Women in Ranching: Expanding the Circle

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Amber Smith. Photo credit: Mary Schaad.

The road I traveled to attend my first gathering of Women in Ranching began with this innocuous Facebook message from a friend: “Hi! Do you have any availability to leave the ranch in March? There is a ‘women in ranching’ group convening here in CA that I think you might be into, they would fly you out.”

It was early February. I looked out the ice-covered window where my husband was stringing hay to our small bunch of first-calf heifers, the first cattle to wear our TTT brand. It was about 42 degrees below zero. “I wish,” I responded, “It has been a tough winter and we had to buy more hay then expected. I don’t have the money and shouldn’t leave my family during this time of year.” I received a kind response from Elaine Patarini, who was organizing the event, encouraging me to attend and assuring me that there were scholarships to help with travel cost.

All I had to do was say ‘Yes!’

To my surprise, and against my better judgment, I bought a plane ticket and arrived at the TomKat Ranch in California, thinking, “I’m really just a support person, I don’t ‘manage’ the ranch, I don’t really feel like a rancher and I have no idea why I was invited. But, I guess, what’s the harm in just showing up?”

I left that gathering on FIRE, feeling heard, valued and appreciated for exactly who I was and what I brought to the table, with no expectations that I needed to be different in any way. This was in stark contrast to the messages I had received over the past thirteen years in agriculture: “You are not from here, nor will you ever be, get used to it. Your job and value is in supporting your husband and raising the children. Lower your expectations; opportunity, time and resources are scarce. You’re from back east; you don’t belong.”

I was surprised to sit in Circle with women, all of whom seemed kick-ass, overwhelmingly capable and smart, and who shared a similar sense of being imposters at some level. This was earth-shattering news, to recognize I was not alone, that I did belong and that my skills and talents were vital to the health and well-being of my family, my community and our business. Where had these women been my whole life?!

From that vital dose of love, connection and community, I was driven to bring such a gathering back to Montana. And thanks to the support and mentorship from a small group of women, that gathering was a success!

Women in Ranching (WinR) has since become a successful program of the Western Landowners Alliance, a nonprofit working across the West to advance policies and practices that sustain working lands, connected landscapes and native species. The donations raised through a Go Fund Me campaign last May, together with vital support from several foundations, allowed WinR to host four gatherings and over 80 women in 2019, providing travel and participation scholarships to fill every request.

We are now launching this newsletter, together with a WinR blog and social media channels, to build connections across Circles and give voice to western rural women who steward our lands, grow our food and raise the next generation of agriculturalists.

And we are mobilizing

In 2020, we will offer six WinR gatherings, serving up to 150 women from across the West.

Soil workshop at the Trout Stalker Ranch, NM – Sept. 2019. Photo credit: Virginie Pointeau.

The need being expressed by women and the energy of current participants to mobilize and spread these gatherings is strong. I am working with the advisory committee and existing women-and-ag organizations to understand how to best sustain the growth of this movement and find support from those who are enthusiastic about our continued mission to empower women on the land.

It is our hope that this newsletter will connect women across Circles, inspire potential future participants and become a place to voice our collective achievements and challenges. Please share this newsletter with friends and family. Let us know about the good work you are doing and tell us how we can better serve the needs of women on the land. Your stewardship, passion and vision play a critical role in the health of our land and soil and, hence, in the success of future generations.

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Amber Smith ranches with her husband and two young children, stewarding 53,000 acres of rangeland in eastern Montana. As the program manager of Women in Ranching, she is tasked with growing a connected community of diverse women who love and care for grasslands across the West. Contact her with any questions regarding the program: Amber@westernlandowners.org.

About Women in Ranching

Learn more about Women in Ranching here. If you are: not yet part of a Circle but want to be; own or manage a ranch, and able to host 20+ women for 3 days; or interested in becoming a corporate sponsor or learning more about different ways of supporting Women in Ranching, contact Amber Smith: Amber@westernlandowners.org.

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