A Publication of WTVP

The times they are a changin’

by Anita Sharkey |

Farm-hers are taking their rightful place next to the guys in rural, food-growing America.

Growing up on the farm is an experience I’ll never take for granted.

I’ve learned about responsibility and work ethic and about extremely hard and joyous times. I watch the most beautiful sunset in the entire world and lie in the cold creek on a hot day. I’ve come to understand that rain can miss my dad’s field by just a quarter of a mile during a drought. And that chickens are vicious and will chase you and they must never be trusted. (Helpful tip when dealing with chickens: Bring a broom with you when you go get the mail, you’re gonna need it.)

Typically, women aren’t pictured as the head of the farm. This concept isn’t a negative one, it just simply isn’t the norm. I mean, take a look at my dad. My grandparents didn’t stop having kids until they got a boy (it took them five tries, if you were wondering.) But that was par for the course during that time.

It was not entirely expected for the woman growing up on the farm to end up playing a crucial role. However, in recent years this idea has shifted. Now I feel as though there is a place for me on the farm, whereas before it wasn’t discussed quite as much. If I come back to the farm, my role would be just as important as my brother’s roles.

Anita and Rob Sharkey
Rob and Anita Sharkey

To quote my dad, Rob Sharkey, “One of the biggest mistakes a multigenerational farm can make is crushing the dreams of the kids that are coming back. To say that you’re fifth, sixth, or seventh generation and to succeed, you need to do what I or your grandfather or great-grandfather did, that is not fair to the next generation.

“So if my daughter comes back to the farm and she wants to try something dumb, I’ll ask her if I can help. And if she fails, she will learn a better lesson than I could ever teach her. But if she succeeds, well then, that is what it’s all about.”

The narrative is changing and I couldn’t be more eager to see what the future holds for the agricultural community. I genuinely believe this idea stems from strong women paving their way in the ag community.

Over the past several years, we have seen a strong female presence emerging in a predominantly male field of work. It’s not to say that women should take over the profession entirely. But the acknowledgment of collaboration between farmers and farm-hers, if you will, is refreshing.

A woman’s role on the farm can range from running the auger cart or combine to handling livestock, from raising the kids to simply bringing a sack lunch when the combine driver gets hangry during harvest. These are things that have been done for years. All these tasks can define a strong woman on the farm.

All legacies don’t always lie in heavy labor or livestock farming; there are places for all sorts of jobs. Personally, I am passionate about the media side of what my family does on the farm. I have seen so many women using their unique ideas to share a message or inspire others.

Here are just a few lovely ladies that inspire me:

Bethany Edmond Storm and Danielle Dockery run a woman-owned and -operated tannery in Argyle, Wisconsin. Imagine what it would be like to create a product for yourself, only to find out a whole community wants to enjoy a soft sheepskin rug, as well. Driftless Tannery helped Bethany and Danielle share their creative idea with the world (Instagram: driftlesstannery).

Stephanie and Hayley Painter are multigenerational organic dairy farmers. These women have 200 cows that they milk twice daily. These ladies also make the most delicious Skyr Yogurt and are certified yoga instructors. Their goal is to create their spin on ag, wellness and the food industry (Instagram: painterlandsisters).

Chyenne Smith from Carmen, Idaho is a rancher who likes to connect people to agriculture and show that women can work side by side with men. She is opening doors one picture and conversation at a time (Instagram: jlazysangus).

Watching daughters, mothers, wives, aunts, sisters and grandmothers chase their dreams and share their journeys of being a female in the ag community is truly inspiring. Stories of women being resilient and powerful—being leaders—in the workplace continue to encourage and motivate me to find my place and be a productive member of the ag community.

Anita Sharkey

Anita Sharkey

is the daughter of Emily and Rob Sharkey, the dynamic duo behind “The Shark Farmer” broadcasting company and operators of a fifth-generation family farm in the Bradford area. Anita attends Illinois State University, where she is majoring in public relations while interning at WTVP PBS.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this column mistakenly referred to the author as Emily Sharkey.