I am a blog contributor of the Women in Ag Learning Network and this is the post I recently published. I too am a Farmer in Training.
I remember helping my dad bottle feed the calves when I was 9 years old. Little did I know that it would lead to a career in agriculture. I think many of us go on about our days without taking a moment to count our blessings for all the times we were “farmers in training.” Even playing soccer in high school was a real factor in becoming a farmer. Think of it this way, would I have the determination and put in the effort I do without learning those skills through both winning and losing?
Sara Shepherd’s story is no different, except for the fact that she treasured each and every “farmer in training” lesson she was offered.
In 2012 Sara’s dad was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). “I spent the year managing my dad’s farming operation-following step by step instructions he had given me during our farm lessons,” said Sara. Through Annie’s Project, many conversations with her dad, and careful planning, Sara jumped from full time employee to full time self-employed marketing consultant and farmer.
Sara credits early career experiences to her smooth but challenging transition. She was involved in 4-H, FFA, and the Iowa and American Junior Charolais Cattle Associations. Soon after graduating high school, Sara enrolled at Waldorf College in North Central Iowa where she majored in business, finance, and management information systems.
Sara was employed as a Chamber of Commerce Executive Director post-college working in an urban setting with economic development. It was important to Sara to help create strong rural communities with well-developed school systems and successful people.
Sara also worked for the European Potato Board after graduating from North Central. “I realized they work to promote, educate, and grow their agriculture base just like we do for corn, soybeans, beef, and pork. “We’re all really not that different,” said Sara. She began to think of new ways to utilize the experiences from her past to benefit her present and future.
“Doing chores and checking cows as I waited for them to calve really opened my eyes to how much I enjoyed farming, and the possibility that I could do this in the future,” said Sara. She began to discuss with her dad the possibilities of building a farm operation.
Through her prior experience, Sara was able to form a circle of experts and friends she could count on for help. Farming soon became her full time job with free-lance marketing on the side.
As Sara was creating her business plan, she decided to sell bull semen and direct market meat to her local community as a way to add value to her operation. Her prior marketing experience has been very valuable in marketing her bull’s semen. This year she has increased her bulls to 10!
It was important to Sara to really listening to the conversations she had with her dad during their farming lessons. She is utilizing and taking advantage of all the prior experience she has had during her time as a “farmer in training.”