Current Progressive Dairy digital edition
Advertisement

FarmHer: Updating the image of farming one picture at a time

Progressive Dairyman Editor Jenna Hurty Published on 24 November 2015
Inga Witscher

Dodge wowed the nation two-and-a-half years ago with its Super Bowl commercial “So God made a farmer.” While many producers appreciated the recognition for the hard work and dedication they put into their profession, this salute to American agriculture showed only a few female producers.

This realization caused Marji Guyler-Alaniz to start FarmHer Inc., a photography project highlighting women in agriculture.

advertisement

advertisement

To date, Guyler-Alaniz, a photographer from Iowa, has photographed more than 90 women in agriculture. Some, like dairywoman Gloria Nuttelman, are mothers and grandmothers farming alongside their husband, children and grandchildren. Others, like Inga Witscher, own their own dairy operation.

Inga Witscher
St. Isidore’s Mead
Osseo, Wisconsin

Between moving coast to coast, owning her own dairy operation and hosting a television show, Inga Witscher doesn’t exactly fit into the mold of your typical, fourth-generation dairywoman. In fact, prior to starting her own dairy farm, she said she never even wanted to be a dairy farmer.

Witscher grew up on her family’s 80-cow Holstein dairy farm in Washington before they sold it in the 1990s and moved to Wisconsin, then Virginia, then back to Wisconsin. At that point, Witscher’s parents bought a 30-acre hobby farm, which hadn’t been farmed in 20 years, and offered her the opportunity to farm it rent-free.

Intrigued by their proposal, Witscher decided to see how it would work out. Much to her surprise, the bank gave her a loan. Since she was a woman, she was considered a “socially disadvantaged person,” and they had a quota to fill. With that loan, she bought a herd of milking shorthorns in fall 2006.

advertisement

Having grown up on a dairy, Witscher was used to being around cows. However, as the youngest child and only girl, she spent most of her time riding around in the tractor with her grandfather and hanging out in the milking parlor with her father.

Now that she had her own dairy, she quickly realized that her memories of the dairy farm and her current situation were two very different things. Her father was thankfully there to help her and teach her about the industry.

Witscher became certified organic in 2007, which enabled her to make a little more money off of the land she farmed. However, three or four years after starting her dairy, Witscher decided she was tired of being a dairy farmer. Tired of being so secluded on the farm, she sold her cows – only to immediately regret her mistake.

Gloria Nuttelman“About 24 hours after the cows were off the farm, I said, ‘Oh, well that was the biggest mistake I’ve ever made in my life’ and went out and bought a herd of Jerseys,” Witscher says.

During the drought in 2012, she downsized due to feed prices since she buys all of her feed when the cows are unable to graze. Today, she milks 11 Jersey cows in a 1950s-style tiestall barn. During grazing season, the cows only come in for milking twice a day.

A little after this, Witscher started Around the Farm Table. This television show, produced by Wisconsin Public Television, airs throughout the Midwest. In this series, she takes viewers to her dairy and the farms around her and discusses what they do, how they do it and why. It’s her way of sharing with consumers the real story of dairy.

advertisement

Today, she laughs as she recalls her first day dairying – “the worst day of her life” – where it took her and her father eight hours to get the cows in from the pasture and milked. She also remembers a day the following spring when her neighbor insisted on teaching her how to pull a calf instead of doing it for her.

“It was kind of amazing being in that situation because I’ve never done this before, and I’ve watched it done a million times,” Witscher says. “At the time I was really upset that he wouldn’t do it for me because I was really scared that I would hurt the cow or the calf, but now I’m so glad he taught me how to do that.”

She says that aspect of farming has been amazing. Everyone around her, especially her father, has been happy to teach her or offer her advice when she needed it, which is something she is extremely thankful for.

Witscher says dairying was the part of her that had been missing for so long. It has its fair share of challenges and struggles, but if she wasn’t working on a dairy she “might as well die. This is my heart and soul. It’s who I am as a person.”

Gloria Nuttelman
Nuttelman Dairy
Stromsburg, Nebraska

Bookkeeper, dairywoman, mother, grandmother – and bus driver? They say the dairyman wears a number of hats, but at Nuttelman Dairy, that stereotype isn’t limited to the men of the operation. Gloria Nuttelman not only handles the dairy’s books, payroll and whatever else needs to be done on the dairy, she’s also been driving a school bus for the past 35 years.

“I was enrolling my oldest son into kindergarten in 1980,” Nuttelman says. “I walked into the office and I was talking to them about Jason starting school, and the superintendent says, ‘Are you coming to the meeting next week?’ I said, ‘What meeting?’ He says, ‘The bus meeting.’ I said, ‘Well, no. I don’t do that.’ He says, ‘Well, I need a bus driver, and I think you need to be there.’ I said, ‘No, I can’t do that.’ He says, ‘I’ll see you at the meeting.’ And that’s how it started in 1980. I’ve been doing this for 35 years. It’s been a joy. Now I pick up grandkids, so it’s quite a change, but I thoroughly enjoy it.”

gloria nuttleman and grand daughterToday, Nuttelman and her husband, Doug, operate their dairy and feedlot operation alongside their three sons. Two of their sons’ wives also work on the dairy while their youngest son’s wife works off the farm at her family’s business.

They currently milk 260 to 275 head and are looking to expand to 600 head next year. In addition, they own their own feedyard where they raise the dairy’s bull calves to 1,500 pounds.

When their sons were younger, she and Doug taught them the importance of hard work, the challenges life can bring and the joys of farming. These are the same lessons their six grandchildren are learning every day as they too grow up and do chores on the family farm.

Over the years, Nuttelman’s biggest lesson is patience, a lesson she is now teaching her granddaughters.

“Life changes on a dime,” Nuttelman says. “It isn’t always going to be the same thing. You have to be flexible. You have to be patient. You have to be understanding and just kind of roll with the flow and know that it all works out in the end. You have to ask the Lord to give you strength to get through the day. That’s the only thing that makes you keep going; you have to ask for that strength.”

FarmHer

Today, FarmHer is no longer just a photo gallery of women like Nuttelman and Witscher on the FarmHer website. After Guyler-Alaniz had a number of women tell her they wanted more from this project, she added an online community where women in agriculture can connect, form groups and talk in a private space.

Guyler-Alaniz says the experience has “been eye-opening to me to see the variety of agriculture and see that it’s not one-size-fits-all.” Looking forward, she says she plans to continue expanding her photo gallery geographically and open up more opportunities for women in agriculture.

“My hope is that by shining the light on these women and including them in that image, then people will take them more seriously,” Guyler-Alaniz says.

“More resources will be directed toward them. More programs will be available to them. Just bringing awareness that these women are out there, and they’re working hard, and they are an active part of agriculture is really the root of it.”  PD

PHOTO 1: Witscher says that if she wasn’t working on a dairy she “might as well die. This is my heart and soul. It’s who I am as a person.”

PHOTO 2: Feeding the calves is Nuttelman’s favorite part. She says she loves teaching them how to drink from a bottle.

PHOTO 3: Nuttelman says she didn’t realize Guyler-Alaniz took this picture of her and her granddaughter Kenzie until later, but she loves how it turned out. Photos by Marji Guyler-Alaniz.

Jenna Hurty
  • Jenna Hurty

  • Editor
  • Progressive Dairyman
  • Email Jenna Hurty

LATEST BLOG

LATEST NEWS