Quite literally, when Ram trucks debuted their famous Super Bowl commercial featuring Paul Harvey’s “So God Made a Farmer,” an entire segment of America stopped in their tracks. While others undoubtedly stopped what they were doing, the whole of rural, agriculturally-minded America stopped and watched that day. The imagery and the rhythmic sound of Harvey’s voice washed over viewers and left an impression. Marji Alaniz had just left her 11-year career in corporate agriculture and was one of the millions watching that day. Born and raised in Iowa and steeped in the days and ways of production agriculture, Alaniz noticed.
Days later, amid well-deserved, rave reviews of the ad, someone asked, “Yes, but where were the women?” The question hit Alaniz, and she knew they were right.
“It hit me like a ton of bricks,” she said, “I woke my husband up and said, ‘I know what I’m going to do now. I’m going to take pictures of women farmers.”
Alaniz visited and photographed her first farmer in April 2013, and FarmHer has now grown into a reputable project, viable business, social media presence, and will be a television show this fall. An appearance last year in Oprah Magazine introduced more women to the project who might not typically see agriculture-related features.
Alaniz began photographing farmers in Iowa and has gained momentum and traveled extensively to simply show people the strong and important role women play in agriculture.
“The thing that happened pretty quickly after I began taking pictures was the response from the women in agriculture,” Alaniz said.
The response, whether from those she had photographed, their peers, female family members, and other women who look at the photos and see a bit of themselves looking back, has been one of thanks.
“Thank you for recognizing the work that we do,” she said. “Thank you for showing people what we do and lending credibility. When you see your everyday role shown as strong and important, you look at yourself a little bit differently.”
Many women in agriculture tend to minimize their role, Alaniz explained. Without the jobs women are responsible for on the farm and ranch, be it management, doing the marketing, or occasionally hauling a trailer-load of cows, the operation wouldn’t run as smoothly without her.
“I hear women all the time say, ‘I just do the books,’ or whatever. And I think, I bet that’s not all you do,” she said. “FarmHer is for those women. It’s theirs. If (they) could see themselves through the eyes of these other women, (they) play a really important role.”
To see a stunning photo of themselves doing everyday things is overwhelming for many of the women featured. Since Alaniz can’t photograph every woman in agriculture, each photo must represent many women who have similar lives and whose everydays look similar.
Alaniz hopes to soon visit farmers on the coasts to expand the collection of photos.
In hopes of engaging young women in agriculture, Alaniz began a program launched in Iowa called FarmHer Grow.
“The goal initially was to engage young women who are still trying to figure out how they will be involved in agriculture,” she said. “We’re connecting them with women already in agriculture in hopes of inspiring and empowering them.”
Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania will be home to FarmHer Grow events during the 2016-17 school year. It is Alaniz’s hope that the event will be able to use the images she has captured to inspire young women to do whatever they wish in the vast field of agriculture.
In addition to the Grow events, FarmHer the television show will give even more people the chance to see the strength and beauty of women in agriculture.
“The goal of the show is the same as FarmHer, to shine a light on the women in agriculture,” she said. “With the TV show, we’re able to tell their stories in a much grander way using still photos and video. It’s exciting that 50 million viewers will get to meet these women and see their stories.”
FarmHer will be taking to the airwaves through a television show debuting on RFD-TV. The show will premiere Sept. 9 and can be seen each Friday at 9:30 p.m. Eastern.