FORT LORAMIE — To celebrate the rising number of women in agriculture throughout the United States, the agriculture community in Shelby County convened an “empowerment celebration,” Thursday, March 22, in St. Michael’s Hall, here.
The event included hors d’oeuvres, drinks and a gift bag at the end of the evening. Guests were also able to enter their names into a raffle for the chance to win several prizes, including items from businesses run by local women.
The event featured a keynote speech by Carrie Mess, a Wisconsin dairy farmer and author of the agriculture blog, “Dairy Carrie.”
Mess, who grew up in Madison with “no real ties” to agriculture, married a man whose parents own and operate a dairy farm outside of the city.
“Somehow, six months after we got married, I ended up on the farm, working for his parents,” she said.
Although she never thought she would work as a dairy farmer, Mess soon realized she was “born to be a caretaker of cows and the land,” as she says on her blog.
Mess’s presentation focused on the question, “Who are the people who keep farmers and agriculture in business?”
She stressed the importance of knowing the consumer base, as well as staying on top of changing interests, trends and opinions while remaining a beacon of factual influence.
“I spend a lot of time talking to people and hearing their concerns about farming,” Mess said. “The conversations we have today are what’s going to shape the future of agriculture.”
Mess added that customers have the right to “make demands of us,” but that it is important for them to be making informed demands.
She then pointed out that much of the information people receive today comes from the Internet, which can often result in the spreading of some misinformation.
She went on to say that about 80 percent of millennials — those born between 1979 and 2000 — “want to know more” about farms and how their food is grown and produced.
Google’s search engine is a huge player in the realm of learning more, but its algorithm determining “top results” often leaves much to be desired in terms of balanced, unbiased information, Mess said.
Mess showed an example of this in her PowerPoint presentation by displaying search engine results for a question about whether or not farm cows are abused.
The first three links were from sources including and similar to PETA, or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which is an animal rights campaign against the use of animals for any reason, including for meat and dairy.
This is not to say that any and all information provided by PETA is false, but to point out the inherent bias that is present, which inevitably makes obtaining objective facts more difficult.
Mess said it is up to those within agriculture to dispel myths within the industry by being proactive about sharing information with those around them. She said her focus is more on “influencing” rather than “educating,” as the latter often has a negative connotation associated with it.
Mess asked, “What happens when you go to someone and say they need educated? I don’t want to educate people; I want to influence them.
“Facts and science and numbers are super important, but we can’t just rely on that,” she continued. “We have to really connect, to let them know why they should care about you in the first place.”
Social media is one way to easily connect with others and share information about the industry, Mess said.
She challenged everyone in the audience to “share a piece of agriculture” each week with the social media connections they already have.
“We have our circles that we’re connected with (and) you’re already trusted in those circles,” Mess said. “Use that trust to share and connect. It’s up to us.”
In addition to the presentation by Dairy Carrie, the event included four break-out sessions featuring educational topics. Each guest could choose two to attend.
A self-defense session was provided by members of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. Deputy David Spicer and Lieutenant Cori Steiner hosted the crash course, which aimed to inform audience members about “situational awareness” and the different ways to keep oneself safe.
“All self-defense starts with the right attitude,” Spicer said. “Having the, ‘I’m not going to be a victim’ attitude is one of the main points I want you ladies to walk away with tonight.”
Spicer also encouraged those in attendance to consider obtaining a concealed carry permit as another way to be proactive in self-protection.
Farm Credit Mid-America Financial Officer Bev Kremer provided an informative segment about “what to bring to the table” when working on financing.
Kremer gave tips to help those who are considering financing for their farming businesses, including ways to offset some costs, the impact household debt can have on business and how to build equity.
“I want to make sure you’re doing the right thing,” Kremer said of her position within the lending cooperative. “We want to help your operation.”
Olive Wagar, of Organized by Olive, provided a break-out session giving tips on how to become more organized both at home and at work.
Wagar spoke about the power of thought and ways to overcome some common excuses that often keep people from doing what is necessary to make their lives more harmonious overall.
“All of these excuses are weeds,” she said. “They’re blocking out our best life.”
Wagar recommended order and routine to combat the excuse that children keep organization impossible, and also suggested to “dare to live with less,” in order to overcome unnecessary clutter.
Lisa Pfeifer, ag safety program manager from the OSU Extension Agrigultural Safety and Health Program, led a segment about farm safety when it comes to assigning farm tasks for children.
Pfeifer’s presentation examined different age groups and the skill-level which is typically present in children within each group. She then gave examples of age-appropriate tasks, as well as tasks that should be considered off-limits.
Pfeifer pointed out the importance of teaching children how to work with patience and to be meticulous when it comes to farming, which can involve tasks that can become dangerous quickly.
“We all take risks that we shouldn’t take; we all cut corners,” she said. “We need to take a step back and remember when we rush, we don’t do things safely.”