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A lot of things happen in March. We celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, sometimes Easter … and Women’s History Month! Last month, we were proud to shine a spotlight on the vital role women have played in American history—particularly female farmers.
We all have important women in our lives. For those of us in Ag, we immediately think of the mothers, grandmothers and even great-grandmothers who take care of our farm families.
Key Cooperative Board Member Sue Keenan did not grow up on a farm. As a child, the closest she got to rural life was visiting her grandparents’ apple orchard and small row-crop operation and riding horses with a friend. Then her family relocated from Michigan to Grinnell … and she was still a town kid. However, in 1969, when Sue married her husband Kirk—a farmer—she quickly caught on to Ag life. Together, they raised their children in the family farmhouse, which had belonged to Kirk’s parents. Sue valued the time and memories that came from staying home with the kids. Then, in 1983, a new opportunity opened up with the Jasper County Farm Service Agency (FSA) office.
“I knew nothing about FSA,” said Sue. “Working for the Ag industry really helped me understand the business of farming.” She spent 20 great years working as an FSA Program Technician for Jasper County farmers. When she retired, she looked forward to being an equal partner in her family’s operation.
“I worked many years off the farm. During that time, I was the helper, the cook, the bookkeeper and the runner,” said Sue. Today, amongst these titles and others—like wife, mother and grandmother—Sue is also a farmer. A female farmer. She proudly owns her own land and plays an integral role in planting and harvest.
With Kirk, she manages their commercial Angus-Simmental cow-calf herd in Kellogg. “I’ve always heard women called ‘the farmer’s wife,’ and I didn’t want to be that to society,” said Sue. “People must realize the amount of time and work women put into keeping a farm running.”
Here’s just one example of that time and work. In March, Sue and Kirk will start calving season. They manage nearly 100 cows; they will put in long hours and late nights, checking on the first- and second-year heifers every two to three hours— sometimes in the dark, on a four-wheeler.
In 2016, Sue put her leadership experience to work for Key when she was elected to the Board of Directors. “It takes time to learn and know what’s going on within the Coop,” said Sue. “When I was encouraged by another director, I took a leap. I’ve learned it’s a truly great group to work with.”
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