By Jessica Jurcek
My instinctive mental image of a “farmer” has always been a woman. This is no surprise, as I grew up farming with my mother and grandmother, who to this day are the primary operators on my family’s grass-fed beef farm. Women of our present and previous generations are central to agriculture, and women farmers need opportunities to build community, learn from each other, and celebrate their collective successes.
The centrality of women in farming was never more apparent to me than when I attended the 2019 National Farmers Union Women’s Conference. I met and learned from dozens of women from across the country who produced everything from vegetables to wool. These women came from diverse backgrounds and had expertise in different agricultural production systems, marketing, business management, artisanal product making, and so much more. While I learned a great deal from the scheduled sessions and workshops throughout the conference, I also learned so much from simply talking to other attendees at lunch, between sessions, and in the evenings.
Aside from gaining access to a wealth of agricultural knowledge, I also found a supportive community in the other attendees and organizers. I was just 18 years old when I attended the Women’s Conference, yet despite my age, I felt recognized and appreciated as an equal by the other women present at the conference. These women were wise and encouraging, and I made connections with some of them that I still maintain today.
The 2022 Women’s Conference will include the option of Jan. 10-13 virtual programming or in-person events Jan. 16-18 in Nashville, Tennessee. Wisconsin Farmers Union is offering scholarships to cover the registration cost for members who would like to attend the virtual event. A limited number of $1,000 scholarships will also be provided to cover registration and travel expenses for members who would like to attend the in-person programming.
The year I attended the conference, it was hosted in San Diego, California. While I certainly remember the warm weather and greenery that was a far cry from January in Wisconsin, the memories that are most clear are the stories told by other attendees. From farming through illness and family hardship to success growing a new fruit variety, I was struck by the conviction of the other women at the conference. I left feeling motivated and inspired by the accomplishments, creativity, and strength of the women farmers I met in San Diego that week.
Women farmers have so much to share with agriculture as whole, but also with each other. The opportunity to build community with women farmers from across the country is a powerful experience. We need female role models, mentors, and collaborators who understand the unique challenges that women in agriculture face, and there is no better place to find that kind of community than at the NFU Women’s Conference. As a previous attendee, I encourage women farmers of any age or background to attend the NFU Women’s Conference in 2022. There is no better opportunity to learn from and celebrate women in agriculture.