Farming has traditionally been seen as a man’s profession, but in the last few decades, that view is shifting. Women have become a driving force in agriculture, both in North Dakota and across the U.S. Whether on the farm or out in their communities, women have been adapting to the challenges and excelling in their agricultural roles.
Take Mardee Reich of Zap in west-central North Dakota. Her role in agriculture began after she married her husband, Jack, who worked on his family’s angus cattle ranch.
“It’s my husband’s family’s ranch, and goes back at least 60 years,” Reich says. “We got married in 1996 and decided to partner up with Jack’s dad. Our registered operation started with 20 head and grew into what it is now. My introduction came when I married Jack. I was very hands-on with him and learned along the way.”
In 2012, Reich’s role changed dramatically after tragedy struck. Her husband and 10-year-old son, Vander, were killed in a car accident. Mardee was with them, but survived, and now runs the ranch with her other son and daughter.
“I went from being the support with Jack and doing what I could, to basically being at the forefront,” Reich says.
She says that along with simply getting back on her feet after the accident, some challenges included assuring people she had the same business principles that Jack had.
“We have a production sale every February and Jack usually dealt with all the buyers. People had to know that, going forward, it would be with me and that I had the same principles Jack had,” she says.
Reich says that one thing she’s certain of from her time in agriculture is that the agricultural community is extremely tight-knit.
“There are no better people than those in agriculture. And women have a huge amount to offer,” Reich says. “Sometimes they get looked over, but they are a huge support, even if they’re not in the forefront. They’re behind their husbands and keeping everything together at home. It’s very much a team effort.”
Misty Steeke also knows the important role of women in agriculture, as she has been a part of the industry her entire life.
“I was born and raised on a farm southwest of Rhame, where I reside currently with my husband, Trevor, and four kids,” Steeke says. “We have a cow/calf operation consisting of 450 head. We also have 200 head of ewes, 40 head of boar goats and sometimes raise butcher pigs that we sell to local consumers. We also raise forage crops, small grains, corn and sunflowers.”
Along with working on the farm, Steeke is an agricultural education teacher at Scranton Public School, teaching grades eight through 12. She says much of her love of agriculture can be attributed to her parents, who allowed her to be involved from a young age.
“I have been teaching agricultural education for 16 years and have been involved in 4-H for over 20 years as a leader. I was the oldest of three kids and my parents had to rely on me to help with operating the farm to make a living,” she says.
As a woman, Steeke says that agriculture has taught her responsibility, and the women in her life, including her mother and grandmother, have shown strength, making her a stronger agriculturalist in turn.
“Women have passion and desire to make what they have better. We have to prove ourselves every day not only to the community, but to ourselves,” Steeke says. “Being a farm or ranch mom or wife doesn’t always stop at the breakfast table, but in our daily responsibilities of relieving our families from daily tasks or chores. If we all take part in knowing and understanding the work that is sacrificed and knowledge that is gained, we can all be better agriculturalists.”