FarmHer can be described in multiple ways: as an online community for women in agriculture, as an advocacy campaign highlighting an often-overlooked facet of agriculture or as the creative mission of an energetic entrepreneur who worked for a dozen years in the crop insurance industry before picking up a camera and going out to document a story that she felt needed to be told.
Marji Guyler-Alaniz is the busy wife and mother behind FarmHer. On a recent swing through the region, she hosted a series of inspirational workshops at K-State, Oklahoma State and the University of Missouri, allowing her to reach out to around 500 young women.
The Grow by FarmHer series is designed to fill a void in leadership development and networking opportunities for young women in agriculture. The event is based on the premise that “if you can see you can go do it,” and consists of Guyler-Alaniz and others like her sharing stories of how they followed their dreams into agriculturally related pursuits.
“I wish I’d had something like this when I was 21 and entering the industry 17 years ago,” she said in an interview. “It’s easy to feel kind of invisible.”
Guyler-Alaniz is clearly living a dream that speaks to women of all ages everywhere: that of turning a personal mission into a profitable brand and successful home business.
“This is something I love more than anything else I’ve ever done,” she said recently as she waited to board a flight at the Dallas-Ft. Worth airport.
Guyler-Alaniz was in Texas to film a promo for the latest extension of her brand, a new show called RanchHer, which will air on the Cowboy Channel. She’s on the road fairly often these days, sometimes for a week at a time, but when she started out she had two small children at home and confined her creative endeavors to fit her family’s needs.
By the time her kids started to reach school age, however, her workload had grown, and her husband was helping her juggle mounting responsibilities.
FarmHer started out as an online portrait gallery celebrating agricultural women, posted on Instagram, but grew from there to include a television show on RFD-TV — soon to begin taping its fourth season — a blog, radio show and podcast, special events and a clothing and accessories line. In the beginning, though, it was simply a campaign to document women farmers going about their daily routines.
Guyler-Alaniz was inspired to take on the project after seeing Dodge Ram’s God Made a Farmer ad, narrated in memorable fashion by Paul Harvey, during the 2013 Super Bowl. Like many in agriculture, she loved the commercial, but what really hit home was an article she read later on pointing to its virtual absence of women.
In reality, women make up around 30 percent of those involved in production agriculture, a statistic Guyler-Alaniz often hammers home. And their level of participation continues to grow.
According to the latest Census of Agriculture, released on April 11, male ag producers declined 1.7 percent since the last survey five years ago, while the number of female producers increased nearly 27 percent over that same time period, accounting for much of the overall increase in agricultural producers (from 3.18 million to 3.4 million.) Additionally, women defined as principle farm operators rose from 13 percent of the total to nearly 30 percent, a number Guyler-Alaniz finds particularly gratifying.
Depictions of women in agriculture appear to be on the rise, too, with articles and blogs by and about agricultural women becoming more common. State agriculture departments have made an effort to highlight more women, and several of them are now led by women ag commissioners, including those in Oklahoma, Colorado and Illinois. Many other women have found a voice through food and farming blogs. Organizations for women in agriculture also appear to be flourishing.
While it’s become an increasingly crowded space, the topic wasn’t getting much attention even just a few short years ago when Guyler-Alaniz started her project. “This issue has been elevated, and that’s a wonderful thing,” she said. “I think it’s been really good for women.”
Rather than changing course, FarmHer is continuing to branch out, recently announcing plans to launch RanchHer as a separate TV show with a different host and slightly different focus.
“One of the first things I learned when I started doing this is ranching is a very different thing from farming, but I never had the time or the ability or the resources to chase after that,” Guyler-Alaniz said.
With her friendly, outgoing personality, Guyler-Alaniz appears a natural on-screen, but she said at first she struggled with being comfortable in front of the camera.
“I really have to push myself to say yes to some of this, but I tell people it really is like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it gets,” she said.
It’s also a challenge staying ahead of a digitally focused culture with so many different ways to engage the audience. “It is an ever-evolving thing,” she said.
Still, what is probably most important about her story is she identified a need and stepped up to fill it.
“There have been moments of that old saying, be careful what you ask for,” she said. “I knew this was important to me and that celebrating diversity in this industry matters, but I had no idea how well it would resonate with other people beyond me. A lot of this is stuff I’d never done before, but I’ve tried to be open to opportunities as they came up.”
The project’s crossover power has allowed it to reach beyond the traditional farm audience to mainstream media outlets like Huff Post and Oprah, making it part of the growing campaign to educate consumers.
“I’m not a farmer myself,” Guyler-Alaniz acknowledged. “For women ag bloggers, their magic is in telling the stories of their everyday life. Our magic is in conglomerating those stories. There’s not really anything else out there quite like us.”
FarmHer recently announced details for the annual national conference, I am FarmHer, to be held June 17-19 in Des Moines, Iowa, where Guyler-Alaniz is based. Registration is $300, and details are available on the FarmHer website.
“This is a place to get inspiration to run after whatever your passion or your dream is, whether it is going back to the farm or becoming a scientist,” she said. “I tell women my story, but I want them to get out there and apply it to their own thing.”