I kicked off the new year participating in a panel discussion for a recently released book, Women and the Land, written by Barbara Hall and featuring photographs by Kathryn Gamble. I like it because it challenges the visual stereotype that all farmers are men. This book showcases a variety of women here in Iowa working and tending to their land and animals.
This book includes photographs of my daughter and my father along with the many other women here in Iowa. Jan Libbey, another farmer, and local and sustainable food advocate working with Healthy Harvest of North Iowa & North Iowa Fresh, a local wholesale food hub, participated in the discussion last Saturday along with Charles City, IA farmer, Wendy Johnson, who is featured on the cover of the book.
We had a wonderful turnout. So many people joined us to learn more about women in agriculture. I shared my experiences of growing up on our family’s farm in Thornton, Iowa and the work I now do as a sustainable agriculture and family farm advocate for Niman Ranch, where my father, Paul Willis, founded the pork division.
Since our family began supplying Niman Ranch all of its pork in the mid-1990’s (not quite 30 hogs per week), a growing consumer demand has helped create a network of farmers that has grown to over 720 independent family farms across the country.
Family farmers and ranchers that are paid a premium price for raising their animals in a more humane and sustainable way. All of our products are available in select markets nationwide. It is exciting to see the continued growth. And, for the first time in a few years, we’re actively looking for new independent family farmers.
It was heartwarming to see so many people interested to learn more about what our farmers are doing and I received a lot of questions about where they could purchase our products locally.
Since we live in a small town in Iowa, we don’t have a lot of choices – but we do have a few, including an independently owned and operated grocery store here in Clear Lake called, Simply Nourished. Ashley and her husband Shea Coleman have so many great products at their store including our recently released ready-to-go snack packs. I stopped to visit with Ashley yesterday and grab a few things while I was there.
I encourage everyone to give these snack packs a try, they taste great and are a good value, and you are supporting traditional family farmers and ranchers who live and work in their rural communities.
Ringing in the New Year is always a reminder to me of the importance of friends and neighbors, especially in our changing economy. Starting the year talking about Women and the Land gives me hope that our rural communities will not only survive but thrive, as more families seek opportunities to grow their family businesses and farms.