Friday, February 25, 2011

Don't mess with these farm women

By Sara Wyant

There are a lot of things that arrive in my inbox everyday, but few made my blood boil like the Environmental Working Group’s release this week, criticizing the Common Ground effort. It seems like every time people in agriculture come up with a good idea for reaching out and building relationships with mainstream consumers, the anti-production agriculture groups come up with a dozen reasons why they are wrong.

For those of you who haven’t heard, Common Ground is a new program, initially rolling out in five states — Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, South Dakota and Nebraska. Project leaders are training female farmers to be spokespersons and to get their message out via social media, partnerships with grocery stores and media outreach efforts. Funding is provided by the National Corn Growers Association and the United Soybean Board.

The EWG release suggests that, because “big ag” no longer has effective spokespersons, they are recruiting women to make their case---even though few women are actually in leadership positions within the major commodity organizations. But if you read between the lines, this seems like an attempt to belittle the women who have signed up to work on the Common Ground project, suggesting that they are just dumb figureheads who are blindly delivering messages for their male-dominated interest groups.

Give me a break!

Anyone who knows the women involved in American Agri-Women, Women Involved in Farm Economics, or the Iowa Women in Agriculture, as I do, knows that these are strong-willed, bright and incredibly capable women. They are not figureheads for anyone. They care about their farms, their families and the environment. They are perfectly capable of saying “yes” or “no” to public relations campaigns funded by others. For EWG to even slightly suggest otherwise, is to employ the most sexist inuendo I have seen in decades.

Could there be more women in leadership for the nation’s largest commodity organizations? Yes. I agree with EWG on that point. But how do you forget to mention that there are several womens’ organizations at the state and national level that are strong and growing, absent of men in leadership? Many of them are involved in the Common Ground project.

Why? Well, perhaps it didn’t fit into the tale they were trying to tell, that somehow the
women who rule the organic organizations, are somehow more “real” and credible.

What about women who raise both organic and conventional farm products? Apparently, in the EWG world, they don’t exist either. Maybe the organization could find a few, stop trying to pit women against each other and look for their own version of “common ground.”

(In the interest of full disclosure, I spoke to the AAW annual meeting last year and I am an honorary member of WIFE, but I am not affiliated with the Common Ground project.)

Sara Wyant is the Editor of Agri-Pulse, the nation's leading farm and rural policy e-newsletter. For a four-week free trial, go to