Since 2013, Marji Guyler-Alaniz has used photography to display and inspire women in agriculture. Her website and social media campaign FarmHer has updated the perception of the modern farmer and spurred many women to take leadership positions in agriculture.
We talked to Guyler-Alaniz about what inspired her to start FarmHer and what she sees as the campaign’s goal.
What inspired you to start FarmHer and what is your organization’s mission?
After college, I spent 11 years working in corporate agriculture and during that time obtained my MBA. In 2013, it was time for a change, so I left and knew I wanted to start something of my own, I just wasn’t sure what.
The very weekend after I made the life-changing decision to leave my career, the Super Bowl was on. One of the commercials on that year was a Ram truck commercial, filled with gorgeous images of farmers and ranchers, set to a speech by Paul Harvey called “God Made a Farmer.” I absolutely loved it — having a background in photography myself, the power of the images just captured me.
It wasn’t until a few weeks later when reading a news article that I realized the lack of women shown in that commercial, and really everywhere in agriculture. According to the Census of Agriculture at that time, women made up just about 30 percent of ag producers in the United States. This hit me hard.
I had worked for over a decade in agriculture, and not once did I stop to think about the very important daily roles women play on farms and ranches.
I realized that I needed to start photographing the women of agriculture with a mission to include them in the image of the farmer, with a goal of updating the image of agriculture altogether.
In the spring of 2013, I started a photography project called FarmHer. I began photographing women around my home in central Iowa and started a website to share those images, and a social media campaign.
In July 2013, I put up social media pages and a website, and the instant reception from women everywhere was overwhelming. It was not only appreciated, it was needed. It validated the work these amazing women do. The very real work of farming, ranching, operating a business, defining the culture that is agriculture, raising families, growing food, and feeding their communities.
What started as a photo project, quickly turned into a business as I realized I not only love this, but also the amazing effect it had on the women who connected with it.
Today’s mission of FarmHer is simple; to shine a light on and celebrate the role women play in agriculture.
Why is it important to empower women in agriculture?
In the beginning, I felt it was important to share the stories of women involved in agriculture because I could so closely relate. I had just left a career of over a decade in the agriculture industry and had been one of very few women working in my area at that organization.
It really became my personal mission to shine a light on these women and share their stories. I wanted people to understand where food comes from, and that women play a real and significant role in that.
I also wanted young women to see it. I always say that if you see it, you can do it.
When I started the project and began sharing my images, the response and feedback became fuel to my fire. To hear a woman say she sees herself and her role on the farm differently through the images I take of her, or that someone has gained strength, courage, or confidence by hearing the stories of these women, is just about the biggest incentive there is.
I believe that by empowering women, they grow in their roles and, honestly, that is a benefit to all of us. It strengthens future generations and strengthens the culture of agriculture.
Since FarmHer’s inception in 2013, how have you seen this industry evolve for women?
Well, just by the numbers, we are seeing change. When I first started, the 2012 ag census had about 30 percent of all producers as women. By 2017, that number had grown to 36 percent. This isn’t a surprise to me.
If you look at the data, it’s not because women are rushing into agriculture, but more women who are already there or who have been a part of it in some way are standing up and being recognized.
The rise of women participating on social media and publishing blogs focused on their farm or agriculture has grown, too. Just the number of Google alerts I receive daily has increased significantly.
More women are entering ag-focused degree programs in colleges around the country and organizations like FFA are seeing more women take on leadership positions.
I take all of these as a rising tide. Women are coming into their own in this industry. More women in upper levels of all types of ag organizations pave the way for future women leaders.
What advice would you give to women looking to pursue a career in agriculture?
Where there is a will, there is a way.
So many times we hear that there are huge hurdles in access to land and capital, but, on the other side, I have met plenty of women who want to farm and have found a way to do it and be successful. Sure it will take time and more persistence that you can imagine, but, if you want it, the opportunity is out there.
Start attending agriculture-related events. Visit farms and connect with other women who are doing it. Start small and expand on what works. If this is what calls you, then put yourself out there and run after it.
Outside of working in production roles, there are endless ways to engage in this industry as a professional. From marketing and communications, to data and technology, and just about everything in between, agriculture has a spot for all of us.
The best network you will ever find is among the women of agriculture. They know the industry, they know the ups and downs, and they live the life. Find a way to connect with other women and learn from them. It could be over social media, or by attending an event, or joining a group.
I have seen it time and time again — connecting leads to growth.
What would you like people to walk away knowing about women in agriculture?
I want your readers to know that the women on the other side of my camera are just the same as you and me.
Sure, their lives might look a little different. Their jobs definitely aren’t 9-5. They are the salt of the Earth. They are the champions for their families and their communities.
Regardless of the type of food they grow or animals they raise, they do it with care and concern, and they do it because they love it. It is in their blood. It’s not just a job, but a way of life.
In the end, they are still no different from you or from me. They are mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, neighbors, friends, teachers, business women, and so much more.
Even if you don’t think these stories apply to you, I can promise you, they most definitely do. There is a little bit of FarmHer in all of us and through these women’s stories, we can all connect to that.