A New Conversation: Women in Ag

BY Leah Brakke

Women In Ag

I have mixed emotions with the “Women In Ag” label. I love it when women support other women. I love it when women prosper in male dominated fields. I love it when women find success doing what they’re passionate about. I love it when women choose how to use their talents in ways that make them happy. What I don’t necessarily love, is that there is a group of ag professionals who separate themselves from others based on…being a women.

This is not an I AM WOMAN HEAR ME ROAR conversation. It’s a conversation that I have with myself many times a day for many different reasons. The landscape of agriculture is changing. The people who are making a difference are changing. It’s not just the old man with his potato fork in the field. It’s so much more. The industry is so much more. The opportunities are so much more.

Above: Some of my favorite Women in agriculture that I was so honored to be with for the United Fresh Leadership program. These women are doing amazing things in agriculture with their unbelievable talents: Kim Flores, Seald Sweet - Marketing | Hilary Long, Frey Farms - Business Development | Kami Weddle, Rousseau Farming Company - Food Safety | Jacquie Ediger, Pro Citrus Network - VP | Alex Jackson Berkley, Friedas Specialty Produce - Account Management | Stephanie Barlow, National Watermelon Promotions Board - Director of Marketing & Communications

Back In The Day

In the late 1990’s I would spend my summers either at the Black Gold Farms office in North Dakota filing and answering phones. Or, I would hit the road, and work in an office at one of our farms that was not in North Dakota. I would weigh trucks and fax confirmations & BOL’s on that waxy roll paper. I ran the Quality Control lab which consisted of a deep fat fryer from Walmart and spuds that I had to go pick, to ensure we were delivering a quality product to our customers. Those were my duties. My brothers, John and Eric however, they were in the harvesters, they were in the trucks, they were on the wash line working on the equipment. Those were their duties.

Next Generation


There are eight 5th generation farmers in our family. All of them girls. Ages range from 1 to 14. They are amazing. They each have their own personalities, interests, talents, and dreams. I was asked a while ago, when, how and if we are going to start incorporating them into the business? I think the assumption was that they would come to the office during the summer or after school to file, or input numbers, or clean, or answer phones. Similar duties to what mine once were.

Here’s the thing: Our company has changed. The culture has changed. Opportunities are endless. When I was 15, I didn’t think “Maybe I’ll drive the harvester this year”. Not that it wasn’t an option – but I didn’t even think to ask. I assumed, John and Eric will be outside, and I’d be in the office weighing trucks. So, what are these next generation farmers going to do? Whatever in the world they want and have a passion for.

Agriculture - An Opportunity for Everyone

What I do foresee, is that they will learn about the business. I have faith that the girls will appreciate that agriculture is a massive opportunity for them to use their amazing talents – whatever they are. Being a potato farmer can be more than a tractor and a fork. But, if they want to drive a tractor, they can. If they want to walk fields with a potato fork, they can. If they want to design a more efficient wash line, they can. Or, if they want to research food safety or increase our sustainability efforts they can do that to. If they want to analyze the numbers using a complex computer system so we know where the money comes from and where it goes, they can do that. If they want to meet with customers and talk about the value that Black Gold Farms provides as a grower/packer/shipper – that door will always open. Agriculture will allow them the opportunity to do those things if they choose, and in 15 years, when they’re ready – there will even be more opportunities for them to choose from at Black Gold Farms, or somewhere else.

Above: My daughter Sophie on top. Me below. In a potato field.

The New Conversation

The conversation should no longer be about being a woman in ag. It’s about being in agriculture PERIOD. It’s about the progress – and that women are an essential part of the continual evolution of this amazing industry. It’s that women should not be its own special group inside the ag community. All of us in agriculture, need to support and encourage young people, that if they want – there’s an opportunity ready and waiting for them – men and women.

Will this next generation be sent to a different farm in a strange town for weeks at a time, to live out of a hotel, and hang out with strangers on the 4th of July by the pool at a sketchy Best Western when they’re 17? Maybe. But, probably not. This generation will pave their own path to success. And it will probably be safer.

Black Gold Farms has amazing women in all different parts of the operation. This year, many will be profiled in The Dirt. But more importantly, these are the women that will help all of the other 15 year old Leah’s know that it’s not just okay, but that they are encouraged to stand up and say, “I want to operate the harvester this summer”.