The Women Who Paved the Way

International Women’s Day. A day to celebrate women’s accomplishments around the world. All day long I’ve seen women I follow on social media posting pictures of themselves on their farms and ranches with captions of how proud they are to be a woman in the ag industry, and while I love seeing these posts of fellow female farmers, why do we still seem to think that being a woman in the ag industry is a novelty? I love the sense of community that the women in agriculture movement the past few years has created, but I think that in focusing on what we’re doing now, we’ve taken it a little too far and completely forgotten that we’re not the first women in history to have worked on a farm.

Growing up I was never treated any differently than my brother by anyone-my parents, my grandparents, the landlady, the crazy neighbor lady, and trust me there were a few times I wouldn’t have minded a little preferential treatment just for being a girl (like walking beans on 100+ degree July days). (Before you get all riled up, I know that not every girl grows up in an environment where she is never made to believe anything other than the idea that she’s capable of whatever she sets her mind to do, and I know that I was blessed in that regard.) However, after my first semester at Purdue I came home thinking I was something special just for the simple fact of being a woman going into the ag industry. Somehow in the midst of getting caught up in the crazy idea that I was something new and unique, I’d completely forgotten the dozens of women I’d spent my childhood watching work right alongside their husbands, brothers, sons, and fathers who did what it took to get the job done never worrying about how they were viewed.


My grandma Judy is one of the strongest, sweetest, and hardest working women I’ve ever known. (I know there’s a good possibility of some personal bias sneaking into that statement, but I guarantee that every single person who has ever met her would agree with it.) She worked in the scale house at her husband’s grain elevator greeting everyone who came across the scales with a smile and raised six kids on a farm in between everything else going on. Even now in her eighties she still brings food for my dad and I so we have something waiting for us when we come in for the night and stops by to ride a few rounds with us after church on Sunday afternoons regaling me with stories of her time at the elevator and farmers long gone. She’s been around agriculture her entire life, and yet I have a sneaking suspicion that she and the women who came to the elevator delivering grain for their family farms never had a single conversation about being something extraordinary just for being a woman on a farm.

Don’t get me wrong, I truly do love the community of women in the ag industry that this new movement has created, and I hope that it provides role models for the girls who aren’t growing up in an environment where they’re encouraged to pursue their passions, but I think we should remember that we didn’t come first. Our predecessors shattered that glass ceiling, swept up the pieces, and went back to work long before this movement was even a thought in the back of anyone’s mind. Women in agriculture have always been here; we’re just louder now.

6 comments

  • As a city dweller I can tell you there is no woman stronger and more determined as a farms wife /daughter. Who else can look Beautiful and still change a fan belt on a Deere. Farming woman are the glue and backbone of family and community. The strongest and delicate at the same time.

    Todd
  • I don’t want to be nosy, but I’ve never seen any mention of your mom in your social media postings. Can you share something, please? Thanks, Erin.

    Stan Pruemer
  • I love reading your articles. They are so well written that I can see it all in my mind. Your grandma is an awesome lady!

    Laurie Schatz
  • While you’re far from unique in the ag industry,I’m pretty sure you’re “something special”.You just “get it”.You get the value of growing up on a farm,being taught work and responsibility at a young age,and the value of the example of the other farm women in your life,and the importance of how all this has shaped who you’ve become and the need to be an example to other young women in your own way.And you did such a nice,concise job of expressing all that here.

    Lyn Wessel
  • Wow! You are so talented. What a great tribute to your grandmother (& all farm women). You have a gift for writing too.

    Jane Cheesewright

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