FarmHer star Marji Guyler-Alaniz talks American women in agriculture | Exclusive interview

Marji Guyler-Alaniz
Marji Guyler-Alaniz created FarmHer after watching a Super Bowl commercial. Pic credit: Marji Guyler-Alaniz

FarmHer was a simple idea that has turned into a growing industry thanks to the vision of photographer Marji Guyler-Alaniz.

By chance, an unlikely epiphany led to the creation of the organization, which helps promote agriculture’s hard-working women using images and stories.

When you think of a farmer, the vision of a woman working or driving a tractor is not usually the first image that pops into mind. But Marji Guyler-Alaniz wanted to change that staid perception.

She left her corporate gig in agriculture business in Iowa after having an idea germinate during the 2013 Super Bowl, spurred by a poignant commercial featuring the 1978 words of Paul Harvey which was missing something. Women.

Guyler-Alaniz, from Urbandale, Iowa, was galvanized and has now turned her simple idea into a vibrant online community, as well as a successful TV series on RFD-TV which is now into its second season.

She has created an upswell of women and men across America who have been able to connect and share their own stories via her conventions, merchandise for sale and robust interactive social media.

We spoke to Marji about the importance of FarmHer and why she did it:

Monsters and Critics: What specifically was that moment in 2013 that inspired you to create FarmHer and jettison your career and what were you doing prior?

Marji Guyler-Alaniz: Prior to FarmHer I had spent over a decade working in corporate agriculture — more specifically insurance. I had decided to leave as I knew it was time to make a change in my life personally and professionally. I was no longer inspired by the work I was doing and I wanted my little — 1 and 3 years-old at the time — to grow up seeing their mom doing something she loved.

So I had JUST left my job the weekend before the Super Bowl, in the beginning of February…but I really had no plan or idea what I was going to do next.

I had taken a leap. Then, a commercial came on during the Super Bowl that changed my life. It was a Ram Trucks commercial, set to a speech by Paul Harvey called “So God Made a Farmer” and it was set to a series of beautiful images of farmers and ranchers. I have always loved photography so it caught my attention and I absolutely loved it. Being from rural America it really tugged at the heartstrings.

Then, a few weeks later I read an article pointing out that while beautiful it was lacking one thing — women. There were only a few women shown in all of the images, even though women make up 30 per cent of farmers and ranchers in the U.S.

That got my attention even more and I decided I could try to start to change this issue, and update the image of agriculture with my camera. The next day I set out on a journey that I decided to call FarmHer, photographing women in their real and everyday roles in agriculture.

M&C: You are based in Iowa, did you hail from an agricultural family? Why did farm-working women become you cause celebre?

Marji Guyler-Alaniz: My grandparents were farmers, so my mom grew up on a farm. It was the typical family farm back then — cows, pigs, corn and other crops. While my parents didn’t farm, I did spend most of my childhood growing up in the country. Agriculture was all around us. It was just a part of the everyday view.

While I always knew that women were involved it was never something I stopped to think about. Then, fresh off my career in corporate agriculture where women were definitely in the minority as well, I just felt compelled to help the rest of the world understand who the people are that grow the food we all eat.

More specifically, I wanted to show the world that women are a part of this in every nook and cranny of this big beautiful country!

Women farmers all over the USA are profiled by Marji for FarmHer on RFD-TV

M&C: Do you have some favorite smaller rancher-farmer businesses you can share with our readers?

Marji Guyler-Alaniz: I have the privilege of meeting amazing women from all over the country who have inspiring stories, and who work with their heart.

I can tell you about city-girl turned FarmHer Jennifer Welch. She moved from Georgia to Colorado as a young woman and while working in food service became more interested in food overall and that led her to start a farm called The Crowded Acre.

She has spent her life since then growing a small farm and essentially a small business, becoming an integral part of her community, raising livestock and kids with care and love, educating her friends and neighbors about her work and in general making the world a better place.

I can tell you the story of Barbara Mazurek, a woman whose family has ranched for generations in the Texas Hill Country. Raising animals on the land has always been in Barbara’s blood. She and her husband worked together and raised a family on the ranch until he was tragically killed in an accident while tending to the livestock.

She had to pick up the pieces for herself, her family, and for the animals that relied on her. She did that and is a survivor. Today still, at over 80 years old she spends her days with the livestock she raises on the land.

Barbara Mazurek
Barbara Mazurek of Utopia, Texas, picked up the pieces after she lost her husband

I can tell you the story of Joanna Fogg, a young woman raised on the water in Bar Harbor, Maine. She has spent her life living and working on or near the water.

