Montana – In 2017, the Census of Agriculture reported that 36% of producers in the United States were women. Two years later, the Agribusiness HR Review showed that more than sixty percent of the companies surveyed saw a significant increase in women in the workforce, with signs of continued growth.
Other types of businesses such as bee farms, restaurants, and other local businesses are critical to bringing wholesome and wholesome food to Montana’s communities.
Virginia Cross’s Sticky company is partnering with Sunshine Apiaries in Columbus, MT to create a sugar-free and versatile spread. The idea came from trying to make something to satisfy her husband’s sweet tooth while reducing the sugar that other sweets usually give.
“I enjoy the aspect of providing something for people. I’m a mom and a grandmother, and yes, I just love the whole aspect of taking care of people and giving them something that’s good for them.”
Virginia’s produce is sold at farmers’ markets and grocery centers in Billings and at the popular Prerogative Kitchen at Red Lodge.
Gena Burghoff, who runs Prerogative Kitchen, works with ranches and farms across the state to fill her menu with fresh farm produce and Montana-raised meats.
Gena shared why this philosophy of sourcing local food is so important to her and her restaurant: “I find it strange getting carrots from China, yes they can get that far but they should. So, I think the taste, the nutrients, it’s extremely important that our diets get gross right now. There are many health issues and we don’t know why people have so many diseases that go undiagnosed and I think it’s really important to know where your food comes from, what’s in your food just for general public health .”
As women take a more active role in farming, they are beginning to realize the lack of tools specifically designed for working women.
Red Ants Pants is a women owned business located in White Sulfur Springs, MT. They focus on keeping women working in agriculture safe and comfortable in their durable clothing line.
Red Ants Pants founder, Sarah Calhoun, saw a need in her community and rose to meet it: “[I]started the company in 2006 because there was no other durable work pant product on the market that did would fit all women shapes and sizes and straight and curvy and all that, so I decided to change that.”
All three of these women have experienced a market shift that places an emphasis on local shopping.
Sarah expresses how central these businesses are to the community that surrounds them: “With small businesses in every industry, these are the businesses that are the cornerstones of your neighborhoods and your small town communities, especially the backbone of the communities, and that really is.” important when it comes down to the human component”
But shopping locally hasn’t always been a norm for the treasure state, and Gena shared how the local market has changed over her years as an owner.
“It’s really amazing how local food has changed in the last ten years. When our food truck opened, people were really confused that we were using local produce and we were like, ‘This is your friend growing this and your neighbor making this.’ And now I think it’s an ordinary day and people are realizing the importance of supporting local businesses and it goes all the way down to the farmers and ranchers.
And Virginia added how she thinks this change will affect the state.
“I think that’s the way forward for Montana. It’s super important and it’s growing in popularity. I think people like to buy from local producers, they know where it’s coming from and they like to meet the producers.”
As local businesses gain momentum, more women in Montana are taking on leadership roles because of the support they receive from the community.
“I was lucky in that I was my own boss from the start, so I didn’t have to break a glass ceiling. I just built my own ladder and climbed it.” – Sarah Calhoun
“I don’t feel like I’ve been necessarily challenged as a female business owner. I think it has something to do with being in Montana. I think that Wyoming, Montana, this area, we need both sexes to be equal and to pull together.” -Gene Burghoff
As Montanans know, it doesn’t matter who does the work as long as the work gets done.
And Sarah shares his work in the ways that make local Montana businesses so successful, especially in rural areas.
“In a place like White Sulfur, women do all the work right next to the man, all the time. There aren’t many ranch jobs or projects that are gender specific. Everyone pitches in and gets the job done.”
However, Gena worries that many in the nation may still view farming, ranching and manufacturing as means of man.
“I see that women are so equal in this area, but I’m not sure it’s the same across the nation. They’re a little bit more inclined to believe that peasants are men.”
And over time, Gena says, the agribusiness will continue to change, whether by choice or coercion. “Whatever the reasons for our climate change, I think we need to recognize that it’s happening. You know we have various insects coming further north. We have water if you look at a large agricultural area down in Fromberg with the floods. I mean, we lost everything they produced that summer because of that. We need to recognize the challenges ahead and I hope people can become more proactive. If they don’t have a passion for environmental issues, then hopefully they will. I will have a passion for recognizing the struggles our farms and agriculture are going through right now.
Whatever happens, these small businesses will continue to work together to create a healthier, more sustainable state.
“I think they really are the key to Montana’s success going forward because it’s all about location. That’s why the prices get so high and the shipping and the supply chain and everything else.” – Virginia Cross
– all while nurturing emerging and upcoming women-led businesses.
“The future is ripe for more female leadership, especially in rural Montana and frankly across America. There’s so much potential there, and I think with more and more examples and more stories shared, we’re going to see more dissemination and more people moving to the countryside, and there are so many opportunities for women to move up in those business and leadership roles.” – Sarah Calhoun