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Celebrating Women’s History Month with a Spotlight on Women in Ag

By Michelle Pelletier Marshall, Women in Agribusiness Media (March 26, 2024)


There is no doubt that the evolution of farming has changed the way the world lives. And with that, the way farming is managed has progressed through technological developments, biotech innovations, new participants and investors in the sector, and ever-increasing female ownership of farms. While statistics vary on the actual numbers, according to the recently released results of the 2022 Census of Agriculture, women accounted for 36 percent of the 3.4 million producers in the U.S., and more than half of all farms, or 56 percent, had a female producer.   


There is no time more fitting than during Women’s History Month to pay homage to the growth and development of women leaders in this typically male-dominated sector. Plus, women in agriculture have a powerful story to tell – one of stewardship, resilience, and leadership – from the farmyard to the boardroom. Also to note, this week – the last week in March – has been designated as "National Farmworker Awareness Week" to raise awareness about farmworkers' working conditions and to recognize their contributions. 


Here's a look at five women who paved the way for women working in agriculture:  


  • Maria Moreno, a Texas-born farmworker and labor organizer, was the first woman farmworker hired to be a union representative for the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) in 1959.


  • Dolores Huerta, a lifelong labor and civil rights activist, was at the forefront of the effort to create the United Farm Workers (UFW) in 1962. She subsequently became a voice for women's equality and environmental justice on the farm.


  • Monica Ramirez, the daughter and granddaughter of migrant farmworkers, created the first legal initiative to address gender discrimination against farmworker women, and then founded Justice for Migrant Women, an organization working to advance civil and human rights for migrant women. 


  • Jessie de la Cruz, born in Anaheim, California, in 1919, she began working in the fields alongside her family at age five. As a young adult, she went on to lead a variety of demonstrations and become a union recruiter and advocate for agricultural workers as well as grow opportunities for women in UFW leadership. 

 

  • Emma Tenayuca was a leader of the labor movement who was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. At 21 years old, she led a walkout strike against pecan shellers at San Antonio, Texas' Delicious Pecan Company to protest the meager pay for difficult working conditions. Lasting over three months and including more than 12,000 people (mostly women), the strike was the largest in the city's history.


We, at Women in Agribusiness (WIA), applaud these early efforts to bring justice and advancement to women in the agriculture sector. And we continue the effort to shine a light on women stepping outside traditional boundaries, blazing new trails, and lifting each other up in the ag sector. Take some of our WIA Summit keynote speakers for example, like Temple Grandin, whose “thinking in pictures” logic credited to her autistic abilities, revolutionized not just the cattle industry, but the whole food industry with her solutions for humane animal handling; or Beth Ford, CEO of Land O’Lakes, who has become a strategic, savvy advocate for rural America, whether that be pushing for rural broadband access, or addressing the systematic racism in the sector by committing Land O’Lakes to the continuous work that’s needed to make companies more inclusive.


Or Krysta Harden, former deputy secretary of the USDA who is now president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council. Harden, a former Georgia peanut farmer, was steadfast in making the most of her opportunity to serve: she led the development of the USDA's Beginning Farmers website, an interactive tool to help anyone develop a career in farming and ranching; she founded the Department's Women in Agriculture Mentoring Network; and is known as a visionary leader who worked tirelessly to implement the 2014 farm bill.


WIA also has been diligent in highlighting female producers during our annual Female Producer Panel at the WIA Summit. Take Claire Smith, founder and CEO of Tenera Grains, who grew up on a 2,300-acre farm in Michigan. She moved away to pursue other career options but was lured back to the farm by her parents’ idea of working with teff, an ancient grain native to Ethiopia. With that, she created Teffola, a teff-based granola that has taken off since its introduction in 2018 and is now sold in more than 150 locations across the U.S. There’s also April Hemmes, an Iowa farmer who grows soybeans and corn and also serves as a director for the Iowa Soybean Association. Hemmes has opened the eyes of our audiences with learning opportunities (and laughs!) from the farm, along with inspiration and instruction on managing intergenerational communications on the farm and beyond. 


From our 2023 Female Producer Panel was Amelia Kent, fourth-generation farmer, owner and manager of Kent Farms, LLC, in Louisiana, where she and her husband run a diversified cattle operation. Kent is a staunch advocate for ag and holds numerous leadership positions with organizations such as Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation, the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, Capital Area Groundwater Commission, and last year, she served as a panelist at the International Agri-Food Network’s Climate, Science, and Innovation Event in Rome, Italy. 


With this, and all that is in store at the 2024 WIA Summit in Denver, September 24-26, we invite you to recognize the achievements of women in the ag sector during Women’s History Month (and always!), and join us on our journey to grow a professional community of women in agribusiness and help them learn from one another, develop their career, and build beneficial relationships that will grow the sector through innovation and collaboration.


See you in September!





- Michelle Pelletier Marshall is contributing editor and author for HighQuest Partners’ GAI News and managing editor for its WIA Today blog. Additionally, she is the company’s Senior PR/Media Manager. She can be reached at marshall@highquestpartners.com.

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Do you have a story you'd like to contribute to WIA Today? Or a suggestion for a story, or comments about an article? Please reach out to Michelle Marshall at mmarshall@womeninag.com and share your thoughts. We'd love to hear from you.

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