FarmHer: Focusing on women in agriculture

Flip through the ag section of your local newspaper, and chances are you’ll see photos of men in the field, livestock, and machinery. But where are the women? That’s the question Marji Guyler-Alaniz asked herself in February 2013.

A few weeks before this newspaper epiphany, Alaniz – along with millions of other Americans – was deeply touched by the two-minute Dodge Ram “So God made a farmer” commercial featuring Paul Harvey, which aired during the Super Bowl.

The commercial got her thinking more and more about agriculture. Alaniz, who now lives in Urbandale, Iowa, grew up in the country. Even though her parents weren’t farmers, her grandparents were, so she has always had a healthy appreciation of ag.

“The more I looked, the more I realized there was a real lack of images of women in agriculture everywhere,” Alaniz says. “But women are on every farm, putting the work in.”

Adjusting her focus

At this point in her life, Alaniz had spent 11 years working in marketing and risk management for an agricultural insurance company. She also had a side business as a photographer. “I decided it was time to make a change,” she says.

With the encouragement of her husband, Tony Alaniz, who grew up on a farm near Grinnell, Iowa, she left the insurance business behind and decided to focus on photography. This move also allowed her to spend more time at home with daughter Ava, now 4, and son A.J., 2.

Her new enterprise wouldn’t be an ordinary photography business, however. Alaniz decided to combine her love of photography and her passion for promoting women in agriculture. “I knew I could do something more,” she says. FarmHer was born.

“FarmHer started as a photography project to show that women are an important part of ag,” Alaniz says. “I realized that people in urban areas may not know that.” The idea was to photograph women doing their work, and to share those images on a website, www.farmher.com.

Alaniz began reaching out to farm women to find the right subjects. The project picked up steam, and by last summer, she was photographing one to two women per month. Her photos aren’t traditional posed portraits of women with perfect hair and make-up. They show women doing real work. In some photos, the subjects’ faces aren’t even seen, but their emotions are still conveyed, and the audience gets a feel for their life on the farm.

Alaniz started off photographing women in Iowa, close to home. Since then, she has done shoots in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Florida, and plans to expand both geographically and by showcasing different facets of agriculture. “I try to find someone to photograph wherever I visit,” she says.

Getting down to business

In October, Alaniz incorporated FarmHer. “Now I have to figure out how to run this project as a business, while still promoting women in ag,” she says.

One way she is able to monetize her project is by selling paper and canvas prints of her photos, and digital stock imagery. On her website, Alaniz also sells FarmHer shirts, hats, bags, and other merchandise. The clothing brand has extended to include RanchHer and GardenHer designs. “Women love the name FarmHer,” she says. “I hope that when they wear the clothes, they feel empowered about what they do, and feel part of a bigger community.”

While photographing women at work on the farm is the number one priority of FarmHer, Alaniz says, “This has to be a business over the long-term. We’re getting there.” Her clothing and other gear is also available on a wholesale basis, for others wishing to sell it at farmers’ markets or in stores. Her website remains the exclusive online retailer. Alaniz is also gearing up to expand the FarmHer website to make it not only a showcase for the FarmHer images, but also a community for women in ag who visit the site.

Spreading the word

Since taking FarmHer to the next level, Alaniz says the response has been phenomenal. The business has been featured in several media outlets, and she has been asked to speak at multiple conferences for women in agriculture.

Attending the conferences is not only a great way to meet potential subjects, but it’s a wonderful time for women in general, Alaniz says. “Women love to network, talk, and share,” she says. “We thrive on that.”

Her conference presentations give her a chance to show the women attendees that they are seen, valued, and appreciated. “It’s very exciting for me to be able to do that,” Alaniz says. “I love talking about FarmHer. It’s my passion project.”

FarmHer was created because Alaniz wanted to document women in agriculture, and promote their important role in this industry to the world. “I believe that the only way you change ideas and perceptions is consistency over time,” she says. “These changes might be subtle, but I believe they will occur. When people see an image or idea regularly, they come to believe that it is way that things actually are. By infusing images of women in agriculture into farm imagery we can change the way people perceive a farmer.”

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