I was told recently, point blank, that "agriculture is a man's world." And I will freely admit that my first reaction was not a very pleasant one. Yes, it made me angry. Very angry.
Are there certain situations that being a man is helpful? Sure. I must admit that there are many men stronger than I am, but then again, I'm also stronger than a lot of guys I know, too. It all boils down to the situation. But I also am quite certain that politics is not one of those situations. Your gender does not... and should not... EVER make an impact on your ability to be elected to serve in office.
Yet, it became painfully obvious last weekend that we have so much work to do on this front.
So let me start by explaining to you what a farmer looks like... from head to toe.
A farmer is required to be a person capable of wearing many hats -- from accountant to nurse to scientist to engineer. A farmer's head is full of so much information, and also full of contacts, for those questions that they can't answer. A farmer knows how to make the best out of a sticky situation, and knows when to call in reinforcements. Facial hair has never been a requirement... although, I must admit, it would come in handy come winter.
Fashion has little to do with farming... warmth, on the other hand...
A farmer has a mouth that can communicate the needs of the farm, to a variety of audiences. From legislators to neighbors to school kids to friends and family -- a farmer knows that in order to preserve our work for future generations, we need to start engaging people more. It does not matter if those lips are covered in lip stick, lip gloss, chapstick or whiskers... the message is the same.
A farmer has broad shoulders -- more in a figurative sense than anything. A farmer is able to carry the weight of the current growing season, worrying about changes in the weather, all while enjoying the miracle of each season. Whether it be watching a new calf learn to walk, watching a new crop erupt from the ground, watching baby chicks develop their first feathers, or watching a sick animal slowly recover -- a farmer takes responsibility for what happens on the farm, good and bad.
A farmer has strong hands. They are able to be involved in almost every aspect of the farm. From gently handling an injured animal, to convincing a rusty bolt to budge, to writing out checks to pay for inputs to folding them in prayer at the end of the day... a farmer's hands hold more strength than many would guess. Whether or not your nails are polished doesn't matter.
Two different sets of hands working for a common goal... does it matter which were replaced with a woman's hand?
A farmer has a caring heart. A farmer strives to do what is best for the land... and the job... that she loves. This includes protecting the land for the generations to come. A farmer also knows that they are not in this fight alone, and that there are so many involved in the process of being successful.
A farmer has a pair of feet that can walk miles in other's shoes, and never skip a beat. A farmer can wear a pair of work boots all day, slip on a pair of dress shoes for church, a pair of tennis shoes for playing catch and a pair of flip flops for a day of fishing. The size of the heel doesn't matter.
These feet work hard...
... and so do these.
Whatever the role of the farm may be, each person has an integral part in the success of the farm. And the only thing that determines the extent of involvement is the willingness to work hard, the flexibility to adapt to unexpected events and the passion to see something through to the end... and gender does not determine any one of those things.
Agriculture a man's world? I certainly hope not. Our industry would be missing a whole lot of talent if that were true.
What makes a farmer? It has a whole lot more to do with who is on the inside, not the outside.
Val Wagner is a farmer in rural North Dakota. She writes about life on the farm at wagfarms.com