Picture an American farmer. Many people envision a middle-aged man in denim overalls riding on a tractor, holding a pitchfork or shoveling waste out of a cattle stall. But the public perception of farmers isn’t always the reality. According to the latest Census of Agriculture data, the United States has more female farmers than ever before.
The Census of Agriculture is conducted every five years, with the last census taking place in 2017. Between 2012 and 2017, United States agriculture saw a 27% increase in the number of female producers, with women making up about 36% of American farmers today. More than half (56%) of all farms reported having at least one female decision-maker.
Ohio Department of Agriculture Director Dorothy Pelanda is quick to point out that women have always played a role in farming.
“Farming is a family business. For every successful farmer, there’s a woman working next to him,” Pelanda says. “Agriculture has always been a family industry. What’s happening is, we are seeing more women taking prominent leadership roles in agriculture.”
See more: Women Farmers Find Success in Ohio
Pelanda should know – she became the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s (ODA) first female director in January 2019 when she was appointed by Gov. Mike DeWine. Pelanda still lives on the Union County farm where she grew up and says it helped instill in her a strong work ethic and a passion for issues such as invasive species, soil and water conservation, among other concerns her family dealt with daily.
“I fed our animals at 4 a.m. before I got on the school bus, and my sisters and I loved operating the tractors,” Pelanda says. “I still love doing that.”
Prior to her current role, Pelanda spent 30 years practicing law and representing farmers from Union County and beyond. In 2011, she was appointed to the Ohio House of Representatives, where she served three terms. As director of the ODA, Pelanda says one of her missions is to help farmers be more open about telling their stories.
“One of my goals is to introduce to the public that agriculture is something everyone deals with three times a day. Ohio farmers feed the world, from the growers and processors to timber, restaurants and grocers,” Pelanda says. “Agriculture and food is our number one industry in Ohio. I’m so pleased to see women emerging more and more in the industry, and I’m inspired by our young people in FFA and 4-H, as well as all the females assuming leadership roles.”
Women have especially been taking the lead in specialized ag operations such as beekeeping, chestnuts, maple sugar processing, and the wine and grape industry, Pelanda notes.
A proud “agvocate,” Rose Hartschuh has also spent her career helping people better understand and appreciate Ohio’s agriculture industry. The wife and mother of 6-year-old twin boys is a past Ohio FFA president and an American Farm Bureau Excellence in Agriculture Award winner. She and her husband, Greg, farm with his parents at Hartschuh Dairy Farm in Crawford County, where they milk 180 Holsteins and grow corn, soybeans and forages.
“Greg and I also started a sheep enterprise, and we run approximately 100 crossbred ewes,” Hartschuh says. “We’re also partners in an event venue, The Loft at Pickwick Place, a historic brick horse barn that has been elegantly restored. Our twin boys, Dwight and Jordan, love everything about the farm.”
When she isn’t managing the event venue, helping on the farm, or selling produce, Hartschuh works as an agricultural speaker, sharing her passion for America’s farmers with groups across the country.
“Women bring a different perspective and unique voice to our industry,” she says. “It’s important for females to be leaders in agriculture because we naturally think differently than our male counterparts. Working together, men and women can strengthen agriculture beyond what would be possible with just one gender.”
Pelanda agrees. “The mothers who’ve raised women taught them to be problem solvers and relationship builders, and that’s key in the agriculture industry,” Pelanda says. “Women have watched their mothers innovate and be creative, so they tend to think outside the box. Men can too, but women tend to be more willing to be open about it. My advice to everyone is to dream big and take chances.”