COLUMBUS — Agriculture is still a male-dominated field, but that doesn't deter a group of young women from Lakeview High School.
FFA officers Erika Loseke, Madison Schwarz, Isabelle Stewart, Brooklyn Wilke and Addie Wilke got an extra shot of encouragement Wednesday at an event celebrating women in agriculture. The Lincoln event, called Grow, was organized by the FarmHer initiative.
Catherine Ripp, Lakeview's new agriculture teacher and FFA adviser, graduated from college less than a year ago. When the 23-year-old saw an email about Grow, she thought it would be a great event for female FFA officers.
“Being fresh out of college, I know how important it is to network,” said Ripp. “It gave the officer team a chance to network with professionals in agriculture and women in agriculture.”
Stewart, an 18-year-old senior who wants to work in agriculture, knows it’s still a male-dominated industry but remains optimistic about her opportunities in the future.
“Most males are the ones running agriculture farms,” she said. “But the amount of women owning their own farms is rapidly growing, which is awesome.”
The keynote speaker for last week's event was Amberley Snyder, who became a champion barrel racer by the age of 18. In 2010, Snyder was in a motor-vehicle accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down.
After years of physical therapy, Snyder is back in the saddle, competing again in rodeos. A story in USA Today from March reported Snyder’s racing times now are better than they were before the accident.
For Schwarz, a sophomore at Lakeview, Snyder’s story confirmed that women can compete with men in agriculture.
“It just helps us realize we can do as much as they can, if we do all we can and give 100 percent,” said Schwarz.
Schwarz also liked the experience of being with like-minded young women from across Nebraska.
“It was great to see other girls my age trying to figure what they want to do when they grow up. We all went in with an open mind,” she said. “I know all the girls in my FFA chapter are wanting to go into ag, so to see other girls wanting to do what we want to do and other girls that share our love of agriculture was inspiring.”
Schwarz, Stewart and many of the other Lakeview FFA members grew up on farms, most of which were passed down from generation to generation. One of the workshops that stood out to Schwarz focused on how to preserve a family's legacy and take care of the farm after the older generation passes.
Another workshop highlighted the importance of STEM (science, math, technology and engineering) in agriculture.
There was also a networking session so attendees could meet women who are ag professionals.
Although Stewart already knew she wants to go into ag, she said it was eye-opening to network with women from across the Midwest. One woman she met was an agronomist at Monsanto who told Stewart how she started her career and got to where she is now.
“It was great to hear from successful women in ag,” Stewart said.
Stewart, who plans on attending the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to study agronomics, also met two students who are in the program now.
“They were telling me how much they love being on East Campus, how close people were, and how close professors work with you and get to know you,” said Stewart. “I’m even more excited (about going to UNL).”