Shining the spotlight on FarmHers

by Enrico Villamaino

The contributions of anyone who works the land for the benefit of any society or civilization cannot be overstated. Their efforts make virtually all other pursuits possible. Mothers, sisters and daughters alike have always shared in the toils and challenges that farm life continuously presents.

The stories of these hardworking women, however, have not always been recognized. This becomes even more of a disservice as the number of woman-led farms in the United States has tripled in the past four decades. For Marji Guyler-Alaniz, this served as the motivation to start a media-based mission to bring women in farming the attention they’ve long deserved.

She was born and raised in Iowa where, according to the latest state agricultural census, 8 percent of all farms are led by women. Guyler-Alaniz is quick to point out that while her parents were not farmers, her grandparents were. “Growing up, we were always surrounded by cows. They weren’t ours, but they were always there!”

After studying graphic design, journalism and photography at Grand View College in Des Moines, she began her career. Working in agriculture wasn’t necessarily planned, but it’s where she got her start. “I worked at a crop insurance company,” she explained. “I spent 11 years climbing the corporate ladder, picking up an MBA from Drake University, also in Des Moines, along the way.”

While she enjoyed a successful career, Guyler-Alaniz said she simply hit a point where she needed to make a drastic change in her life. “It was 2013, and while I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, I knew I wanted to do something different. I left my job on February 1, 2013, and gave myself six months to figure out what I was going to do next.”

The six months was unnecessary. She really only needed two days.

“I was watching the Super Bowl, and during the commercials I saw an ad for Dodge Ram trucks that was a tribute to the American farmer. It was narrated by Paul Harvey, and it had these black and white and color images of farmers nationwide, and it was just beautiful. I knew I wanted to do something like that,” she said.

While giving that ad a second look, something struck her. “There were virtually no women in it. Where were the women?”

This was the genesis of Guyler-Alaniz’s “FarmHer,” a project originally based in photography to call attention to the stories of the women who for so long have been the unsung heroes of farming. “I originally intended to choose seven or eight women,” she explained. “It quickly became a much larger project.”

The project expanded by leaps and bounds. In 2015, FarmHer began hosting events to bring more interested young women into the fold. “Grow by FarmHer” events are held throughout the United States to “inform, engage and encourage young women” in pursuing their farming passions.

That same year, Guyler-Alaniz was approached by RFD-TV. The channel features programming devoted to rural issues, concerns and interests. Executives at RFD-TV had seen a segment on Iowa Public Television detailing her photography project. She was asked to transform her photography project into a television series. Each season consists of about 26 half-hour episodes, the program is now airing its third season, and is currently filming its fourth. Guyler-Alaniz said, “We’re now in 53 million homes across America.”

More documentary tribute than reality show, she explained the television series format allows her to describe the lives of these extraordinary women in greater detail. “There are amazing stories…from a woman who decided to keep up the family farm for over 20 years after her husband passed…to women who are jumping into this as young women.” The program currently airs on Fridays and Sundays at 9:30 p.m. EST.

The episodes are as unique and varied as the women she interviews and the farming pursuits they specialize in. Amongst many others, Guyler-Alaniz has cast a spotlight on such diverse subjects as Jenni Tilton-Flood, operator of the largest dairy farm in Maine (Flood Brothers Farm), producing 17,000 gallons of milk a day; Gale Ferranto, president of Buona Foods, whose Bella Farm is a leading producer of mushrooms in Pennsylvania; and Iowa’s Jennie Smith, whose Butcher Crick Farms specializes in producing a multitude of heirloom tomatoes at the same time she travels the world as a sales manager, helping large growers find solutions to their pest and plant problems.

And FarmHer has kept growing. In January 2018, Guyler-Alaniz started her broadcast “Shining Bright by FarmHer” on Sirius XM Radio Channel 147. These hour-long segments are recorded on location from coast to coast. “I just got back from California!” she said during this interview. The hour-long program currently airs on Thursdays at 8 p.m. and on Saturdays at noon EST.

As FarmHer’s media presence has grown, so has Guyler-Alaniz’s staff. “We now have a team of seven running FarmHer,” she touted, “and we seem to keep on growing.” The profound success of the FarmHer brand has made her an in demand speaker at a number of gatherings and conventions. Her next appearance as a guest speaker will be at the annual Women in Agriculture Conference, March 21 and 22 in Alexandria, LA. “I’ve been given an hour to speak, and I’ll choose four or five of the really inspiring women I’ve had a chance to meet and interview and share their stories,” she said.

For more information, visit www.farmher.com.

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