by Enrico Villamaino

The annual meeting of the American Farm Bureau Women (AFBW) organization was held at the annual American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) convention on Jan. 8 in Atlanta. The AFBW’s Leadership program provides women with development opportunities to “sharpen their skills and strengthen their ability to inspire change.”

Duvall and AFBW applaud work of women farmers

Larissa Martinez co-founded the Women’s Public Leadership Network, which strives to aid women seeking public office, in 2019. Photo by Enrico Villamaino

The meeting was opened by AFBW Vice Chair Lorenda Overman, who said it was “a genuine pleasure to be here in person, and not virtually.” The 2021 AFBF took place remotely due to the pandemic.

The meeting was divided into two parts: the first to serve as the group’s business meeting, and the second to feature a presentation of guest speakers.

Marietta Hauser, Lou Nave, Lisa Wherry and Shawn Wood were all re-elected as representatives to the AFBW from the body’s Midwest, Southern, Northeast and Western regions, respectively. Each region is allotted two representatives, holding two-year staggered terms. Hauser, Nave, Wherry and Wood will rejoin fellow representatives Vickie Bryant (Southern), Jennifer Cross (Northeast), Margaret Gladden (Midwest) and Dotty Jensen (Western) as they start the second half of their own terms.

AFBF President Zippy Duvall addressed those in attendance in what was his first speech of the convention. He praised the work ethic and effectiveness of the membership’s women.

“When I was a boy and the local farmers wanted to get stuff done, they would give it to my mama, because they knew it would get done. Women get things done here,” Duvall declared. “Women are leaders – not good leaders, but great leaders!” He emphasized that one of his duties as president of the AFBF was to help provide the women of his organization with the tools they need to become effective leaders in agriculture. He pleaded with those present, “Don’t underestimate your power to influence and change the course of our business!”

He also stated that his relationship with Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack is strong. “Whenever I text [Vilsack], he always texts me back right away, because he knows that through this organization, he’ll find out what the people of the land really need.”

Larissa Martinez, co-founder and president of the Women’s Public Leadership Network, served as the event’s keynote speaker. Her organization focuses on educating and organizing on behalf of women entering public office nationwide.

Martinez credited the agricultural community with helping to shape her own career. “I have a soft spot for the ag industry,” she said. “My former boss was a rancher, and I learned quickly that you do feed the country, and you do feed the world with what you do.” She previously worked as deputy campaign manager and later as a staffer for U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Nebraska).

Martinez underscored the importance of bringing different points of view to deliberative bodies, and how women, by working hand in hand with men, do just that. She highlighted the belief that women should not focus solely on what are largely seen as women’s issues. “Every issue is a women’s issue… People drafting policies have only their own lens to look through. Women tend to underestimate their own value, but they have a unique, valuable perspective,” she stated.

She closed out her remarks with a look toward the future. Quick to applaud Duvall for his work as head of the AFBF, she added, “I hope the next American Farm Bureau president is a woman!”

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