Opinion: Where are the female and minority farmers?
February 7th, 2013
02:15 PM ET
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Diana Prichard lives and works at the intersection of the alternative food movement and the reality of modern agriculture and believes that a finer-tuned food future is possible without all the in-fighting. She operates a small, niche pork operation; running a few hundred hogs per year in the heart of Michigan's farm country. You can follow her story at RighteousBacon.com, Twitter and Facebook.

I’ll never forget my first agriculture conference. I carefully selected the sessions I wanted to attend and made sure I arrived at the one and only panel dedicated to women in ag early. I picked a seat, pulled my favorite pen and a trusty notebook out of my bag and got ready for what I assumed would be an education-filled hour.

And I suppose, in hindsight, what followed was an education - just not in the way I’d expected.

I will never get back the sixty minutes of my life I spent in that room and all I have to show for it is the knowledge of how a couple dozen women met their husbands. Or, as they were lovingly referred to that day, “their farmers.” I suppose I could have shared a video of my own birth to shake things up a bit. That is, after all, when I met myself, but at the time all I could muster was stunned silence.

The sexism wasn’t new, of course. It was sitting in a room full of other women that I had wrongly assumed would understand it that caught me by surprise.

Prior to that conference and in so many instances since then I’d encountered regular discrimination in my pursuit of a career in the decidedly male-dominated field. I’ve been everything from subtly ignored to outwardly rejected because of my gender. I’m regularly made to prove myself before I’m taken seriously in situations where men can simply walk in and command the room. I’ve been told that women are too weak to run hogs and I’ve stood in front of a room full of men who refused to interact with me in what was supposed to be an interactive demo. I even had one man refuse money for products and services he regularly supplies others unless my husband approved.

On bad days I take my frustration out on fence posts and hog huts, anything that needs mending with a hammer or an axe. On good days I’m reminded that what does not kill me makes me stronger and I appreciate the thicker skin and wider perspective I’m afforded by these struggles. As a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Caucasian I figure even a rudimentary understanding of what it’s like to be a minority is a gift.

And sometimes, on great days, when it’s been a while since the last time I noticed the glass ceiling above me, I almost forget it’s even there. Almost, until something brings it back to my attention; and something always does.

This week, that thing came as a surprise - even to me. When I first watched the Ram Trucks “So God Made a Farmer” ad during the Superbowl I reacted in much the same way I did during that first women in ag session, I sat in stunned silence. This time for much different reasons though.

red truck

I, like so many farmers, was elated to see a major corporation taking such a prominent stand on behalf of one of the nation’s hardest working industries. I didn’t care that Paul Harvey was evoking a higher power that I don’t worship or that only a couple of the people in the ad looked like me. After all, few people in the industry look like me to begin with.

In fact, it wasn’t until Monday morning that I realized how strongly the sparse amount of diversity in the ad hit others. Across social media platforms women and minorities were asking where the farmers that look like them were, why weren’t they adequately represented. Or, at least, why they didn’t feel adequately represented.

My initial reaction was one of confusion, hadn’t I seen a black farmer? A couple of Hispanic farmers? I knew for sure I’d seen a woman or three and a young girl. Sure, they weren’t in every other picture, but in my experience women and racial minorities are not an everyday occurance in the industry either.

No sooner could I think it and review the ad to find out if I was mistaken than were my memories confirmed and then challenged on Facebook, “One black person, a couple latinos, and a woman does not represent the diversity of our farmers.” one woman posted.

But does it?

According to the most recent Census of Agriculture my experience is not abnormal. White men still make up the grand majority of farm operators. Of the roughly 2.2 million farms in America 1.83 million or about 83% are principally operated by a Caucasian male.

I went back and counted the people in the Ram ad. Of the twenty five people pictured only about 68% were white males. Dodge over, not under-represented farming minorities and as I broke down the numbers further, I found they did so across the board.

Women, while only 14% of principal farm operators in the agriculture industry made up 20% of those depicted in Dodge’s ad. Black farmers, while making up less than 2% of principal farm operators, made up 4% of the ad. And Hispanic operators, while making up less than 3% of principal farm operators in the industry, were pictured as 8% of the ad demographic.

Even farm workers are primarily male. As of 2010, men made up 84% of all hired farm workers and were present at a slightly higher rate, 87%, among hired farm managers.

Women and racial minorities do make up a minority part of Dodge’s rendition of “So God Made a Farmer,” but the Ram Trucks version of America’s agricultural sector is not so far removed from the reality of our fields, barns, and feedlots. Rather than blasting the company for a rather accurate depiction of something that makes us uncomfortable, maybe our energy would be better directed elsewhere, such as on programs and campaigns that encourage more minorities to join the ag industry.