Today, as she and her husband Jesse have started a family, they were faced with the reality of finding or creating viable jobs in their community that would keep them home year-round instead of having to leave for months at a time to work on fishing boats or private charters.

So, the couple got to create and started Bar Harbor Oyster Company. They have learned the art of raising oysters on leased land in the bay near their home.

Joanna spends her days on the water, caring for and harvesting the oysters as part of their new and very unique “farm”. Some days she even takes her baby along with her, raising the next generation to care about the natural resources that provide so much for us all.

There are so, so many more that I could spend hours telling you about all of the amazing, strong and resilient women I have met through FarmHer.

M&C: Proportionally, how many women farmers and female-owned farms are there in total compared to the whole, if you know?

Marji Guyler-Alaniz: By the 2012 Census of Agriculture there are 969,672 women producers. This is 31 per cent of all producers (farmers and ranchers) in the U.S. Those women have a $12.9billion dollar economic impact and farm 301,386,860 acres of land.

M&C: FarmHer is a clothing line, an event-generating business and a blog that you have turned into a SiriusXM Podcast and TV series. How do you describe exactly what FarmHer is to people?

Marji Guyler-Alaniz: I always say that FarmHer is a brand for and about women. Shining a light on women permeates through everything we do and as a result, we aim to empower, inspire and connect women everywhere over their connection to the land, animals, and food. I am a big believer of “if you can see it, you can be it”.

So by showing these strong women and sharing their stories through the TV show, or the podcast, or on stage at one of our events, we hope to inspire women everywhere to follow their passion and find their journey through FarmHer.

M&C: Tell us about the next ‘I am FarmHer’ National Event in Iowa — this will be year two, correct?

Marji Guyler-Alaniz: Yes, we are really excited for our second annual I am FarmHer conference. We have been hosting events for young women — ages 16-22 —  to inspire and connect over the past few years and had a lot of requests from women of all ages to be able to connect through a FarmHer event.

So in 2017 we started I am FarmHer as a way to bring together women from all walks of life, both professionals and farmers, who share a love for agriculture and a desire connect over how their lifestyles are impacting the world around them.

We have a great lineup of inspiring speakers, engaging workshops, fun dinners and even a few tours to local farms. Last year we had women from 23 states, ranging in ages from 18-80 who told us they left feeling empower and engaged by our event.

I always say I know women in any walk of life could attend one of our events and leave feeling inspired by the women they have met and will have a few tools in their back pocket to help them along their journey in life, no matter what or where that is!

M&C: Explain what ‘Grow by FarmHer’ is exactly…

Marji Guyler-Alaniz: Grow is a series of events designed to inspire and empower young women. Our target audience is young women, ages 16-22 who have a desire to learn more about agriculture or who are already a part of the industry.

We started Grow three years ago as a way to help connect these young women with each other and with successful women who are growing food or working in agriculture today.

Again, with the belief that “if you can see it, you can be it” we strive to show these young women the strong women of FarmHer. These day-long events feature keynote talks, workshops, and opportunities to connect with each other. We really push them to connect with their peers and the women mentors in the room, as a way to create a community of support for themselves.

For the 2017-18 school year, we have impacted thousands of young women in six states around the country with our Grow events.

M&C: On your RFD-TV series, now in Season 2, you have covered the country from Maine to California. What were some surprises in your travels?

Marji Guyler-Alaniz: I am always shocked and completely in awe of the beauty of our country. From the intense green grass and rolling hills of northern California to the rocky cliffs of Maine. To the hidden treetop canopies of central Florida to the expansive fields of the Midwest.

Every time I step foot on a farm in one of these beautiful and inspiring places, I am met with a woman who is passionate about her life in agriculture.

When I started FarmHer I thought I knew what a typical farm looked like and I couldn’t have been more wrong. Each and every FarmHer, and the land she works, and the animals she raises are unique and different. These women’s roles on the farm can vary widely from running the business to harvesting the crops.

A farm can be a tiny plot in the middle of a city, growing food for the people in the surrounding houses to thousands of acres of land with grazing cattle just a few hours away. It can be a woman who is 87 years old, doing what she has always done, or a young 16-year-old girl, just starting to figure out the world around her and how she fits into it.

Farming and ranching are so many things but, at the heart of it, the women who are a part of it are the heart and soul. While these women can be completely different in their age, beliefs, ethnicity, background and more, they are actually all very similar in their love of the land, care for their communities and desire to nurture those around them.

Farming is not easy work, it is not for the faint of heart, but I have most definitely learned it is for the women who have heart.

FarmHer airs Fridays at 9.30pm ET / 8:30pm CT / 7:30pm MT / 6:30pm PT on RFD-TV.

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