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Recruited to Ag's Front Line

CHERYL TEVIS 04/14/2013 @ 8:58pm Cheryl has been an editor at Successful Farming since 1979.

Recently, I was driving to a farm near Topeka, Kansas, when I saw a sign with the words, One Kansas Farmer Feeds 155 people + You.

I smiled as I read it, knowing there was a Kansas Agri-Women member who lived nearby. I'm sure of it, because women in farming have been taking up the mantle of promoting agriculture for decades.

Years ago, farm organizations and commodity groups called upon women's auxiliaries – mostly notably, Porkettes, CowBelles, and Farm Bureau Women's Committees – to do this. They advocated for farmers, staging educational events at grocery stores and schools.

Then, in the late 1980s, farm organizations eliminated auxiliaries. The Michigan Farm Bureau Federation dissolved its women's committee in 1987. Minnesota Pork Producers combined its men's and women's groups in 1988. The Iowa Farm Bureau Women's State Committee persevered until 2004.

Today, I see this role being reinvented. Volunteers like Stephanie Essick, a Dickens, Iowa, farmer (shown above, left) and LaVell Winsor, Topeka, Kansas (shown above, right), are becoming the face of agriculture to American consumers.

Both are volunteers for Common Ground, a national program launched in 2011 to connect farm women with urban consumers and to help explain modern agriculture. It's supported by the United Soybean Board and the National Corn Growers Association.

Common Ground shares the front line with lllinois Farm Families, another initiative backed by commodity groups. Farmers invite Chicago "Field Moms" to their farms. In 2012, the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance chose four women as the Faces of Farming and Ranching.

This reenlistment of women corresponds to the rise of social media. It's a smart move, because it extends their outreach to a large virtual nonfarm audience.

Beyond that, it engages women on their own time. Fewer women participate in ag groups today because they work off-farm. In the evenings, they may have farm chores to do and children to chauffeur.

Blogging, posting on Facebook, or tweeting on Twitter can be done any time of the day or night. This offers women the flexibility to manage multifaceted family and work roles.

Women like Essick and Winsor represent the demographic of a key target audience: women with children at home.

"Most women still buy food for their families," Winsor says. "Many of them have legitimate concerns. I live close to Topeka and Lawrence, and there are lots of opportunities to talk to nonfarmers. I have a personal passion for this."

The Internet, including YouTube and other social media, can showcase a day in the life of a farmer. If you raise livestock, you know it's not unusual to bring a newborn lamb or calf into the house.

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