By Chandler Bruns, Social Media Manager, Rooster Strategic Solutions
Last week I was honored to attend the 2020 Women Changing the Face of Agriculture (WCFA) Conference in Decatur, Illinois. It’s an annual gathering designed for young women in high school and college who are interested in a career in agriculture.
It was an outstanding event, as usual – I’ve been a regular participant for nearly a decade and am always impressed with the organization, the caliber and enthusiasm of the attendees, and the vast amount of new and relevant information I take away every year, in addition to having the chance to share my story with others. And while I was truly honored to be a part of this year’s event, there’s a part of me that’s sad that a conference like this is necessary.
Women have ALWAYS changed the face of agriculture, and not just as the spouse of a farmer. According to the latest Census of Agriculture, women make up 36 percent of the roughly 3.4 million farmers in the U.S., a number that has increased by 27 percent over the last five years. Moreover, 56 percent of the roughly 2 million farms in the U.S. employ at least one female producer and 38-percent of U.S. farms are run by women. Add in the hours we contribute as wives, daughters, and sisters on family-run operations and there’s no question that women are an indispensable component to the safe and cheap food supply that America often takes for granted.
But you won’t hear this in many public schools, which is why the WCAF conference and others like it are so valuable. The host organization for the conference, Illinois Agri-Women (IAW), is a grassroots organization of farm and agri-business women promoting a better understanding of agriculture and the family farm system. Conferences like WCAF give young women the opportunity to explore different career paths offered in the agricultural sector, particularly those in technical STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math).
And you wouldn’t know that women are so heavily involved in agriculture by flipping through most magazines or watching videos on the web, where the “face of the American farmer” typically shows a male in his 40s, 50s, or 60s. I don’t find this offensive, by any stretch. It’s an accurate representation of my father and brothers who were and are heavily involved on the farm. But it’s missing a pretty important component of our family farm’s success – the involvement of my mom, my sisters, and me. And it doesn’t encourage young women, especially those who didn’t grow up on or near a farm, to consider a role in agriculture. And that’s a huge missed opportunity.
Over the last decade, as I’ve expanded my role as a spokesperson for Ag, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a large number of communication professionals in agricultural agencies, companies, and partnerships. Many of them, men and women, have gone out of their way to help show women working on the farm in their articles, publications, videos, etc. And for this, I’m grateful. But I’d encourage others to do the same, or more – not because of any misguided sense of obligation or for the sake of diversity, but because it’s our job to accurately portray the state of agriculture today. And that includes the important role that women have played and continue to perform in this country’s success as the world’s leading exporter of food.
My hope and prayer is that someday I’ll be invited by the Illinois Agri-Business (IAB) to attend their annual Changing the Face of Ag Conference (CFA), a gathering of bright high school and college students interested in the limitless possibilities that agriculture offers. I’m sure it will be an interesting and well-run event!