Maybe, instead of asking Dodge how dare they bring the decidedly white and male nature of our farms to our attention, we say, “Hey Dodge, next time you honor the people who feed us we want you to be able to accurately depict even more minorities, and we’re going to do something to make that happen.”

Do you feel the Dodge ad accurately represented the agriculture community? Should more be done to bring women and minorities into farming? We'd love to hear what you have to say in the comments below.

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soundoff (261 Responses)
  1. Jack Black

    women/minorities/professional victims.................two words...............TALKS' CHEAP

    May 9, 2013 at 3:21 am |
    • seed wizard

      so you own a business, have land and resources well beyond what most folks have and you are a privileged fairly young white women feminist who feels oppressed by not having more and more of everything which of course you are due by being white in racist America.
      and of course where ever you go you so righteously deserve to have your voice heard above all others so that you, as a strong white women, can lead the way and change everything for the better.

      but better for who?

      White feminism is the new racism.

      As the "good old gal club" of white women uses feminism to bully its way into power with the often stated goal of replacing the white male "good old boy club" with their own version oppression and power.

      And please don't even try to use folks of color as a platform for your self righteous cause when its really all about your addiction to having to be in power and needing attention.

      The lack of concern and dialog about the reality of the institutionalization White feminist supremacy in America is very disturbing.

      February 17, 2014 at 10:25 pm |
  2. SnottyNoze Bratt

    The problem with online "news" content is you routinely pickup outdated articles.

    Your are simply a young self-righteous muck and you know how I know this? The galling hypocritical tone of your writing and the fact that you find an article of farming suitable for an extreme close up of your bleached blond face. I guess a few people have told you that you are pretty?

    Had you tended a men's session you'd also find small talk diverging from the main content because the people who actually do this work live it, breath it, get up in the wee hours to it, finally get some break from it for a little sleep and when they get away from it for a while are likely to chat with people they meet about other things. If their conversation about their farmer husbands is such drivel to you, explain to me again why your face is posted on this article like a "SWFPF looking for MF" ad? You engage in the same thing you put others down for. Show us your pigs and get over yourself.

    One day in the not too distant future you'll find you don't know near as much as you think you do.

    Kuddos you are willing to work for a living. Even better you want to find solutions to problems rather than the typical male approach to make them. But farming? Really? Girls? Sure they CAN. Like any field if they choose too they can also excel. But the choose to for playing in the dirt will always be something few will do. To say they "can't" do as they please is to fail to come to terms with reality vs a govt/politically correct lie that you cannot do as you please with your life. That is exactly what we all do. Everyday. Some, must come to grips with the fact the fact it is encumbant upon THEM to do so. All the minorities that benefitted from Obama's failed solar venture were schemers and takers. They were people who took advantage of handouts, they were not people who wished to create something for themselves but to cash in. Short term gain like that is nothing but a scheme and no, we don't need to continue that. We'd be doing them a favor to let a lot of welfare checks dry up, the takers would find self respect as well as abilities. The democrates buy and pay for with tax dollars the hopes and dreams and keep minorities in worse poverty than before all the programs started. When I say worse, why? Because now they genuinely believe the govt owes them and never ever even try to discover the power they have to do, to create, to build and grow. All for a measily check several generations have been destroyed by lies.

    nuff of that. until people latch onto the idea that THEY are able, they can and that they SHOULD at their own peril develop their skills – in today's PC world, more lies, and they won't

    May 8, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
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    April 9, 2013 at 11:28 pm |
  4. iafarmboy

    The commentator does not strike me as a mainstream farmer, but as an elitist hobbyist more concerned with saving the earth and making sure the rest of us live our lives the way she thinks we should. I grew up on an Iowa farm, saw neighbors take their own lives when century farms were lost in the 1980s, and was taught all the life lessons one is exposed to in that difficult business. NEVER in all my years in a farming community did I see female farmers disrespected in any way because of their gender. Yes; female sole-proprietors of farms were relatively rare, but "farm wives" were cosidered every bit as legitimate in their farming skills and knowledge as "their farmers". This piece does not in any way represent how farmers regard one another. My sisters could all throw bales, drive tractors, and withstand 10 hour days in the soybean fields when the temperatures were in the 90s and 100s–and everyone else in the community knew that women were capable farmers. I suspect that the disrespect the author experiences is less about her gender and more about her own short-comings as a person–not a female person, but a person, period.

    February 19, 2013 at 2:04 pm |
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