No Excuses! Actions for growing the ranks of women farmer-leaders

With new markets come new farmers.
For every farm operator under the age of 35,
the U.S. has six farm operators over 65, many of whom
are on the verge of retirement. To meet our current
and future needs, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack called
on federal, state and local governments to support the
development of 100,000 new farmers and ranchers
by 2012.

In order to maintain our country’s food and fiber production we need to recruit 100,000 new farmers. What are the odds that 50,000 of those will be women? The 2012 USDA Census of Agriculture will tell us how well we’ve done. But whether we meet the projection or not the work is not over…we still have have time to substantially grow the number of women farmers in the coming generations. Success requires us to take some strategic actions. Following is a list that I’ve come up with based on a wonderful book by Gloria Feldt, No Excuses: 9 ways women can Change how we think about power.

Action #1Know the truth! The growth curve of women’s leadership has flattened out in the past two decades. We need to recruit young women into leadership positions — not just in agriculture but in business, government, and the public sector. Consider this:

  • Women make up the majority of voters but only account for 17% Congress;
  • The majority of journalism grads are female but occupy only 3% of top media positions;
  • Women spend 80% of consumer dollars yet control only 15% of corporate board seats.

Action #2Watch your words! Be proud to call yourself a farmer. Too often we hedge, stumble and allow others to take the stage and be the ‘experts’. We must learn to believe that our knowledge matters and that we have skill and authority to be the expert in the room. And, we need to build farms that not only produce excellent food and fiber but we need those farms to be profitable businesses.

  • Nominate yourself and other women for local, regional and national awards
  • Be willing to step up and serve on boards
  • Update your professional bio and resume and keep them handy

Action #3 Embrace controversy! Too many of us were raised to be ‘good girls’ and not make waves. It is time for us to learn that there is a difference between disagreeing and being disagreeable. We have important information and our opinions need to be heard.

  • Learn to debate from a position of strength
  • Own your core values
  • Spend time with those that do not share your worldview
  • Resist letting someone else set your agenda

Action #4 Learn to love the chaos! Times are changing but not without a fight. When things seem to be out of control and there seems to be no explanation for the crazy behavior of others, comfort yourself with the knowledge that our efforts will not be for nothing. Research shows that before a system settles into a new ‘normal’ there is a period of instability.

  • Paradigm shifts occur during times of chaos — it cannot be avoided or managed
  • You don’t have to be perfect, but you do have to be present
  • Contradictions and ambiguity exist — embrace them and just hold on.

Action #5 Employ “sister courage”! Women are natural networkers. Reach out to others to share your knowledge and remember to ask for help when you need it.

  • Be a mentor to others
  • Reach out to other women and ask them to mentor you
  • Create and join learning networks – stay engaged
  • Network like crazy!

Action #6 Tell your story. You have important wisdom to share. Don’t wait to be asked, step up and volunteer. If others hear your story they may be inspired to get involved as well.

  • Write for local papers
  • Be a guest on radio/television shows
  • Learn to use social media to spread your story
  • Document your success!
  • Get counted!

Action #7 Improve your relationship with money! Too many of us are uncomfortable with the financial aspects of our lives. In order to be truly successful we must learn the language of money, the role it plays in business and community and how to ensure our own personal financial security.

  • Be financially literate
  • Protect your personal financial security
  • Be a philanthropist — give to the causes you believe in

Action #8 Let your passion show! If you love what you do then you are a very lucky individual. Let your passion show through as you walk through your days — you never know who you might inspire.

  • Happiness is infectious
  • Be an advocate for agriculture as a career option
  • Stay visible in your community

Action #9 Plan for the future! Women are most vulnerable in the final years of their lives. Planning for the future ensures that you will have a say in what becomes of your business, your land and your assets. The sooner you begin the process the less stressful it will be.

  • Who will farm your land when you can no longer do so?
  • Start the transition plan NOW!
  • Leaving a legacy takes a lifetime

Action #10

…is up to you. Don’t just sit there…do something! Find a way to make a difference.

And to all those of you that are already taking 3, 4 or even 5 of these actions, thank you. You inspire me every day with your commitment.  Tell us what actions you are taking and how you are making a difference. We want to know!

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