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Women farmers embrace changing roles

March 18, 1997


Staff Writer, Waynesboro

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Before Linda Martin could go to the Women in Agriculture conference Tuesday morning, she had to get up at 3:15 a.m. and help milk over 80 cows on the family's Fayetteville, Pa., dairy farm, get her 16-year-old son off to school, bake a batch of brownies, and throw a load of laundry into the washing machine.

By 8:30 a.m., Martin had arrived at the Chambersburg Holiday Inn with nearly 40 other women in similar situations from Franklin and surrounding counties to attend the day-long conference and workshops sponsored by Protiva, a unit of Monsanto Company.

"It's a nice day out for women who are tied down to the farm," said Rebecca Brechbill, the wife of a Chambersburg dairy farmer.


Brechbill, who has five children ranging in ages from 2 to 15, said that in order to attend the day's conference, she did all of the household laundry on Monday and did the family's grocery shopping at 11 p.m.

After a few hours of sleep, Brechbill woke up early Tuesday morning to feed her children breakfast and get them organized for school before getting herself ready.

"My day started last night," Brechbill said.

The conference offered a twist to the lives of women in the dairy industry who normally have to stay home to work on the farm while their husbands attend meetings and conferences.

"The dairy industry is changing," said Beth Moore, marketing assistant at Monsanto. "Women are becoming more of a partner in the farm as a business,"

Besides helping with the day-to-day farming operations, most of the women in attendance said they also do the bookkeeping for the businesses.

"It's not just a lifestyle anymore," Moore said. "Women are very much a part of the decision-making process on the farm."

Lisa Mellott, of Mercersburg, Pa., said her husband, Stephen, encouraged her to go to the conference, even though she balked at first because she said she doesn't have enough time.

"He told me I needed to get out," Mellott said.

Like others, Mellott was out at the barn by 4:45 a.m. Tuesday to milk their 100 cows before her 15-year-old daughter relieved her.

Mellott then fed the animals and took care of nearly 20 calves before she could break to see her three children off to school.

She'll do it all over again as soon as she gets home from the conference, in addition to preparing dinner for her husband and three children.

Luanne Horst of Chambersburg was up at 5 a.m. to get a start on milking the cows.

She could break away a little earlier to attend the conference since her three daughters, ages 12, 16 and 18, take turns helping out on the farm.

"I just wanted to better inform myself and be with other farm women today," Horst said.

Part of the conference included a time management session that focused on the balance as wife, mom and dairy partner.

"We all have the same amount of time. It's how we spend it that's important," said Dr. Lisa Holden, assistant professor at Penn State Dairy and Animal Science Extension.

Holden told the group they should set goals, make a schedule, make appointments, use the calendar and plan ahead to help maintain a balance in their lives.

In order to stay focused, Holden suggested the women should work on getting the priorities done first and learn to make choices with what's remaining.

"Sometimes you have to let go of things," Holden said. "Learn to say no. There are some things that may not be that important to you. You don't have to do them."

The conference also included sessions on agricultural updates, farm finances, and workshops on animal care and tips on cooking 30 half-hour meals.

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