It’s often said, “Behind every American farm family is the backbone of the operation: The Farm Mom.”
But it’s a title that is often not recognized professionally beyond the farm gate.
“I definitely think farm moms need to be recognized because what we do is a lot of times just second nature. We kind of just pick up and go and take care of things that need to be taken care of,” said Katie Heger. “A lot of people that are not accustomed to working and living on a farm or an agricultural lifestyle, don’t understand we don’t work 9 to 5 within our businesses and families. We have to flex and run whole different kind of routines and schedules.”
Heger, a 2016 Northwest Regional Winner in Monsanto’s America’s Farmers Mom of the Year, is a true testament to that.
Raised as a city girl in suburban Minneapolis, Heger moved to rural Underwood, North Dakota, (population 775) when she married her husband, Steven, and settled down on their third-generation family farm, growing corn, soybeans, and wheat. While her professional career began as an elementary teacher, later moving into administration and then to North Dakota’s Department of Public Instruction, Heger transitioned to full-time mom and partner on their 8,000-acre family farm several years ago. Her day to day now involves a lot of the accounting and office work, running parts, driving semi during harvest, and generally making sure her family’s chaos is at a minimum.
From helping her five children raise 4-H animals and teaching them business skills as they sell GMO sweet corn at a roadside stand, to volunteering locally with the North Dakota Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee and engaging with consumers through CommonGround, Heger has embraced the title of farm mom.
After Steven was diagnosed with leukemia in 2014, Heger became the family’s rock in addition to farm mom — anchoring them through daily drives for treatment in Bismarck (55 miles), long hospital stays, and trips to Mayo Clinic.
On a recent blog post, Heger said, “A woman’s work on the farm truly is never done, but it is always an adventure. I can be sure that no two days will look alike. For me the day begins with a cup of coffee and hitting the ground running, but ends with reflection and a cup of tea. I am so grateful for how each of my roles keeps me involved, busy, challenged and active in our family, farm and community, and I wouldn’t trade my ag adventure.”
Heger joins 44 other exceptional women who have been selected by the American AgriWomen as regional winners in the America’s Farmers Mom competition since it first began in 2010. Nominated by family members, friends, and ag organizations through a 300 word or less essay, the competition celebrates women who are often not recognized for the significant part they play in their agricultural community.
“This program started eight years ago as a way to celebrate women in agriculture and all of the contributions they have made,” said Tracy Mueller, Marketing Communications Manager for Monsanto. “Their role is evolving from what it used to be and so this is all about recognizing them.”
That recognition includes $3,000 for their own personal use and $2,000 to donate to their local non-profit. After the regional winners have been selected, the public votes online for a national winner who then receives an additional $2,000 to donate to the same non-profit or a different one of their choice.
For Heger, just being nominated was a complete shock. Her nominations came individually from her husband as well as her five kids. In addition, some good friends, representatives from the local coal mine, and agronomy dealers had written essays all hailing Heger’s success as a farm mom.
“I guess I didn’t realize there was an impression made on a wide variety of people, which was very humbling and kind of reflected back on the importance that I put on building relationships with people not just within in our family and our farm, but within our community too,” Heger said.
Heger said it has truly been an honor to receive that recognition. It has provided an opportunity to connect with others at the state and national level and to be a face of farming to help tell the story behind today’s modern agriculture.
She also gained four other farm mom friends in 2016.
“I say it’s kind of like a sisterhood. We are all from different farming and ranching backgrounds within the five of us and we all have families. Sometimes we will throw out a question here or a question there or we will see a social media post and we get excited for each other with their new accomplishments, or if there is a grandbaby or a 4-H livestock showing where we are just as excited for them as their own immediate family might be,” Heger said. “Building those connections and kind of branding out in friendship in a whole new realm is great part of this program.”
While the 2017 competition has already come to a close, this Mother’s Day is a great opportunity to reflect on a farm mom to nominate next March.
“We know that there are lots of high quality farm moms that definitely need the same recognition we were fortunate to receive,” Heger said. “It’s important to nominate those farm moms that are unrecognized for all the things they do — so we can draw more attention and let people know that it is not just the farmer or rancher, but it is a whole family approach to farming and ranching today in 2017.”