Pushing Forward for Agriculture

Pushing Forward for Agriculture

Credit: Arizona Farm Bureau
Photo Credit: Arizona Farm Bureau

We as individuals are a byproduct of our environment. Isn’t that what we are told? Well, a big part of that environment is the people we interact with on a daily basis. Throughout my life, I have always been surrounded by others who assume there are no limits to what can be achieved. 
Neither of my parents discouraged me as I crafted and planned my future. My mother is a very strong and disciplined person – a great example for a daughter navigating through life’s twists and turns. My father was never one to steer me toward what others thought to be acceptable or expected. Even when I shirked from a challenge, thinking it was too difficult or beyond my talents, he pushed me toward it.  
My husband Andy is no different. I came to this way of life as a somewhat reticent biologist, having never lived on a farm or ranch. We had only been married a year when we lost my father-in-law to leukemia in the midst of a property rights assault on our ranch by environmental groups and county government. I had never spoken in public, much less to aggressive crowds of environmental activists, but Andy, without hesitation, sent me into meetings with total confidence that I would fight strongly for our heritage and business. I have not stopped since then. 
We were successful in beating back burdensome zoning regulations which would have crippled our ranch and devastated our land value.  
In fighting that first battle, and through Andy’s involvement, I discovered Farm Bureau. Through leadership development programs and agricultural camaraderie, I once again found myself in an environment of encouraging mentors and friends. However, searching out people who believe in you does not necessarily mean finding those who are like-minded. I recently heard that diversity in the arena of leadership doesn’t just mean checking off boxes, it should mean diversity of thought. 
Diversity of thought is largely shaped by experiences rather than gender, age or race. These experiences impact how we recognize a problem and if or how we approach a solution. The diversity of our industry gives this country stability and strength; a diverse organization is what gives Farm Bureau respect and legitimacy as the Voice of Agriculture.    
As president of the Arizona Farm Bureau Federation, it’s true that I find myself in a position never held by a woman, but my leadership will be guided by our members, my life experiences, and the thoughtful people around me, not “firsts.” In this Women’s History Month, I would say that all too often people become accustomed to naysayers and don’t push forward. There is a difference between those who challenge you and those who disparage you. I don’t spend much time listening to those who focus on obstacles rather than bridges. Don’t be comfortable in the notion that environment is a matter of fortune, rather create an environment where you can thrive. 
Arizona is at the top in number of female-run farms. I am very proud of this and the many people in our industry who encourage and motivate all who want to contribute to the story of agriculture. Our industry may not be the showiest, but we certainly expect with good reason that women can do whatever is necessary to ensure our nation’s food and fiber is safe, abundant and affordable for everyone. It’s a privilege to serve fellow food producers and growers in an organization where the focus on success is not bound by who you are, but what you can achieve. 

Stefanie Smallhouse is president of Arizona Farm Bureau and ranches with her family.

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