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The Milk House: Why we bought so much feed

Ryan Dennis Published on 31 October 2011

Her name was not Connie, but I’ll call her that. The company she worked for was not Cargill, but I’ll say it was. The first time I saw her was at our kitchen table, a red folder of pamphlets and fact sheets in front of her.

She wore jeans and a flannel shirt. She was blonde, and her hair was a little frizzy. She was neither glamorous nor unattractive.

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We would have various visitors on the farm in any given month, selling one thing or collecting for something else, but this nutritionist was different. She was a female. She brought her chair closer to my father and leaned in as she pointed out some figures on a data sheet.

My mother sat on the other side of her. My mother made a point of always being present when Connie Cargill came around.

It turned out the old boys’ club of local farming welcomed the new addition. Connie Cargill was a name the old farmers loved to throw around with the milkman and the cattle haulers. They kidded about her stopping by just to see them.

When Connie stopped, she laughed at their jokes which, considering how the other parts of their day were spent, probably was something to look forward to. She was more fun to look at than the other reps the company usually sent, and if they were going to be bothered by someone they might as well enjoy it.

The legend of Connie Cargill soon preceded her. It was understood that she sold a lot of feed.

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To those who don’t know any better, the role of women in agriculture is seen only in the context of farmers’ wives – either those who have aprons on while they bake bread, or those who can be found behind the shed castrating pigs. I may not be qualified to comment, but I know that the truth is beyond these fickle images.

Women on farms are more than just sources of support for their husbands, and they have continually proven to be just as capable and often more creative in their approaches. Pre-history origins of agriculture are accredited to women, as they were believed to be the first ones to identify growable crops as well as develop tools to carry it out, such as hoes, cultivators and early plows.

If it wasn’t for the contribution of women in agriculture, we might still be scuffing the field dirt with our boots.

Agriculture is an old-fashioned medium that often feels separate from mainstream society. That is why it surprises us when it crosses with contemporary inventions, like art, philosophy and, sometimes, sexuality.

They say Garth Brooks’ biggest contribution to his field was marketing. He arrived at a tired, conservative venue called country music that had seen only minor change in a generation and was considered anything but current.

Instead of compliance, he made it hip. He took what they were doing in other music genres and applied it to his own concerts, putting on an energizing and visually spectacular show that vaulted him into fame. It must have taken a confident woman to bring the same sizzle to farming.

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Connie Cargill is gone now. There were rumors that she got married and moved away, finding another job. She was replaced by a young man, fresh out of college, who quickly saw his client list dwindle.

She left behind proof that agriculture isn’t immune to the ways of modern marketing, as well as a lot of old farmers that ordered more feed than they actually needed. PD

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