By Molly Zentz
More than technology has changed in agriculture over the past 50 years. Indiana leaders and society itself have recognized that agriculture is more than farming, and that women can fill key roles in agriculture, both on and off the farm.
In the late 1960s, only boys could join FFA, the youth organization for vocational agriculture students. One Indiana ag teacher made a point by submitting an application for the Hoosier Farmer degree, the state’s highest FFA degree at the time, with only the initials of the candidate’s first and middle name. When the candidate, who was a female ag student, was approved for the degree and word got out, the point was made.
The National FFA voted to allow girls to join the organization in 1969, and Indiana FFA soon followed suit. Over the past 10 years, more girls than boys have been elected to Indiana FFA state officer positions.
At the highest level of government, since the Indiana State Department of Agriculture was formed in 2005, it’s been headed by a female secretary for all but a portion of 2016, when now Gov. Eric Holcomb filled the position.
Women are also finding homes in careers once thought reserved for men, including on the farm. Here’s a look at two Hoosiers with blooming careers in agriculture.
As an agriculture attorney, Brianna Schroeder helps Hoosiers in agriculture with zoning, contracts, employment and litigation issues. She’s practiced law since 2009 and has been with Janzen Ag Law since its creation in 2015.
Schroeder grew up on a farm in Allen County. “I grew up on the farm in Hoagland built by my great-grandparents,” she explains. “When I was growing up, we had corn, soybeans and wheat.”
Schroeder started her legal practice doing more traditional environmental work. She soon realized farmers and ag businesses had legal needs that weren’t being met.
MEETING NEEDS: Growing up on a farm prepared Brianna Schroeder for her career as an ag attorney, helping farmers work through legal hoops, especially in the environmental field.
“I’m very proud of the work we do for livestock producers,” she says. “We work with them through the entire process of building new barns or expanding an existing farm. This includes the IDEM [Indiana Department of Environmental Management] permitting process, zoning approvals, nuisance lawsuits, appeals and contract negotiation.”
Schroeder encourages women in agriculture and in law to seek out female mentors. “Use these mentors as sounding boards and as inspiration,” she says. “When you start to find some measure of success, be a mentor for those who come after you.
“Organizations like Indiana Farm Bureau, which seek to connect women in agriculture, can be great resources for making connections, finding mentors and friends, and growing your professional network.”
Row crop farming
Megan Scheller is a nurse at a local hospital, but she finds time to help on the family corn, wheat and soybean farm in Vanderburgh County.
“During harvest and planting, I help with transportation of machinery and provide meals in the field,” Scheller says. “I also tend to our small vegetable garden in the summer and assist with machinery maintenance.”
When away from the farm, Scheller serves her local community as a wound and ostomy nurse.
“I love my job and enjoy what I do,” Scheller says. “Nursing is an art of science and compassion, and it allows me to utilize my knowledge to help make a positive impact in other people’s lives.”
FARMER AND NURSE: The farm is a good place to work and begin a family, Megan Scheller says. She also works off the farm as a nurse at a local hospital.
Unlike many women in agriculture, Scheller didn’t grow up on a farm. She cites that as a challenge she’s had to overcome.
“Most people my age that are involved in agriculture grew up on a farm and have been involved most of their lives,” she says. “That was not the case for me. My involvement started just a few years ago when I met my husband.”
However, Scheller explains that her outsider’s perspective can be beneficial.
“When it comes to making decisions on the farm, I can look at things from a different perspective than my husband, who has been involved in farming his whole life,” she says.
Scheller says she’s become quite passionate about promoting agriculture.
“My biggest accomplishment has been educating those that may not be familiar with farming,” she says. “Promoting agriculture is just one way that I can help preserve the future of farming.”
Zentz is a public relations manager for Indiana Farm Bureau Inc. She writes from Indianapolis. This is the second article in this series. Read the first article here. Tom J. Bechman contributed to this article.