What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up, Lesa?
There has been much attention given to women in agriculture lately. For the past fifty years, I have been a woman in agriculture and my paternal grandmother was a dairy farmer too. Dad often referred to her, and I reminded him of her. Not until the later in life, did I understand her role on the farm. Being a “farmer” started at a very early age for me. I never thought what I did was unusual. Looking back now, I am not sure how many knew what I did after school or during the summer. There was the occasional comment about my great suntan. While girls worked hard to get a tan, mine was from working. (This was before sunscreen and awareness of skin cancer.) Few knew that the young lady who played basketball, piano, and crowned Homecoming Queen was a dairy farmer.
I have had only one employer for my entire life, my Dad. He never put restrictions or limits on what I could do on the farm except in one area. He trusted me to drive tractors and equipment, the family car, and trucks at a very early age. Dad believed a young girl could drive a tractor with a haybine or haybaler on U.S. 62 (a local highway). I was responsible for working ground and applying chemicals to fields in preparation for planting. There was no distinction between me being a female or male. No, I was not expected to lift more than I could. However, I did a lot of physical manual labor on the farm. Shoveling, carrying heavy buckets of milk to feed calves, lifting bales of hay, were all a part of daily life. After college, I was the primary milker early in the morning and in the afternoons. I continued to do field work too.
The one area my Dad treated me differently was significant. Farm management was to left to my brother and him. Why, I do not know, and he could never answer this question. We had many discussions about this over the years. However, after some rather unpleasant family events happened, I became the farm manager in 2007. This is where I first faced, you are a woman farmer? I do not know how many times I have been asked to speak to the owner or my husband. In others words where is the man. Then in 2010, I was farm owner and operator along with Ellie. Dad was eager to teach, share and engaged in farming again. Sadly, he suddenly died in 2011 and took with him a lifetime of knowledge. We are now learning the part that I was sheltered from during my life.
Neither Ellie or I majored in agriculture in college or participated in ag-related organizations. Today, I would encourage young ladies to consider agriculture as a field of study or occupation. There will be an increasing demand for those working in agriculture. I am not just talking about farmers. Careers in agriculture will be needed as the population increases.