There’s nothing better than being a farmer.
The excitement of planting the first row of corn on a cool, crisp spring morning. Feeling a sturdy stalk between your fingertips on a scorching summer day. The satisfaction of a successful harvest.
Sure, you have your worries. After all, running a farm isn’t easy.
For Janell and Brad Aust of Aust Farms in eastern Kansas, partnership is key to success. Together, they celebrate every victory, forge through every setback, and cherish every moment with family.
Their relationship, however, also reveals another meaningful but often overlooked facet of farming: The vital role of women in agriculture.
Telling the Story
Sometimes, an epiphany happens when you least expect it. For Lynn Huston, manager of marketing communications for John Deere Financial, it was at an agricultural conference in Kansas City.
“I was attending an event and Janell’s husband, Brad, was a panel participant. The moderator asked him a question, something to the effect of ‘who makes the decisions on your farm?’” Huston said. “Brad responded, ‘I do, but so does my wife.’ That’s when I decided it was time to begin spotlighting women in agriculture. I approached Janell, we talked, and she agreed to share her story with me.”
Huston pitched the idea to stakeholders and got the go-ahead to produce a series of videos featuring the Aust family.
It’s always challenging to do a project like this because farmers generally aren’t inclined to talk about themselves. Then you put women in the equation and we really don’t hear about their role at all. We wanted to get a glimpse into the everyday world of a farming operation from a woman’s point of view.”
Our Pillar of Strength
There’s an old saying: “Life is what happens when you’re busy making plans.”
When Janell Aust was a little girl, life, as they say, happened. Her beloved father passed away, leaving a mother and three children to pick up the pieces.
“My mother was very traditional in the sense of a farm wife you think of from the ‘50s and ‘60s. She was more in the homemaker role – very traditional, meals on the table, cooking, sewing, the whole nine yards,” Aust said. “When my father died, the way I handled that transition was, I remember, pretty tough. He was my role model. Our whole world changed. I remember questioning, will we be able to stay on the farm? What’s going to happen? It was a scary time for me.
Seeing my mom stay so strong and she assured us that we’re going to make it, we’re going to be okay, we’re going to move forward from here. She became in charge overnight of the farm, the row crops, and the cattle. She really became the decision maker. It must have been overwhelming at the time. She was our pillar of strength.”
The Evolution of Women in Agriculture
The story of Aust’s mother – who, by the way, spent 50 more years on the farm – serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of women in agriculture.
“Women have always been a force in agriculture, but often in the background. I’ve heard so many stories from women reminiscing about their mothers and grandmothers doing everything from cooking for 40 people to working the fields, driving grain to town, managing finances and more,” said Huston.
Aust’s young daughters are involved in 4-H and Future Farmers of America (FFA). She hopes they’ll choose a career in agriculture, too.
“They both know that if they want to, there’s an opportunity for one of them or both of them to come back. I really hope they end up doing something in ag,” Aust said. “You’re seeing more and more women in ag, in management positions, in the boardroom, there’s no limit. I’d tell my daughters that whether you want to be in production ag or some other facet of the ag industry, go for it. There are no limitations for being a woman.”
The Video Series
Huston created three videos with the Aust family.
“While we’re focusing on women in ag, we’re also sending the message that today’s farm families are alive and well,” said Huston. “Whether it’s a husband and wife team, brothers and sisters, or a woman on her own, there’s a common thread of pride, strong work ethic, and a deep connection to the land they love.
“I think it’s a hopeful message about the next generation of women becoming a major force in agriculture for the long run,” she added.