Many of you remember the 2013 Super Bowl commercial, “So God Made a Farmer.” The Dodge Ram ad was made up of still photos of farmers, while the audio played a recording of a speech given by radio broadcaster Paul Harvey at a 1978 Future Farmers of America convention.
The ad struck a chord and started a national conversation about the importance of supporting family farmers. Here’s a line from the speech: “God said, ‘I need somebody willing to sit up all night with a newborn colt and watch it die, then dry his eyes and say, “Maybe next year,” I need somebody who can shape an ax handle from an ash tree, shoe a horse with hunk of car tire, who can make a harness out hay wire, feed sacks and shoe scraps. Who, during planting time and harvest season will finish his 40-hour week by Tuesday noon and then, pain’n from tractor back, put in another 72 hours.’ So God made a farmer.”
Consider the latest version of this ad: “So God Made a FarmHer.” The YouTube redo also includes the formidable list of what farmers do, adding contributions typically made by women, including taking care of children, working off-farm and showing up at the evening PTO meeting. The video was shown at National Farmers Union’s Women’s Conference held in January. This annual event, with content by Annie’s Project, this year drew more than 50 women farmers from across the country, including Chelsea Kruse, a member of New England Farmers Union.
On the heels of this conference, National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson saluted the growing role of women in agriculture and their invaluable contributions to family farming.
“Women have always played a critical role in family farming, and that role is increasing dramatically as the number of women who are farmers in the U.S. has grown to roughly one million strong,” Johnson said. “Thankfully, the future of family farming in America is in good hands, and that is due in no small part to the growing contributions of women in agriculture.”
In 2007, women operated 14 percent of all U.S. farms, nearly triple the number in 1978. In some states, such as Arizona, female operators comprise nearly half the state’s farmers. Texas boasts the most female farmers overall.
“NFU, since it’s founding in 1902, has understood the importance of women having a strong voice in agriculture,” said Johnson. “The organization’s long history of having women in leadership positions and advocating for women’s voting rights, both within the organization and in local, state and national government, has allowed NFU to provide a more progressive and balanced voice for all family farmers for more than a century.”
Johnson also noted that NFU has developed educational programming and outreach tools to identify and empower women to help improve their farming skills. This outreach, which includes business acumen, leadership training and hands-on practical experience, is helping women succeed in their growing role on the nation’s farms and in its farm organizations.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, women farmers and ranchers on average are better educated than their male counterparts, with approximately 61 percent of women principal operators having education beyond high school – compared to 47 percent of male operators – and 32 percent having a college degree.
Chelsea Kruse got her start in dairy farming in New Hampshire at certified humane pudding maker Echo Farm, and recently moved to an upstate New York dairy. Kruse, a member of NFU’s Beginning Farmer Institute Class of 2015 and a two-time attendee at NFU’s legislative fly-in, appreciated the diversity of participants in the women’s conference.
“A few of them were women who shared their stories about the adversity they dealt with, whether as a minority, stuck in gender roles, as a single mother, as a member of a starving family, you name it,” Kruse said. “And they relayed strength and perseverance and how agriculture helped them find character and mettle within themselves to overcome these problems.
There’s no doubt women have made enormous contributions to the family farm in New England and throughout the country, and that with encouragement and support, they will make even greater gains in the years to come. New England Farmers Union works for policies that support all family farmers, be they women or men. To become a member, please see http://www.newenglandfarmersunion.org.
Kate Snyder is director of membership and programs for New England Farmers Union. Andrew Jerome is communications coordinator for National Farmers Union.