I looked through it again, my impression started to change, not of them, but of the bigger picture. I started to wonder why there weren’t any younger farmers as candidates.There actually were two, one 28 and another 36. However, there majority of candidates were well over 50. I want to note, that I don’t want to discredit these seasoned farmers one bit. But, I started to see a glaring issue. Where is the representation from the younger generation of farmers? It’s not at the fault of the other candidates.
While the average age in our profession keeps ticking up, 57 years old based on current USDA numbers, there are younger farmers. I know them. Many of them are friends in my community and from college. I’m one of them. In the bigger picture, the ag community recognizes the need to support the next generation of farmers through specialized lending programs with Farm Credit and FSA, programs on succession planning, business planning, leadership development and other topics.
But why, when it comes to representing the farmer’s voice there’s limited representation of “young” farmers on ag boards and committees?. As agriculture and management styles continue to change, the next generation of farmers needs to have their voice at the table. Why isn’t it happening?
I can tell you from my own experience and conversations with friends, that it’s time. For me: we’re working off farm jobs, in addition to farming, have a young family, the farm is in the expansion stages and it’s just us running the show, with some occasional assistance from family that doesn’t live close. I’m not complaining. But, it’s a reality I know is true for many younger farmers. Here’s the deal. We need to make time for producer leadership roles. We have too. If we’re growing our farms, we need to be at the table in our communities, organizations and even agribusinesses. There’s potential for major disconnect with the next generation of farmers, when boards represent only those who are well into their career or even retired from farming.
I recently decided to walk the talk and joined my county Farm Bureau board. I also applied for another ag committee position, but wasn’t selected. But, that’s ok. That's what taking chances is about. I know that if I didn’t express interest, there was zero chance of serving in that role. I’m considering applying again in the future. I challenge my peers to make the time, take the chance and step up into leadership roles. We need younger farmers represented in our agricultural and community organizations.
I own and manage Cylon Rolling Acres in northwestern Wisconsin. On my farm I raise Boer - Kiko meat goats on pasture.
Cylon (pronounced Si-lon) is the name of our township in St. Croix County, Wisconsin. Sorry fans, our farm is not named after the robots of Battlestar Galactica.