Women in Agriculture: Taking a seat at the table with confidence

Women Shaping Agriculture is an initiative in which Michigan State University Extension educators host conversational interviews that enable women to share their experiences and perspectives about their diverse roles in Michigan agriculture.

Women Shaping Agriculture hosted an online forum on March 31, 2021 in honor of International Women’s History Month, titled “Women in Agriculture: Taking a seat at the table with confidence.” The event, co-sponsored by GreenStone Farm Credit Services, featured Nichole Wilcox of GreenStone Farm Credit Services as the keynote speaker and a panel of three prominent women in Michigan agriculture, including Laura Braun, Jennifer Lewis, and Amy Martin. The event was organized by MSU Extension staff members, Florencia Colella, Mary Dunckel, Melissa McKendree, and Amber Echlin of GreenStone Farm Credit Services.

In Nichole Wilcox’s keynote address, she gave multiple calls to action including, “Females tend to underestimate themselves. Don’t wait until you feel competent to start putting yourself out there. The courage comes from taking risks and changing your behavior first and then just allowing that confidence to build over time.”

Nichole’s tips for taking a seat at the table with confidence were (1) overcome internal barriers; (2) take risks; (3) find a mentor and (4) build on your strengths. Additionally, she gave advice on working as equal partners to speak up, be a credible source, handle conflict, and accept feedback. Her parting advice was, “Don’t let the perception of a male dominated industry affect your potential for success or bring down your confidence... always speak up and engage with confidence.”

The panelists, Amy, Jennifer, and Laura gave heartfelt, and transparent answers about their experiences as women in agriculture and shared challenges they have overcome. Throughout their responses they gave great advice. The closing question from the moderator was, “When asked to share one piece of advice that you would give your 20-year-old self, how would you respond?” “No matter what you do, whether you remain in agriculture or you come to it as a city girl, you have everything you need within yourself,” said Laura. Amy’s advice was, “Just be yourself. Do what you do and be happy.” Jennifer shared, “I would definitely say set goals. It doesn’t matter if you are 20 or 50, you should be looking down the road.”

You can find the recording of the event here with subtitles in both English and Spanish. For information about the Women Shaping Agriculture initiative, please contact Florencia Colella (colellaf@msu.edu), Mary Dunckel (dunckelm@msu.edu) or Melissa McKendree (mckend14@msu.edu).

Below are short biographies about our speakers.

Nichole Wilcox

Nichole Wilcox brings 15 years of experience working in the agricultural finance field with GreenStone Farm Credit Services. She is currently the Vice President-Commercial Lending, where she works with some of Michigan’s largest food and agricultural operations. In 2019, Nichole was appointed to the Farm Produce Insurance Authority Board of Directors by Governor Whitmer where she represents the interest of agricultural lenders in Michigan. Nichole is also a board of director of the nonprofit West Central Michigan Horticultural Research Inc.; a research and extension center located in Hart, focusing on collaborative research for tree fruit and asparagus in the region. Originally from Parkville, Missouri, Nichole grew up around her family’s crop and livestock farm. Today, she and her husband, Keith, and their three children live in Portland. In addition to their full-time careers, Keith and Nichole own and operate a hobby row crop operation in Sunfield.

Laura Braun

Laura is a cash crop farmer who lives in Ovid Township, Clinton County. In partnership with her husband, Russell, and son, Andrew, Laura raises corn, soybeans and wheat on 950 acres in Clinton and Shiawassee Counties. Their business also provides custom planting, harvesting, trucking, and a dealership outlet for Stine Seed. She is currently serving on the GreenStone Farm Credit Services Board of Directors as the Legislative/Public Policy Committee chair. Additionally, Laura chairs the AgriBank District Farm Credit Council; serves on the Executive Committee of the Farm Credit Council; and is on the Clinton County Farm Bureau Board of Directors.

Jennifer Lewis

Jennifer farms with her husband, Bruce, in Jonesville on a dairy and cash crop farm. They also raise beef to sell through their farm store along with dairy products, pork and gift items. Jennifer serves on the Michigan Farm Bureau Board of Directors representing five counties in south central Michigan. She is also Treasurer for the local 4-H Council and the Hillsdale County Dairy Promoters.

Amy Martin

Amy is the owner of Gingrich Meadows Inc. in Leroy located in Osceola County. She attended the MSU Dairy Technology program from 1987-89 and then returned to the family farm as herd manager. In 2006, Amy and her brother purchased the farm from their parents. Over the years they have grown to 500 milk cows and 1700 acres of corn and alfalfa. A year ago, her brother left the farm so she is now sole owner. Her husband has an off farm job and together they have two sons. Both sons have graduated from MSU and are helping to run the farm with eventual intentions of ownership.

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