Thursday, July 15, 2010

Reality Check: Women Farmers?

There have been very few moments in my life when my mouth fell open in disbelief. I’ve never been a person of few words---much less speechlessness. Last week though I met an occasion for both.

Sitting in a restaurant with friends, sucking down the closest thing to sweet tea I’ve had since I moved to Missouri, a friend asked me what I planned to do after college. More specifically, “Jillian, are you going to be a farmer?”

Cue the jaw dropping moment.

As I scrambled for words and tried to halt the runaway train that was my mind, I managed to stutter out something like, “Heck no! I couldn’t do that everyday!”

I received several puzzled looks. I mean I talk about the farm A LOT and now I’m vehemently denying my affection for the ground that holds my family’s blood, sweat and tears?

Let’s just say I had a slight communication problem. Or better yet—the thoughts I was thinking weren’t translating well into words.

Behind my bumbling reply, my new friends did not realize how deep a question they had asked me. It’s a question I have asked myself many times through out the years: Do I want to be a farmer?

I grew up on a farm—but my parents aren’t farmers. We lived across the road from my grandparents, on their farm. So I spent my summer days riding in the tractor with Pa, shelling peas with Ma and swinging under our oak tree. It was the best way to grow up.

Pa and Ma-- they still don't know what to do with their
two granddaughters who wear jeans and cowboy boots to church

As I got older and more involved with FFA, I decided that I wanted to contribute to the farm like my older boy cousin and brother did. After all, my brother had been driving the tractor since he was tall enough to reach the clutch—I should be able to as well.

My desire to learn to drive the tractor was met with resistance. And resistance went by the name “Pa.” While I don’t ever remember him telling me he didn’t want me helping—I kinda got the sense that I might have been out of place. Statements about my biscuit making abilities really put a burr under my saddle (because every southern girl “should know how to make biscuits from scratch.”) I was mad and I was bullheaded—which isn’t a good combination.

I resolved that if someone wouldn’t teach me—I would figure it out by myself. I spent the summer after that- one step behind Pa and always looking over his shoulder. I have never learned more than I did then.

Though I don’t know when it happened Pa finally warmed to the idea of letting me help out some on the farm. Granted my role was still small, but the knowledge I gained that summer when I stubbornly followed him around, helped me a few years down the road when I was looking for a job. It is still helping me today—I may not remember where every grease fitting on that old peanut picker was—but I can sure explain how it works and more importantly where my food comes from.

So, as I came back to reality—sitting in a little Missouri restaurant drinking unsweet “sweet tea,” I realized how far society had come. Generations ago people assumed that women should help on the farm but not run it. Today, my friends had sincerely asked if I was going to farm on my own. Though I have decided not to be the main operator of a farm (it’s just not my dream) I was proud to hear the tide was changing and that agriculture had truly opened up to women.

And for that—I’ve never been happier.

For more information on women’s roles in agriculture visit:

2007 Census of Ag

Women in Agriculture

American National CattleWomen, Inc.

Farm Mom of the Year

Thursday, July 8, 2010

"It Keeps Me Turning Home..."

It is amazing how smells can take you back to another place… Today, I was walking out of the office and a diesel truck drove past. Its smutty exhaust attacked my olfactory sense and I was transported back to the farm. It brought me back to one particular day when I was doing my “girl’s work” of leveling out peanut wagons.

Our old tractors were creeping by pulling peanut pickers, my brother Wesley was “setting” wagons and I was sweating like a mule, thigh deep in peanuts with a shovel. Trying to convince myself that there were no snakes in the trailer with me.

Not a very glamorous memory—but a good memory none the less.

I love farm life--and farm memories!

You see, to call our farm a peanut “operation” might be a stretch. Yes we farm. We have peanuts. We “operate” tractors. But in my mind—operation sounds HUGE—and at the time we were still using two-row peanut pickers.

But the great thing about memories is size doesn’t matter. I can still see, clear as day, those tractors and Lilliston pickers creeping their way down the row from the top of that peanut wagon. It’s a good memory—it’s helped me through many hard times. Remembering my family and our way of life has kept me grounded throughout all my adventures. Remembering the long hours my grandpa and uncle put in on the farm makes me appreciate the life I live as well as the food I eat.

But enough reminiscing.

I had another moment of transportation last week—this time I actually went somewhere: home!

I spent the holiday weekend with my family: cooking out, eating, going to movies, eating, singing around the piano, eating, playing with the baby… and did I mention eating?

It's not a family get together with out Bluebell Ice Cream!

Holidays around my house ALWAYS include massive amounts of food. What can I say—EVERYONE in my family knows how to cook! (Well—my skills are questionable) So we spent the weekend enjoying good meals and lots of friends and family at the house.

My uber-cool niece

I also spent my weekend checking out the crops. I was impressed to see how great my fiancĂ©’s dry land cotton looked as well as the peanuts. However the corn—was not what I expected. I guess I forgot that North Florida/Lower Alabama aren’t exactly part of the Corn Belt—and it showed. The lack of rain on our sandy soil had really taken its toll. Overall though, I was thrilled to see the progress of ours and our neighbor’s peanut and cotton crops. (The beans I saw didn’t look half bad either!)

Deltapine Cotton--Florida

FL07 Peantus--Alabama

I’ve only got a few weeks of my internship here in the Midwest left—and though I enjoyed being home, I missed my STL friends… and corn—really tall, lush green corn.

I never thought I’d say that.

Until next time—keep it between the ditches

PS--If you haven't heard the new song by David Nail, "Turning Home" you should check it out!