Anne has worked in agriculture since she was old enough to sweep the floor of the family machine shed. She writes about rural & outdoor life from the most remote county seat in the Lower 48, where she and her husband chase two children. Her experience ranges from picking apricots in 100 degree weather and working with Hutterite colonies, to discussing ag trade with the Ambassador of New Zealand and judging cured meats.
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This week at our state pork industry’s annual meeting, I watched something awesome happen. It happened so quietly….so carefully…that it could have been easily missed. But it wasn’t. By anyone.
Every year at this time, I walk with an overly caffeinated gait, an ongoing eye twitch and a smile. My husband becomes used to the clutter of nametag banners, labels and meal tickets in the home office. Fortunately, he also becomes used to the idea that this might be the week that the white t-shirts end up in the wash with one of my red sweaters. (Coincidentally, this is also the time of year in which I replace the most clothing items.) The weight of providing an annual meeting to an entire state of producers is not to be taken lightly. However, after 10 of them under my belt, I’m getting better at predicting whom has forgotten to RSVP and where people are probably illegally parking outside the convention building. These things all make a difference on a variety of technical levels . But it is the quality of presentations at this event that are crucial to the educational part of the day.
Okay, back to the awesome part. This fall, I had asked a past recipient (let’s call her Jane) of our undergraduate scholarships to consider speaking at our event. It was producer-driven, with members of the association asking if we could bring her back as a presenter since Jane was now enrolled in vet school. Raised in Montana, Jane had grown up in a family active in the pork industry and had gained producer respect with her accomplishments.
This is extremely important for two reasons: First, Montana’s pork industry is comprised primarily of the Hutterite colonies – members of an Anabaptist religious group that live communally, with an average of 15 families per colony. Jane is not Hutterite. Second, the colonies are arranged in a patriarchal fashion with the men traditionally assuming roles of authority. Jane is a female student still earning her right to practice as a veterinarian.
This was by no means our first female speaker over the years. But this time was different. We announced her portion of the program to the crowd and waited for her to start. It was made clear she was a student. And the crowd grew. And grew. I’d never seen the classroom area so full. Every meeting has folks in the back that have a habit of loudly discussing their hangnails. Ours were silent this time. When she finished her first subject, hands shot into the air with a multitude of questions. Jane answered a variety of them easily. Our producers were patient with her when she was unable to answer several of them and offered to follow-up. At the break before lunch, the crowd floated back into the tradeshow area. With the exception of several that wanted to speak to the daughter of a hog farmer, who wanted to stay in agriculture.
Sometimes, the most amazing things happen when everyone is looking.