Seeing Women’s Leadership From the Front Row

Over the years, I have been to quite a few American Farm Bureau Federation annual conventions but yesterday I had a first. Yesterday I had the chance to go to the Women’s Leadership Program Recognition Luncheon. And am I glad I did!

Sitting up front I had a bird’s eye view of some of the women who are actively involved in AFBF programs. And I have to say I was impressed! Of course I recognized a few of the faces on the board, but I listened closely as each of the women were introduced. In this group were women who are involved in farms across the country. They raise cotton, cherries, dairy, beef, wheat and almost everything else you can imagine.

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And the program included spotlighting some of the many programs the various state committees had been doing the past years. There were efforts aimed at assisting food banks, there were visits to local schools, helping hands with good meals at hospitals and more.

Debbie Lyons-Blythe on women's leadershipAnd then Kansas rancher Debbie Lyons-Blythe got some time to talk about her agvocacy efforts and some of the programs she has been affiliated with. I’ll let Debbie speak for herself but here are a few of the links she mentions.

Janice AKA JPLovesCotton is Janice Person, a city girl who loves cotton and biotechnology. Her work for Monsanto focuses on social media outreach. A colorful adventure is her personal blog. Follow her on Twitter (@JPLovesCotton) and find her on Facebook.

A New Focus

I made a quick switch in plans on Sunday. And sometimes making a change in your schedule can make all the difference in the world.

The change? I went to lunch. Not just any lunch, but the Women’s Leadership luncheon. And the difference that was made in my life was inspired by one of the greatest women that I have had the pleasure to meet, Debbie Lyons-Blythe.

She spoke at the luncheon, talking about her role as America’s Farm Mom for 2012, and other projects and programs, but the message that resonated most came from her talking about her advocacy efforts in agriculture. And it spoke to me directly.

As Debbie so bluntly put it, “It’s no longer just about telling our story, we need to start answering questions.”

I need I hear that and read that daily. I need to start answering more questions. Don’t get me wrong, I will still need to write my familiar family stories, including my own voice, but I cannot be afraid to answer the questions that are asked.

The new year has just begun, and I believe that I may have finally found a resolution worth keeping: I will answer more questions.

And as a mother of four boys, I’m pretty sure I have experience in that.

wagfarms is Val Wagner, a North Dakota farmer and rancher. The Wag’n Tales blog features stories from this mom of four who loves farm life and invites readers to come along for the ride. Follow Val on Twitter (@wagfarms) and find her on Facebook. She is a member of the North Dakota Farm Bureau’s Promotion & Education Committee.

Women Leaders Building Connections and Trust in Food

Today I was honored to be a guest at the AFB Women’s Leadership Luncheon at the American Farm Bureau Annual Meeting. I sat at a table with the lovely ladies of the Florida Women’s Leadership Committee. They are from different areas of their state, raising everything from dairy cows to watermelon to Caladiums. These women are diverse, different ages and active in their farms and ranches. They also take their role in agriculture seriously and are active leaders.

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As I listened to their backgrounds, it took me back thinking to the generations of women ahead of me that laid a foundation for me to have a role in food and agriculture today. My great-great aunt Iris, age 107, lives 25 miles from my parent’s and grandparent’s farm in a nursing home. Iris and I have frequent conversations of the struggles of life 100 years ago from living on the farm to pursuing an education. It was not easy for Iris to get to and from school from the farm my family still works today. But her parents were dedicated to she and her brothers getting an education. By horse and wagon her father took the kids miles to and from school because the Model T car couldn’t get through North Dakota winter roads. Iris graduated from the University of North Dakota with an education degree in 1928. Her family’s dedication and example to education while farming inspired next generations like my grandma and my mom, both college graduates and active farmers with my grandpa and dad.

I was the first of the fifth generation on our family farm. I gained leadership skills from women and men in my family and have been the first woman to pursue an off-farm career in agriculture. I also am gaining personal leadership skills by the examples set around me through my membership in Farm Bureau.

Julie Anna Potts, executive vice president and treasurer of American Farm Bureau, spoke at the luncheon today about leadership development in action. She talked about women strengthening skills and developing confidence to talk to lawmakers. Julie Anna stressed the important role women play to in listening to what non-agriculture audiences are saying about food and agriculture and women’s unique ability to engage in authentic conversations.

One hundred years ago, women in agriculture had an important role like they do today. But women like my 107-year-old great aunt, Iris, did not have a leadership program to follow or examples to follow. Survival on the farm was first and foremost, with education as a top priority beyond the farm. Today, I am on the same prairie of North Dakota my family was 100 years ago. My parents farm the land my ancestors broke. But today, I have the leadership opportunity to help build trust in farmers, where food comes from, how it is raised and help tell the story of agriculture. 

Together, women from across Farm Bureau and women outside of the organization can find common connections to discuss what so many women are passionate about: feeding their families quality food. It impacts our families, our farms and our state and national policies.

As Julie Anna Potts said, “Women are credible spokespeople for agriculture.” We can build on the reputation of our farms and ranches, tell the stories non-agriculture audiences are craving to hear of where and how their food is grown and strength American agriculture for generations to come.

I know generations ahead of me, like my great-aunt Iris, laid a foundation of leadership in agriculture and education for me. Now it is up to me to do the same for my son and daughters, community, state and country. 

How have women leaders impacted your role in food and agriculture?

katiepinke is Katie Pinke, a North Dakota Farm Bureau member raised on a 5th-generation family farm in North Dakota that her parents currently operate. Crops they grow include winter wheat, barley, pinto beans, soybeans, canola and corn. She lives 97 miles from a Starbucks and her personal blog is thepinkepost.com. She is alo director of marketing and information at the North Dakota Department of Agriculture. Find her on Twitter (@katpinke) and Facebook (Katie Lukens Pinke).