Today is National Farmer’s Day − the day we recognize farmers for their hard work and commitment to providing our food. We’re asking Rita, a fifth-generation farmer, who grows wheat for some of our cereals, a few questions about life on the farm. Rita grew up on her parent’s Michigan farm and today, plays a key role in its operation. Her husband, Luke, is also a farmer and together they have two young daughters.
Today, many people live in urban areas, and are removed from our agricultural heritage. Can you tell us a little bit about what it’s like growing up on a farm?
Farming is a very family-oriented business; it’s certainly not a 9-5 job. My mom was a full-time farmer, so my parents raised us with no distinction between chores for me and my sisters, or those for my brothers. Everyone was expected to pitch in as needed to help support the family business. Each of us were as likely to be running a tractor, as we were to be making dinner.
When did you know that you wanted to go into the family business and how did you prepare to do so?
In high school, I planned to do anything else but farm. I attended Michigan State University thinking I’d be an agronomist, but I met so many people in my classes who wished their family farm was big enough to offer them a career, that I began reevaluating. Our farm had opportunities for me and I hadn’t realized them until I was in college. After I graduated, I went straight into the family business.
Like many professions, farming used to be a male-dominated field. How have you seen this perception change over the course of your career?
Today, there aren’t that many women who have a career in farming. In college, most of my classes were with men, with the exception of my roommate, who now also farms full-time. Women tend to migrate more toward agriculture industry jobs, maybe because there is more opportunity there, which is too bad since we make great farmers. I don’t think gender matters in this work. Like most fields, what matters is heart. You have to be up for the task and passionate about the work.
How did your family react to your decision to join the family business?
My mom was probably the most hesitant. She knows the volatility of the commodity markets and weather - one year might be great and the next one might be really bad. She also understood how challenging it is to be a farmer and a mother. My stepdad, on the other hand, was very supportive and encouraging. I have a great support system, so I am lucky.
What advice would you give to young women considering a farming – or even an agricultural - career today?
Be sure it’s something you really want to do. I’ve found that there is always more than one way to do things. It’s also important to have a great support system. For me, that’s my family.
Rita is a Michigan wheat farmer who supplies the soft wheat that goes into making Kellogg’s® Frosted Mini-Wheats. She is a member of Kellogg’s® Origins™ Great Lakes Wheat Program and is one of 11 women (out of 1,000 nominees) to be honored as a White House Champion of Change.