Girl Power and Girl Bosses

11.2.18 Phillips County Vet
Veterinarian and owner of Black Dog Veterinary Services, Alissa Kirchhoff, stands in the home she has turned into an office in rural Phillips County.

I participate in a lot of tours. Normally I’m planning a tour for my boss or I’m hosting a tour on my farm for city folks. But today I sat back, relaxed and enjoyed touring Phillips County, Kansas, with a group of smart, caring and awesome ladies who simply want to make their businesses and communities better.

During the tour we had an opportunity to see four different ladies in action – at their place of work, showing us what they do and why they love living in rural America. We discussed policy implications, opportunities and financial concerns, but the conversation kept coming back to “what more can we do?” “how can we be more intentional with our resources?” and “how do we keep rural America alive and well?”

This tour wasn’t about women’s rights or women empowerment, but what I took away from it was how great these women bosses were and how important their work was to the future of their families and their communities.

The “woman” conversation has been ongoing for a while, sparked by the 2016 presidential election and fueled by the #MeToo movement, supreme court nominees and a general push toward a more modern form of feminism that aims to have a woman in every boardroom and parity in every state and federal elected body. However, I feel the conversation has largely been absent in much of rural America. We’ve all been listening – it’s hard to miss – but I haven’t seen many of my fellow farm wives and small town moms adding to the conversation.

Today I realized why, too many rural women are too busy running businesses, caring for kids, serving on boards and finding ways to uplift one another. The group of ladies assembled in small town Phillipsburg, Kan., today included a veterinarian, two nurses, a school teacher, a nursing home administrator and a sixth-generation farm wife running a large-scale hog operation. These women get sh** done and they do with style and grace (literally good style because of the super cute boutique in Phillipsburg Kan.). They spend their days earning paychecks, caring for kids, playing taxi and now and then taking the time to come together to fundraise for a school project, plan a community event or lend their expertise to an on-going issue.

These women aren’t looking to government to mandate they have a seat at the table, they’re making their own networks, finding their own opportunities and discovering new paths to success. And they do it with busy husbands, limited resources and an optimism that is contagious.

I believe too many women in America are having the wrong conversation, it shouldn’t be how can we, as women, make ourselves equal to men but rather how can women use our unique talents to grow businesses, enhance our communities and bring people together? The women of Phillips County are doing it and it makes me proud to call them friends.

Farm Raised

Evan is obsessed with cows so it only made sense that he dressed as a cow for Halloween this year.
Evan is obsessed with cows so it only made sense that he dressed as a cow for Halloween this year.

Former Kansas State University football standout and current Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson was recently profiled by Sports Illustrated. The reoccurring theme of the profile was Nelson’s farm upbringing. And Nelson admits, without the hard work and dedication he learned from the cattle and crops, he would not have made it to where he is today. (Read the entire article here: http://www.si.com/nfl/2014/12/05/jordy-nelson-green-bay-packers)

My husband is the third generation of the Sawyer family to farm in McPherson County. He knew from an early age that he wanted to farm for a living, so the hours, weeks and years accrued on the farm left an imprint on my husband – one he hopes to pass along to our son, Evan. He is who he is today because he grew up on a farm and involved in the agriculture world.

As a farm wife I know there are downsides to the farm life but I also know there are things my son will learn that cannot be replicated within the city limits. Here is my list:

1- Work Ethic: Banks, restaurants, grocery stores all have set hours. The work stops when the doors close. Farming does not. Not only does it often require 12-plus-hour days, but farmers that raise livestock must work 365 days a year – animals don’t take a day off. When the work is there, it must get done, regardless of the time of day or the day of the week. The time clock doesn’t exist on a farm.

2- Appreciation for the land: Kansas always get a bad rap for it’s flat landscape and lack of scenery. But the soils of Kansas are some of the most productive pieces of land in the country and world. My son may not realize it right now, but the land is and will be his most valuable asset – larger than any tractor, animal or piece of equipment. But as Derek and all farmers will tell you, you only get from the land what you put in. Evan will soon come to realize and appreciate the beauty in a wheat field and value of open, flat pastureland. We work daily to improve the land so it will continue to provide for our family.

3- Critical Thinking Skills: Most people would assume critical thinking skills are only needed in a board room or corner office. But being able to problem solve and assess situations is vital to making it in the farming world. When you are on the tractor there are no co-workers in adjoining cubicles to ask for advice or bosses to call with questions. A farmer must problem solve on the spot, find a way to get new parts to the field, a calf to the hour or a broken irrigation system functioning again. There are also the larger issues of analyzing practices to improve yields and testing feed to determine nutritional deficits. Rarely a day goes by that my husband doesn’t have to think on his feet and solve a new problem.

4- A Love of Family: My husband farms alongside his father. Family is what built our farm and family is what has kept it together. It’s never easy to work and live with the same people everyday but it is a valued part of owning a family farm and it’s something I hope my son will have the opportunity to experience. My husband works daily to not only put food on our table but to build a business for his child/children to return to someday. And he hopes to be still manning a tractor and working with cattle when the next generation takes over. My husband appreciates the wisdom and guidance his father provides and I know my son will think the same of his father.

5- A Stubborn Streak: As a mother, the idea of having a stubborn child is not something I look forward to. I have a stubborn husband, I don’t need a stubborn son. But I know it’s that stubborn streak that has allowed my husband to succeed and hold his own in an industry dominated by operators a generation older than him. Whether that’s holding a salesman’s feet to the fire or demanding an answer to an issue with his cattle, Derek’s inability to wave in the breeze means he stands for what he believes in and doesn’t back down easily. I hope that one day my son will inherit that same desire to stick with it and hold his own – I just hope he knows that his mother always gets the final say – and is always right!

6- A Love of Animals: One of my son’s first words was cow. Probably not the most common first word but it’s not surprising considering half of his wardrobe includes a cow and they reside outside our back door. From an early age, we took Evan to the farm to see and interact with the cows. The large, black, loud animals never scared my son. Today when we take him to the farm, he begs to get into the pasture with the cows for a friendly game of tag. Our farm dogs have taught him to not fear dogs – large or small – and our cats are oh so tolerant of his “petting”. If he’s not looking at a tractor or cow book, my son is flipping through pictures of animals. He knows their names and sounds and jumps at any opportunity to pet and meet a new animal – be it a goat, pig, bunny or chicken. Farmers understand and truly appreciate their animals – providing them with food, water and a safe habitat. Growing with the animals and helping during calving season will only strengthen that passion.