If you’ve been driving along a Kansas highway or byway and have seen a sign featuring an overflowing grocery sack and the words, "1 Kansas Farmer Feeds More Than 155 People + You!" then you have seen a major project of the American Agri-Women organization.
The reality is, if you ask 10 people who regularly see those signs what group supports them, they probably won’t know. The newly elected president of the organization, Lori Bammerlin of Council Grove, would like to change that.
"My hope for being president is that we gain more visibility and maybe one or two signature events that Kansas Agri-Women become known for," Bammerlin says. "We have the signs and our members are involved in supporting a number of other organizations, especially Farm Bureau, but I’d like to see us have an 'identity' event."
Bammerlin says she believes that will come from a consistent outreach to a wider, more diverse group of women who will bring in new ideas.
"I want to stress that our membership is open to any woman with a passion for agriculture and rural Kansas," Bammerlin says. "You don’t have to be a farmer or a farm wife or even live on a farm. If you have a connection to agriculture or a passion for agriculture, we’d welcome you to membership."
Kansas Agri-Women’s slogan, "From producer to consumer with understanding," fits well with Bammerlin’s goal. She says partnerships with other groups have helped promote the message, such as a role with Kansas Wheat in the National Festival of Breads, a baking contest sponsored by King Arthur Flour and Red Star Yeast that is now held annually in Manhattan.
Kansas Agri-Women members already participate in a number of activities in a supporting role, such as county fairs and Farm Bureau and Kansas Wheat programs.
Bammerlin says she first became aware of the Kansas Argi-Women organization as a college student when she attended a meeting of collegiate agri-women at Kansas State University. After graduation, she joined the Riley-Pottawatomie chapter of Kansas Agri-Women, which is now the Flint Hills chapter.
"At one time, there were a lot of local chapters in a number of counties, but over the years as membership has dropped, more chapters have decided to merge into regional groups," Bammerlin said.
After graduation, Bammerlin became a Kansas State University Agriculture and 4-H extension agent for the Flint Hills district, a post she held until last month when she moved on to a campus Extension job with the Great Plains Fire Science Exchange. She now works in states from Montana to Texas on issues surrounding grassland burning, smoke management and burn data collection.
"I loved my job before, but I felt ready for a new challenge and I look forward to the experiences and travel of my new position," she says.
She says her role as president of Kansas Agri-Women likewise gives her a chance to meet new people and to reach out to more segments of agriculture.
"We want to welcome people from the smallest operations to the largest," she says. "If there are specialty farms or orchards that would like to have an event but they need help with organization, staging or manpower, then maybe Kansas Agri-Women could have a role, using our experience to help them have a successful event."
Other members of the 2018 board include: Lesley Schmidt of Wichita as past president; Lisa Nichols of Carbondale as vice president; Barbara Roux of Moundridge as secretary; Donnell Scott of Manhattan as treasurer; Melissa Wahl of Riley as national and state legislation director; Lynn Woolf of Milton as public relations officer; and Jerilyn Longren of Wichita as website coordinator.
NEW PRESIDENT: Lori Bammerlin of Council Grove is the new president of Kansas Agri-Women.
District directors are Marlene Peters of Phillipsburg in the northwest; Barbara Roux of Moundridge in south-central and Lori Bammerlin of Council Grove in the northeast. Bammerlin is also the Flint Hills chapter president.
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Here’s a history of Kansas Agri-Women
In 1973, the organization now known as Kansas Agri-Women, was organized as the United Farm Wives of America.
It was only a few years later that the idea for the sign project was born when early organizers, Harold and Jeanne Mertz, noted billboards advertising everything. Jeanne Mertz died in 2017.
"Looking at the signs, I wondered why agriculture wasn’t advertising its commodities," Jeanne Mertz said. When she got home, Jeanne Mertz contacted some of the United Farm Wives of America leaders and asked them about undertaking a project promoting the farm commodities in our state. "They took the idea to their board and away we went!" she said.
Since a grocery sack can contain a variety of products, the group decided to use it as the basic graphic of the signs, which are placed on private property to promote the products of that premise. The first sign was installed just before Memorial Day in 1978.
This project has had a strong and influential history, but it has not been without the support of two important partners: landowners and Thomas Sign Company.
Thomas Sign Company hand-painted the original signs in 1978 and has continued to do maintenance and replace signs as the group is able to fund them.