Wyoming Agri-Women provide united voice for agricultureWritten by Melissa Hemken
Pinedale – The founding meeting of Wyoming Agri-Women was held at the Sublette County Library in Pinedale on April 16.
Wyoming Agri-Women is a member of American Agri-Women, a national coalition of farm, ranch, and agri-business women’s organizations. Their vision is to be a force for truth and a reasoned, non-partisan voice for the agricultural community to the public.
“As a rancher, I didn’t really take time to become involved with ag issues,” remembers Karen Yost, First Vice President of American Agri-Women (AAW), “Then I attended a conference on issues affecting Montana ranchers that really opened my eyes. There was a meeting right after the conference for the Montana Agri-Women, I joined and have not regretted it since.”
Yost is a rancher and co-owner of NutraLix from Billings, Mont. and was the featured speaker at the founding meeting and sees “nothing but good things ahead for Wyoming Agri-Women.”
The AAW was founded in 1974 by four state organizations that affiliated together to have a stronger voice.
“AAW has provided a wealth of opportunities for learning about ag industries,” Yost continues. “We are so busy doing the things we need to do to manage our ranches and farms that we don’t made time to attend meetings and have our voice heard. It has almost come to the point that if we don’t do so, we won’t be able to have ranches, farms or ag businesses anymore as regulations continue to grow.”
The purpose of AAW is to “unite with one another and communicate with consumers for the promotion of agriculture for the benefit of American people.” AAW does this through building and strengthening alliances, communication and cooperation with individuals and organizations with the intent of influencing the perceptions of agriculture.
“The nice thing about AAW is that it includes all industry groups,” Yost explains. “We still need groups to promote beef, dairy and crops, but the great thing is that AAW is an avenue for all the industry and commodity groups to have one voice. AAW never puts forth any policy that is not unanimous, as we believe that there are other opportunities to talk about specific industries and commodities through their own organizations. Through AAW we publicly agree on the issues facing agriculture today.
“The great thing about this is that if there is an issue affecting timber, beef or cotton growers that other members are not familiar with, we can educate each other. We always have an expert in the group who knows what is going on within these different parts of ag, which brings about healthy debates.”
Fourteen women attended the Wyoming Agri-Women’s founding meeting. Attendees hailed from seven communities across the state: Buffalo to Bondurant, Alcova to Big Piney, and others in between. A cadre of women from Buffalo have been involved with Montana Agri-Women for a few years and are excited to have a group for their own state.
“There are lots of reasons that people join AAW,” Yost continues. “I joined to be more involved in pertinent issues, other women join for networking opportunities, education, lobbying, and to keep informed on what is going on.”
Objectives of AAW are to educate each other on important issues, gain knowledge to engage in strong public relations and influence policy on local, state and national levels. AAW members also seek to advance communications among themselves so that every member is aware of what is going on in each ag industry.
“The key focus right now is to connect and communicate with consumers,” Yost says. “There is a great disconnect and breech of trust between the ag industry and consumers. We want to make every effort to heal this and tell our ag story. We have the safest and most economical food available in the world, and we need to promote this.”
AAW operates the American Grown Goodness program to promote American grown products, as well as participates in a nationwide grassroots speakers’ bureau. The non-profit organization also provides ag education for youth, and produces a television program for women in agriculture to help them manage risks in their operations.
“Wyoming Agri-Women’s purpose is to influence a positive view of agriculture,” says Kari Bousman of Pinedale, the newly elected president of the group. “Far too often in our society you only see the negative side of issues affecting ag, and I’m really excited to see what we can accomplish here in Wyoming through this organization.”
The national issues that AAW members have set as important to agriculture in 2011 include estate planning, consumer awareness, migrant ag workers, animal welfare, property rights and climate change regulations. AAW has developed policy positions on these topics and others and lobbies in Washington, D.C. at their annual fly-in, where they meet with key government officials and host a public symposium. This year’s fly-in event will be held June 12-15. AAW also organizes an annual convention and mid-year meeting hosted by different states. There are scholarships available for first-time attendees to any of these events, and all of the sessions are also video-casted over the internet.