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HARRISBURG – About 50 participants gathered Tuesday, Jan. 13, to hear Pennsylvania’s current and future women leaders share their experiences and goals in agriculture. Jean Lonie, the Executive Assistant to Executive Deputy Secretary Russell Redding, welcomed the crowd and introduced the speakers throughout the day.

Kicking off the line-up was JD Dunbar, CEO of the Pennsylvania Rural Leadership Program. Her presentation, titled “Beyond the Glass Slipper,” encouraged agricultural women to actively pursue their goals, rather than waiting for opportunities to be handed to them.  She also advised women to stand up for themselves and to support each other.

“When you’re introducing yourselves, there’s no ‘just a’ before farmer or farmer’s wife,” she said.  “You’re not just a farmer.  You’re a representative of your industry.”

Next up was a panel discussion, moderated by Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary for Marketing and Economic Development Cheryl Cook. She welcomed Laura Phelps, American Mushroom Institute President; Angela Callie USDA Rural Development Leader; Linda Steward Moist of the Pennsylvania Women in Ag Network (PA WAgN); and Christy Bartley, Pennsylvania 4-H Program Leader.

Each of the women discussed how they came to be involved in agriculture and how they honed their leadership skills along the way.  For all of them, a variety of career and community experiences helped guide them to their current positions.

“Sometimes you’re asked to be a leader,” Callie said.  “You don’t always choose the opportunities. They choose you.”

Following a question and answer period with the panel, participants were able to enjoy refreshments and networking with one another.  Afterward, both Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff and Executive Deputy Secretary Russell Redding spoke to the crowd.

“There are tough issues facing agriculture today,” Redding said. “We really need everyone to come together to brainstorm solutions.”  Redding and Wolff talked about how more women are farming today than ever before.

The afternoon program began with a presentation by Caressa Compton of South Mountain Insurance Services.  In her presentation, “Giving Yourself Credit When You’re All Maxed Out,” Compton advised women to prioritize the responsibilities in their lives and to make sure they take time for themselves.

Compton was followed by Kristin Crawford, Legislative and Executive Director of the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, and Kerry Golden, Executive Director of the House of Representatives Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee.  The two women spoke about their roles in state government and how women can and should contact their local legislators.

Closing out the program was a panel featuring the next generation of agriculture leaders.  Junia Isiminger, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Dairy Princess and Promotion Services, served as the moderator. 
Seven women shared their backgrounds in the agriculture industry and discussed how the activities they were involved in shaped their experiences.  Panelists were Kristi Rooker, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Administrator of the Agricultural and Rural Youth Grant Program; Amanda Koons, former Pennsylvania Alternate Dairy Princess; Sarah Wickard, former Pennsylvania FFA Officer; Raechel Kilgore, AgChoice Farm Credit Marketing Specialist; Nicole Bucher, of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Press Office and Young Farmers Association; Danielle Shaffer, the Pennsylvania State 4-H Council President; and Linda Krall, President of the Pennsylvania Young Farmers Association. Rooker addressed the morning speakers and thanked them for being such a great example.

“You have all really set the bar high,” Rooker said.  “You have given us something to strive for.”

Likewise, Penn State senior Amanda Koons was grateful for the encouragement the speakers provided. 
Koons, who will be returning to her family’s dairy farm in Franklin County after she graduates, said “I know being a woman in agriculture is definitely a challenge, but it’s worth it.”
The Pennsylvania Farm Show is the largest indoor agricultural event in the nation, featuring nearly 6,000 animals, 10,000 competitive exhibits and 270 commercial exhibitors.  The eight-day show is Jan. 10-17, at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex & Expo Center in Harrisburg.  Admission is free and parking is $8. 
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For photos of this event, click here.