Changing agriculture’s image
EMMETSBURG – She didn’t know she would do it, but what started out as taking a few photos of women working on the farm has morphed into a national movement that Marji Guyler-Alaniz didn’t see coming.
But she said it’s the most fun she’s ever had.
FarmHer began in 2013, sparked by Guyler-Alaniz’s curiosity about the sparse presence of women in the hugely-popular Super Bowl commercial, “So God Made a Farmer,” written and narrated by Paul Harvey.
She said the commercial was, and still is, beautiful, but when she noticed there were only three women shown in it, she was bothered enough to do something to advocate for the role women play on the farm.
Having resigned her corporate crop insurance job, Guyler-Alaniz said she was working on finding her direction.
The day after she saw the Super Bowl commercial, she started her mission.
She drew from her college-level skills of graphic design, journalism and photography to record this segment of agriculture, starting from her Des Moines home.
“When I first started this I wanted it to matter most to people outside of agriculture,” she said. “I wanted (those people) to know, ‘This is who is growing your food.'”
“But what I didn’t perceive was that it mattered to women in agriculture because it’s an outlet, it’s community, it’s a connection and it’s showing what you do.”
She began posting on social media and taking her photos out to the marketplace and began to get feedback from across the nation.
Guyler-Alaniz found that it did matter to farm women that someone was telling their stories and depicting their lives. Those outside of agriculture were learning by seeing the kind of lives those women lead.
“Thirty percent of producers are women, according to the 2012 ag census,” said Guyler-Alaniz, adding that the number of actual producers came in at around 969,672 nationally.
“That number shocked me,” she said, ‘but I think the number is higher than that because that’s just the number of women counted on the census. There are many women involved in many different ways on the farm who aren’t counted as producers. I think the number is closer to 50 percent.”
She began to seek out women in Iowa who work on the farm and fired up her camera. It was not a business at the time and she had no funding. She just wanted to tell these stories through her camera lens.
Guyler-Alaniz took and showed photos of women from all around the country, including an 80-year-old San Antonio, Texas woman whose husband died in a farm accident.
Instead of moving to town, she chose to keep the farm running.
Photos show her actively shearing her Angora goats.
She showed two African women who came to the United States in a refugee program – one without her family and who faced death if she remained in Rwanda.
They are now working in agriculture in the Des Moines area and one of those women says she’s “an Iowan” now.
Guyler-Alaniz spoke of a Montana woman farmer and rancher. She was making a six-figure salary when her father called and asked if she wanted to return home to run the farm, which she did and has never looked back.
Gail Starkweather, of Humboldt, was featured as a nurse who, after retirement, began driving a semi for her husband during harvest time.
Her husband invested in an automatic transmission truck just for her. She helps with that job and also makes the food for all those helping with the farm work as well.
A Hydro, Oklahoma woman took a leave of absence from her CPA job to operate her farm after her husband died. She is operating the farm until their daughter finishes college and can return home to take over.
FarmHer has now grown to national status, with Guyler-Alaniz taking it around the nation and visiting with thousands of women of all ages, affirming them in what they do on the farm, hearing their stories and encouraging girls and young women in what agriculture has to offer them as a career choice.
She hears the stories of women who want to be heard and want to have their stories told. What she has learned from these women is that business professionals should include women in their conversations over the business table and treat them as the business partners they are as farm women.
“I had a woman tell me she and her husband had gone to the bank and the banker didn’t even look at her as they talked,” said Guyler-Alaniz. “The banker just assumed that she was not part of the conversation.”
A diverse culture
Guyler-Alaniz encouraged women to think about what they call themselves and how they portray that image because the world is watching and learning from them.
“The beauty of agriculture is that it is a culture,” she said. “… and a culture needs to cherish its diversity. Women are nurturers who feed their families, the community and the world – raising (and helping to raise) crops and livestock – and we need to focus on how we’re alike versus how we’re different.”
FarmHer has been featured in “Successful Farming” and “Oprah” magazines and will be featured March 14 in a documentary on Iowa Public Television.
She will also soon be seen on RFD-TV this coming September, showing off her work in still photos and video.
Guyler-Alaniz takes her FarmHer images to fairs, conventions and anywhere she can get them out into the public. She has also begun hosting conferences for young women, showing them, through her images and stories from the women she meets, the kind of life an agricultural career choice can give them.
She said they just have to start.
“I want to change the image of agriculture,” she said as she encouraged women to be proud of what they do on the farm. “Pay attention to what you are projecting about yourself (as a farm woman) because the next generation is paying attention to it.”
“If you don’t hold yourself or your farm job as important, they won’t either,” Guyler-Alaniz added. “It’s important for all to focus on this next generation in agriculture.”
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