FORT BENTON – According to USDA agricultural census as of 2017, women made up 36 percent of the country’s Ag producers. A conference was held at the Montana Agricultural Center in Fort Benton to recognize women in agriculture. The conference was dubbed “StrongHer Together”.
Organizers Stacy Bronec and Chandee Bomgardner said conferences like this are being held all over Montana, but the Fort Benton area hasn’t seen one yet, which is why they’ve teamed up and created their own event that brings farmers and ranchers out North-central Montana can come together.
Bronec said: “We wanted a conference that was more accessible to women in this field.
Bomgardner said: “We were at a dead end here. Everything was much further away. We wanted a place where women could come together and connect, women to come together, bring some education and know that we’re all in this together. All have the same kind of story.
The conference featured a variety of vendors and speakers, giving the public an opportunity to network and connect with other women farmers and ranchers.
“We wanted to give women with small businesses the opportunity to sell their wares and also to connect with people who might not otherwise have found out about their products… We just felt like everything together would benefit us all. “
Bronec described the Ag lifestyle as challenging but rewarding. “It’s a very different lifestyle,” she said. “It’s not just a career. It’s a lifestyle. The farm and the ranch define your whole life. It’s challenging at times, but that’s the great thing about conferences like this. It’s meeting other women who are in similar… situations, and knowing that challenges come to all of us.”
One of the featured vendors was “Ask seriously,” an organization dedicated to helping farmers struggling with severe mental stress.
Montana has approximately 50,000 agricultural producers. An estimated 20% (10,000) struggle with mental health, including anxiety and depression; 5% (2,500) have a serious mental illness that includes suicidal behavior.
Darla Tyler-McSherry is a Presenter on Ask In Earnest. She explained: “We know from the data that farming and ranching have some of the highest suicide rates per occupation. The challenge of doing this is addressing the stigma associated with mental health, but opportunities like these conferences really elevate the conversation about mental health and help get more resources and access to people living in rural Montana and live in rural USA.
Topics related to the discussions were social media marketing in farming/ranching, occupational therapy, first aid on the farm and many others.
Aly Robins led the talk on social media. She addressed concerns listeners had about using social media in rural areas.
Aly said: “You would be amazed at how many people are actually on social media. You know, farmers and ranchers, they’re like, oh, I’m not on Facebook. it is you And in fact, many people are even connecting in their rural communities through social media to spread the word. And it’s just a great way to easily reach your potential customers and talk about what you’re offering.”
Former Miss Montana USA Tahnee Peppenger spoke about the importance of authenticity.
“It’s about self-preservation based on one’s values,” she said. “If you know your values and stand by them, I think you can live a very fulfilling life. So for me, authenticity is just a cornerstone of who you are, what you want out of life, and where you’re going.”
The conference will continue through Sunday from 8:00 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. at 1205 20th Street in Fort Benton.