Shacey Sullivan of Peralta grew up in an agricultural family, so the transition to working full time in the industry was a smooth one.
“Throughout my childhood, my family participated in many aspects of agriculture, including cattle production, and operated a preconditioning yard,” says Sullivan, director of marketing for Farm Credit of New Mexico. “My family owns and manages a livestock auction, and my husband’s family has a ranch that has been in their family for over 100 years.”
Sullivan is one of many New Mexico women making valuable contributions to the ag industry, a sector once dominated by men.
“Working in agriculture is extremely rewarding,” Sullivan says. “The industry has great people who feed the world and take care of our natural resources.”
One way Sullivan supports agriculture in her position is by informing producers about options they have to enhance their operations through lending. She works with various groups, promoting and protecting agriculture. She has also had a hand in many projects promoting the industry, such as creating a program with the New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau designed to help young farmers and ranchers become more efficient producers.
She also co-chairs the Women in Agriculture Leadership Conference, which brings together women of all ages from all aspects of agriculture to develop leadership skills.
“Collaboration is key to the agriculture industry’s success. We must come together as different commodity groups and organizations to be successful,” Sullivan says.
Leading the Way
Caren Cowan of Albuquerque is another female leader in New Mexico’s ag industry. She grew up on a beef cattle ranch in Tombstone, located in Arizona, where her great-grandfather settled in 1881.
“Growing up on a ranch, my dad had a lot of jobs to do that he didn’t think were ladylike – unless he needed help doing them, that is,” Cowan says with a chuckle. “When I was considering a career path, a 4-H agent suggested agricultural communications. That has served me well.”
Cowan is executive director of the New Mexico Cattle Growers, a position she has held since 1997.
“We have a small staff, so we do everything from lobbying on Capitol Hill to cleaning bathrooms,” Cowan says. “My duties include communicating with members, meeting planning, attending local, state and national meetings, working on regulatory issues and litigation, and being an activist in legislature in Santa Fe and on Capitol Hill.”
In 2009, Cowan also became publisher of New Mexico Stockman, a magazine with 7,000 subscribers. She writes a monthly column and selects editorial content.
“I was the first woman to hold the executive director position at New Mexico Cattle Growers,” she says. “People had questions, but it didn’t bother me because if you do your job and you’re good at it, gender doesn’t matter.”
Cowan’s grandmother, Mattie Cowan, was also an industry leader. Mattie and her friends started the Cowbelles organization in 1939, which grew nationally and is now widely known as American National CattleWomen.
“I was brought up going to meetings with her and learning to advocate for things I believed in,” Cowan says. “Today, I have her original Cowbelle dress from the 1930s in my office as a reminder.”
For Cowan, the best thing about working in the industry is creating relationships.
“There are truly wonderful people in agriculture. They are well-grounded people with solid family values and a lot of common sense,” she says.
Denise Miller, executive director of the New Mexico Farmers Marketing Association (NMFMA), discovered her ag path thanks to visits to her grandfather’s Illinois farm as a child. There, the Chicago- raised Miller and her brother milked cows and more. She learned the value of farmers and fresh, healthy, locally grown food.
“I watched my grandfather work hard, help neighbors and contribute to his community,” Miller says. “I know this connection to soil and fresh air instilled within me a deep appreciation of working with the land and understanding where food comes from.”
During college, Miller fell in love with New Mexico. She later moved here, pursuing her passion for marketing. In 2005, after finishing her master’s degree, she became executive director of the NMFMA, where she works with farmers, community groups, agencies and others.
“I have the privilege of working alongside many talented women who are farmers, ranchers, seed savers, community organizers, health care workers and more,” Miller says.
“Collaboration is often said to be a strong suit of women,” she says, “and while I would never say that men don’t have this skill or that all women are great collaborators, creating and nurturing relationships, partnerships and alliances is an important part of my work.”
One of Miller’s major achievements at the NMFMA was helping New Mexico become the first state in the nation to fund the Double Up Food Bucks program for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance participants. This helps low-income shoppers buy New Mexico-grown fresh fruits and vegetables.
“It has been a privilege to educate our lawmakers and communities about this program, and to be able to leverage significant additional federal funding that supports our farmers and underserved populations,” Miller says.