Ohio farmer Melissa Burns proves women in ag are ‘tough as nails’

jaclyn krymowski


Melissa Burns spins adversity into a positive, giving her an edge in the CBS reality game show ‘Tough As Nails’ — and an edge in everyday life on the farm

It’s not everyday women in agriculture can have a representative to cheer for competing on a national platform. On the first season of CBS’ Tough As Nails, a reality games how featuring blue-collar workers and tradesmen, we were graced with just that in competitor Melissa Burns. The series debuted July 8.

Burns runs a small farm — “organized chaos” as she describes it — with her husband in central Ohio. They farm organic and conventionally grown corn, wheat, and soybeans, as well as make hay, raise hogs, lambs, and steers, and sell produce at the local farmers market.

“I’ve been involved with agriculture my whole life,” she says, noting she is a 4-H and FFA alum and has been an 4-H club advisor for nine years. “But I also tie in my health and fitness a lot more than average.”

Besides farming, Burns is passionate about fitness. As so many others have done, she naturally took to Instagram to share her expertise, but with a farm-centric twist. Her workouts would include things like hay bales and fence posts. As you’d expect, this unique account racked up a respectable following, which ultimately led to Phil Keoghan, Tough As Nails host and executive producer, shooting her a quick DM in late 2019.

“He really liked what he saw and messaged me to try out for the show in Cincinnati. Ron, my husband, and I went out there where I got up on stage and did the burpee challenge, which is the mental toughness challenge, for eight minutes,” she says. “I talked a little about myself, and he liked my personality, I guess.”

From there, Burns made the next cut and was sent to Los Angeles for four days to continue the tryouts. The show’s contestants are pitted in a variety of physical and skillful challenges, which test strength, endurance, and mental toughness for a chance to win a $200,000 prize and a Ford Super Duty pickup truck. In January, Burns got the call that she made the cut as a bonafide competitor.

Friends and family, along with untold numbers of agricultural women, tuned in to cheer as the first episode aired July 8.

While she was not the show’s individual winner, you can still watch her compete for her team Wednesday evenings on CBS.

Throughout it all, Burns’ positive attitude never failed her. In fact, she likens her game-show experience to the agrarian one.

“I said in a Facebook and Instagram post after that loss, my attitude never changed,” she says. “I didn’t throw in the towel; I never had a negative attitude. I think in ag we have good seasons and bad seasons, but we always need to keep going, and that’s what I want to portray to everybody.”

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When you have a bad yield with your crops do you just stop farming? When your hay gets wet due to rain, do you just stop bailing all together? When your truck/tractor has an issue do you just walk away and leave it parked? When you are in showmanship and your are so close to 1st but end up taking 2nd place do you just stop 🛑 showing ? NO! You dust yourself off, pick yourself up, and reevaluate the situation and make things happen! You improve! You research your seed, you make hay when it’s ready, you work on that truck/tractor to get it running, and you work and work with your animal so you are ready for next time to take home 1st! That’s the farming way! Lastnight I took a lose, however I picked myself up, stayed true to myself and will continue to work hard for my team and have the same attitude I have always had, a positive one ☺️. Tune in next Wednesday 8pmEST on CBS for another episode of Tough As Nails! Photo by: @usthemu Styled: @nancyfisher

A post shared by Melissa Burns👩🏻‍🌾💪🏼 (@farm_fit_wife) on

Another excellent opportunity that time on the show provided was a chance to inspire and promote other females in agriculture and related industries.

“I was never intimidated working with any of the guys, and honestly I worked a hell of a lot harder than most of the guys throwing around square bales. I showed up and I outworked 90 percent of them,” she says with a laugh. “Just because you’re a female doesn’t mean you can’t do what the guys do; just go in there and have a positive attitude.”

And it was that attitude that Burns says not only gave her an edge in the competition but is also an asset at home on the farm and in the world at large.

“Positivity is just so rare to come by these days, especially in the world with everything going on, not only did this show air at a perfect time, I just think it was great showcasing all the trades that people might not know or be familiar with,” she says. “It’s not only about the competitors, but also the jobs they represent. They educate everyone watching about all these trades that really make this country run. And hopefully, I represented everyone well.”


Jaclyn Krymowski is a graduate of The Ohio State University with a major in animal industries and minor in agriculture communications. She is an enthusiastic agvocate, professional freelance writer, and blogs at the-herdbook.com.

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