Sharing a Successful Women’s Conference in Washington County
“Women in agriculture are all-important. Say ‘yes’ and don’t second guess yourself. Take it on.” Those words of advice were part of Julie Kenney’s talk at the third annual Women in Agriculture Conference in Washington County on March 23, 2019. Julie, who serves as the Iowa Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, is also a farmer, wife and mother. She exemplifies the conference theme of ‘Learn It. Do It. Share It.’
One year ago, Julie took a leap of faith when she was asked to serve Iowa. Her priorities in life shifted. Julie’s husband explained to their two young children, mom has made sacrifices, now it is time to support her. Julie shared personal stories of caring for her father, getting kids out the door in the morning and managing her career in agriculture. “I want my daughter to see women supporting other women and for her to see there are just jobs, not boys jobs or girls jobs,” Julie says. She answered many questions from the audience on topics ranging from foreign animal disease to flood relief to the state’s workforce.
More than 100 women attended the conference hosted by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Washington County and the Washington County Women in Agriculture Advisory Board. The conference was made possible by the Azariah and Martha Foster Heritage Endowment and local sponsors. Local caterers served a delicious breakfast and lunch and the conference concluded with tastings of local wine, cheese and chocolates.
Erin Herbold- Swalwell is passionate about helping farmers prepare for the future. As an attorney with Brick Gentry and Chair of the Iowa Bar Association Agriculture Section, she works closely with families on estate and succession planning. Sadly, she witnesses too many farm family feuds. “When that happens, relationships are damaged and the best case scenario is avoiding court,” says Erin. She encourages a 1-2-3 action plan for farm families. Step One is communication with the family. Step Two is analyzing the estate and succession planning tools available. Step Three is using the law to secure the plans. “It’s hard to get started and there are lots of distractions, but farm families have such a sigh of relief when their plans are ready,” says Erin. She gave detailed estate planning examples and answered questions from the audience. “It can be awkward and difficult but planning results in good things,” concluded Erin.
“People are so hungry for information on agriculture,” stated Erin Brenneman, a family farmer who helps care for 30,000 sows. Through her Twitter handle @sowmama, Erin became an accidental public relations manager for her family’s farm. Her perspectives of the little things on the farm are fascinating to others. Born and raised on Chicago’s north side, Erin acknowledges, “City people are not ignorant, they just don’t know what they don’t know.” Erin’s love of horses led her to a major in Animal Science at Iowa State University. Her college sweetheart, Tim, was curious about the city and she was curious about the farm. Fifteen years later, they are loving the country life with their two sons. Given their affinity for baseball, they built ‘Pig Pen Park’, right on their hog farm and invite the community out. It’s a way to connect fans of baseball to hog farming. Farmers have to meet others where they are at,” believes Erin “that’s how we ag-vocate.”
“Don’t chase skinny rabbits,” advised Deadra Stanton, a retired schoolteacher and comedienne from Mason City. “Debone that rabbit meat if it’s important, but some things you need to just let go,” explained Deadra. Women were literally falling off their seats with laughter as she shared funny stories about a honeymoon, Lamaze childbirth and overly honest school children. Deadra’s stories also had a serious side. She reminded the audience of women in agriculture, “Sure, there is a season for planting and harvesting; but you must enjoy the growing season too, because we only get one growing season in life.”