Last week, I felt a little out of place.
I went to a women’s leadership conference. The speakers were great, accomplished women – good speakers with a good bit of career advice: “Ask yourself, ‘Am I having fun? Am I learning?’ If not, make a change.”
The attendees were mostly young women, early in their career, many from very large multi-national companies. Giants in agriculture and many other industries.
I’ve been in agribusiness my entire career, save for four painful months at an architecture firm (but that’s another story). Thirty years ago, I was often the only woman in the room. People asked me if it was a problem. I joked, “No; it’s really great because there is never a line at the bathroom.”
And truly, I don’t recall any instance where I received an exceptional amount of skepticism because of my gender. Farmers are skeptical anyway. Once you prove yourself as knowledgeable, they accept you wholeheartedly. I didn’t expect different treatment because I wasn’t a man, and I don’t think I got it.
Looking back, I guess I was the first woman editor on the leading farm magazine I worked for, and maybe I had some other firsts as well. What I remember is that I’ve been to more farm shows than you can count and asked more men what’s new than you can imagine.
But enough about me. I write in praise of the tough, hardworking farmers, loggers and dealers I have spent a career talking to. I’ve been along for a ride and conversation in the combine and the feller buncher (make sure you wear a hard hat for that one). 99% of these people have been men. Hardworking men who are up at dawn, work long past the time city folk go home and still make a point to go to their son’s or daughter’s ball game, piano recital, whatever.
A truck company made a splash a few years ago with a Superbowl ad called “God Made a Farmer.” No one says it better than Paul Harvey, or sounds better saying it. Across the country, 1.5 million men and nearly as many women stood a little straighter on Monday after the game, recognized, for once, for their unending contributions to the well-being of this country.
The men I interview are smart as a whip, practical as a shoelace, strong, rugged, and gentle at the same time. They care for their land, their animals, their families. I’ve gotten botany lessons, mechanical lessons, animal husbandry and agronomy lessons, all delivered patiently with a smile. Many wear their heart on their sleeve, and they all spend a lifetime improving their own little piece of heaven.
For anyone who is successfully farming or logging or in construction, they have to know so many things about so much and be able to apply that knowledge in the fastest way possible. And make it look easy.
So today, when there are so many women disparaging men, I wish to sing praises. The farmers, ranchers, dealers, loggers and construction guys have always been very gracious and forthcoming with me. They make what I do a pleasure, and I stand in awe of their tenaciousness, their appreciation of the world around them, and the strength of character they display every day.
I hope that what I do makes their life more pleasant, easier, more profitable. A wish I have for all the women who were at the conference last week: It’s so much more rewarding to appreciate each other’s gifts than disparage our differences.