Three hardworking agricultural women — Aubrey Fletcher, Leah Joy Johnson, and Marlene Williams — were featured recently in CarbonTV’s “Women Who Farm” online special (shown below). In an exclusive interview with AGDAILY, Fletcher talks about her life as a Missouri dairy farmer and the path she took to get here.
Fletcher attended Missouri State University where she earned a degree in agricultural communications and a minor in animal sciences. Along with her husband, they decided to continue in the agriculture field together. Their family owns and operates Edgewood Dairy and Edgewood Creamery located in the town of Purdy in southwest Missouri. She is also an artisan cheese enthusiast.
“Being on the farm and being a woman who farms — it is hard work,” Fletcher said. “But the outcome is fantastic. It is a great life.”
AGDAILY: After having grown up on a dairy farm, was it a difficult decision to choose this life for yourself?
FLETCHER: Yes and no. I knew I would be involved in the dairy industry one way or another, but I didn’t know I would be marrying into a dairy farming family. I didn’t specifically choose to be a dairy farmer, but I was definitely open to living the dairy lifestyle again.
AGDAILY: What makes you excited to wake up every morning and be a farmer?
FLETCHER: My favorite aspect of being a dairy farmer and a dairy farmer’s wife is knowing that others depend on us. Our milk not only supplies our family but families in our community, our region, and the four-state area. Our family is unique, because along with producing the milk from our farm, we also manufacture our milk by bottling and making cheeses on site. Our creamery allows us to have a personal relationship with our customers, which I absolutely love!
AGDAILY: What do you notice about being a woman in agriculture that’s different from your male counterparts?
FLETCHER: In this day and age, so many women are involved with a variety of facets in agriculture. Many of these women have paved the way for women like me who want to continue in the agriculture field. In my area, I have found that males are quite receptive of the knowledge females have of agriculture, and respect them as equals.
AGDAILY: Do you think farmers take more pride in what they do than an average person does at work?
FLETCHER: Not necessarily, but I do think farmers take great care in their livelihoods. Personally on our farm, if we do not do the best job that we can possibly do, our business suffers. At all times it is required to be at the top of our game, and I feel as a farmer, it comes naturally because everything depends on your operation being successful. Being a farmer, you don’t drive home from your job and leave it behind you. Separating work from home and home from work is not really possible. Cows don’t follow a 9-5-work day. As a dairy farming family we take great pride in the life we live day in and day out.
AGDAILY: When you step back and look at what a vital source of food your farm is for so many people, what goes through your mind?
FLETCHER: It is truly an awe-inspiring thought. I am amazed that our 310 cows help feed thousands of families. When you look at the big picture, our milk is going into so many food ingredients that families consume every day. It all starts with early morning milkings and ends on your table.
AGDAILY: You’re very active on Instagram and Twitter. How do you incorporate social media into promoting your operation and telling the story of being a farmer?
FLETCHER: I state the facts. I explain to people what we do, how we do it and why we do it. The average consumer has a huge misunderstanding about agriculture in general. I feel that social media is a great tool to be able to help people understand about the daily practices of getting food to their table. I love getting questions from people about how the dairy industry works, I love being able to help them better understand agriculture.
AGDAILY: What’s been the most intriguing innovation that you’ve incorporated into your operation?
FLETCHER: The dairy has been located in Purdy, Missouri, since 2001, but our newest innovation has been Edgewood Creamery. In August of 2015, we opened the doors to our creamery. Our first year has been exciting and eventful. We have learned so many things about being on the other side of the dairy industry. When you are a value-added producer on a smaller scale, you find out quickly why other farmers don’t pursue it. There are many regulations, huge costs, and quite frankly it is a huge risk, but it is rewarding. My favorite piece about the creamery is getting to have one-on-one conversations with consumers. I love their feedback and how responsive and interested they are to learn about all that goes on at the farm and creamery.
AGDAILY: You talked in CarbonTV’s “Women Who Farm” video about wanting your daughter to grow up and be involved in agriculture. How do parents best encourage the next generation to be standard-bearers for ag?
FLETCHER: Regardless of what my daughter chooses as a career path, I will be immensely proud of her. My only hope is that she remembers her roots. I pray and hope she remembers the values and responsibilities of growing up on the farm. I pray that she learns what we teach her about life and that she can help influence those around her that may not understand agriculture. The best way that we can encourage our children is by setting a good example.
AGDAILY: What’s the most common question you get from people meeting you for the first time?
FLETCHER: You’re a dairy farmer? Really? It is quite comical to see people’s reaction to our family’s occupation. I guess I don’t fit the stereotypical view of a dairy farmer, and that is something I am trying to help change. I want people to understand that agriculturalists have many faces. There is more to a farmer than overalls and straw hats. We are complex people, and we often have other interests besides farming. Gasp! My hobbies include antiquing, crafting, and jeeping!
AGDAILY: You were featured in the “Women Who Farm” video along with Leah Joy Johnson and Marlene Williams. Do you see yourself as a role model for other females who are interested in farming?
FLETCHER: Currently, at the age of 24, I see other ladies as more of a role model to me. I look up to other women who have been in the industry and have much more experience than I do. But, I also feel I am a role model to the young people involved in FFA and 4-H. I am able to show them there are more options available to young people interested in the agriculture industry. In the wise words of my FFA advisor, Lyle Whittaker, “Agriculture isn’t all sows, cows, and plows.”
AGDAILY: What’s your advice for anyone who wants to get into farming?
FLETCHER: My advice for someone interested in farming is to keep your mind open. Growing up on a dairy farm, I knew I wanted to be involved in the dairy industry somehow, but as I grew older I realized agriculture has so many valuable outlets that could have been a possibility for me. But as God would have it planned, I married a dairy farmer.