Reflection of Ohio Agri-Women
(Formally known as Women for Ohio Agriculture)

It was a particularly worrisome harvest season in 1980, especially in the Mt. Sterlin, Ohio area. Another low crop yield would add to the problem of rising interest rates, falling land values, too little or too much rain, and hail damage. Sherry Boyd decided the men in her life had plenty to do harvesting. She determined to “do something about the lack of communication about agriculture.”

Sherry gathered her neighboring women together and called Pat Leimbach to speak on the need for farm women to network and promote agriculture. Pat had been instrumental in the organizing activities of American Agri-Women (AAW )and was known as an Ohio author and speaker. The London, Ohio meeting was the first effort in its brochure.

AAW goals and objectives figured strongly from the beginning as the group grew to statewide recognition and began a series of public communication projects. High on the list of contacts was the Ohio Department of Agriculture which welcomed a group who were not promoting some product but, rather, ideas for bridging the gap between urban and farm, and striving for economic survival.

The first efforts produced a series of features in local newspapers, expounding on the unique accomplishments of women in agriculture led the group to concentrate on ag-in-the-classroom activities, as well as educating the membership.

Annual education conferences at Deer Creek State Park provided a week-end retreat opportunity for the members, served to strengthen links with agribusiness, and drew much needed media attention. Members learned to speak to strengthen links with agribusiness ,and drew much needed media attention. Members learned to speak in public more effectively, practiced complaining less, improved their images, and constantly looked for opportunities to speak and promote agriculture. It was during this time that contact was made with Ceiba-Geigy to promote women in advertising. In the late 1980’s former Women for Ohio Agriculture (WOA) President, Ellen Ricketts, was featured on a national TV ad operating farm equipment. Dreams were beginning to materialize for WOA.

As apart of the education committee project, a liaison was established with the Ohio Department of Agriculture, leading to the formation of an Ohio Task Force. All major agriculture organizations worked together for the first time. Members promoted Ohio products at an international expo in Toled. They set up booths at mall events, celebrated National Agriculture Day, honored women, published a cookbook, and presented to classrooms. During this time, many of the same members succumbed to economic crises and ceased farming. As women took jobs off the farm, WOA membership declined. 1984 membership had reached 62, with two members attending the AAW National Convention.

WOA participated for several years in the Ohio Corn-Soybean conference as well as the Ohio Farm Science Review under the direction of President Patty Anthony. During Farm Women’s Month, Joyce Hall unveiled her booklet on Ohio Women’s Contribution to Agriculture. The annual conferences continued and a newsletter was established.

In 1986, DuPont Co. representative Don Wier provided direction to the education committee in expanding the agriculture (ag) classroom activities to include an ambitious bookwriting effort for classroom teachers. Members gathered at Doris Huffman’s vacation home during a particularly rainy March week-end with a huge pot of vegetable soup and organized a huge collection of materials for writing. Overwhelmed by the enormous complexity of explaining agriculture, a search was undertaken for a professional writer, with no budget left to cover the cost!

In the meantime, the ever faithful education committee labored to bring organization to ag classroom activities by participating in a series of meetings with The Ohio State University Agricultural Education Department, leading to the development of the Ohio Agricultural Awareness Council(OAAC) as the state affiliate of the National Ag In The Classroom Project. Remaining funds from the defunct Ohio Task Force were obtained , contacts made, and ideas formulated by this group were used to develop the new council. Today the OAAC is a viable group serving Ohio classroom teachers with materials and support for informing children about agriculture, its importance in everyone’s lives, and its opportunities for careers.

Membership increased to the point of organizing chapters in two areas of the state. A marketing seminar was planned for member education as well as drawing more interest in women becoming true business partners in farming operations. Legislators in the State House were served a luncheon of Ohio commodities in the rotunda, a tradition which continued for several years.

The 1986 annual conference featured speaker, Pat Cohill, from Michigan and a panel of Ohio women attorneys who addressed legal agriculture concerns. These yearly March educational and business meetings are timed to promote National Agriculture Day and to draw media attention.

A forum was organized in 1988 for presentation at the Ohio Agricultural Leaders School under the title “Why women want to be involved in finances on the farm.” This required much planning and rehearsal for the six panel members, but the media response was helpful. Members assisted in preparing decorations for the AAW convention in Philadelphia, which led to the idea of hosting an Ohio convention in the future. In December of 1989 the group offered the bid for th 1992 AAW convention, a bold leap of faith for a such a small group!

President Judy Loudenslager assumed the chairmanship of what was to be the group’s largest projects. When Dona Utz was elected president the following spring, members addressed two problems equally: raising funds and increasing membership in order to have the necessary volunteers. It was challenging to know after nine years of traveling to AAW conventions, members would show off Ohio and bring issues to our state in Worthington, Ohio November 12-15, 1992, with the theme of “Discover Columbus ’92 Agriculture - The Heart of it All.”

WOA sponsored a Woman of the Year in Agriculutre contest for presentation at the convention, and the judges selected member, Kathy Rhoads, for the award. Founding member, Pat Leimbach, was also presented with a Communicator of the Year award following her side-splitting, rousing, comedy convention banquet speech about farm women working in the fields.

Judy Loudenslager was nominated and elected to the position of AAW Vice President, Education in 1990. Following this term, she was elected to the Communication Vice Presidency in 1993. Member Martha Rittinger attended the first international gathering of farm women in Australia in July, 1994, and organized a slide presentation for speaking to groups in Ohio.

In 1993, OAW spoinsired an agriculture directory printed by the OAAC presently available for teachers’ use in every school in Ohio. In addition, several members have served on the council since its inception, and long-time member Judy Roush is the executive director of the OAAC. The Ohio State University (OSU) offers teacher training as a summer course for interested teachers. This is one of the lasting tributes to the efforts of those funding members who insisted that something had to be done about telling agriculture’s story in schools.

Under the direction of Dr. Sereana Howard Dreshbach, the first collegiate chapter of AAW was charted at The Ohio State University by Sigma Alpha sorority, and a conference on Promising Young Women in Agriculture was held in the fall of 1993. AAW President Trenna Grabowski spoke at the conference which is scheduled to be an annual event.

The organization name was changed from Women for Ohio Agriculture to Ohio Agri-Women (OAW )in January, 1993, in an effort to identify the group consistently with other affiliates of American Agri-Women. Under President Marcie Williams the constitution has been updated, and emphasis is being placed upon understanding the issues in agriculture and communicating more effectively.

OAW continues to be an effective voice for agriculture in Ohio, contributing in public meetings, studying the issues affecting us all, and workring to accommodate urban growth in a manner beneficial to everyone involved. Ohio’s farmland is shrinking, but the spirit of its people committed to agriculture remains as vibrant as ever!


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