Programs for Women in Ag Show How Roles Have Evolved

Like myself, a woman in agriculture, can be a tough, roller-coaster of emotions, uninspiring task; however, at the end of the day, rewarding. Woman working in the agriculture industry take on a endless amounts of pressure day after day. But why? Because all that most of us have ever known was that ‘Dad does it.’ But let me tell you, times are changing and boy are they changing quickly. Even though living off the ground is all Melody has ever known, she too has seen struggles. Read below to see what Melody says…


“Melody Bro is a “farm wife,” a woman who has raised a family while working and living on the land.

That makes her much the same as generations of women on the farm. Except, of course, the role of the farm wife is ever-changing.

“I don’t really think about it,” Bro says. “I was born first generation off the farm and then I ended up marrying a farmer.”

But, she recognizes the differences.

“Chores at the barn are mine twice per day,” she says “And I’ve done more than my share of working with the cattle through the years. Talk about a change in generations! Those are jobs Mark’s mom never helped with, along with driving a tractor.

“It was interesting when we were first married. Mark’s dad had never dreamed of having a female do a lot of the work I did. ‘Yes, dad, I can drive a tractor.’”

Today she laughs about those changes. And while every situation and every family is different, she says women and men on the farm are partners.

It’s a dynamic she sees in her off-farm work. After 21 years working in conservation jobs, she recently joined the staff of the Women, Food and Agriculture Network (WFAN), coordinating the Women, Land and Legacy Program.

She gets the chance to work with local organizers and women of different ages and generations as they learn more about agriculture and related issues, such as estate planning and farm programs.

Some of those women are the farmers in the family. Others are farm wives or, in some cases, widows who want to learn more. A few are new farmers working in various niche markets. There is no one category that describes them all.

That variety doesn’t surprise Angie Carter, a Ph.D. student in sociology at Iowa State University who says the role of farm wives, like those of their husbands, is ever changing.

“I think with the industrializing of the farm, it has changed the labor demands,” she says.

That change in agriculture labor requirements has combined with changes in the roles of women in society to affect farm families.

Of course, the role of the farm wife was never etched in stone. Historically, many farm wives were not involved at all in the business of the farm. For those women, the job was raising their children and providing a good home and cooking.

But, many farm women were very involved in the farm business — though often they didn’t get credit for that involvement, according to Jenny Barker-Devine, an associate professor of history at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Ill.

“In the 1930s, women were doing all kinds of interesting things,” she explains, pointing to an industry survey in 1938 that said as much as 40 to 50 percent of the cash income of the farm came from women. “Almost all of that work went unrecognized.”

In that era, many women took care of the chickens and the egg production. They also often tended large gardens. Those gardens provided much of the food for the family. The chickens provided eggs and meat both for the family and to provide cash flow year-round.

And, it is no secret that on many farms, women have done the books, Barker-Devine says.

Women have been active helpers on many farms for generations, but their role is more often appreciated today, she says. More men and women work off the farm today, providing income and benefits that allow the farm to stay in operation.

For Bro, an Iowa State University agronomy graduate who has worked with her husband to raise four children on the farm, there was never any doubt that she was a hands-on partner.

“I still try to pull that city girl excuse once in a while (in an effort to get out of doing some unsavory task),” she says with a laugh. “But it doesn’t work.””