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Women Grow Selves, Knowledge At Conferences

Women from across the state deepened their agricultural knowledge and networks during two Montana Farmers Union Women’s Conferences held this February. Roughly 40 women attended the second-annual Eastern Montana Women’s Conference held in Miles City, while another 70 gathered at Fairmont Hot Springs for the 11th-annual MFU Women’s Conference.

Already, MFU is planning next year’s events, scheduled to be held in Eastern Montana Jan. 31-Feb. 1 and at Fairmont Hot Springs Feb. 7-9. Ladies Who Ag events will be held in the meantime to further deepen the networks formed during this year’s conferences. Details will be shared on the Montana Farmers Union website as they become available.

The women’s conferences provide opportunities to gain practical knowledge about agriculture, as well as network with others passionate about family farms and ranches and rural communities.

The events featured speakers ranging from industry experts, to entrepreneurs, to youth leaders, to podcast hosts, to yoga instructors, to tractor maintenance experts. Attendees also were able to experience local businesses and ag research stations and attend hands-on breakout sessions.

Storytelling and how it connects and educates people has been one of the main themes explored during the Women’s Conferences over the past few years. This year, Megan Torgerson, founder of the Reframing Rural podcast, continued that thread as she spoke at the Fairmont conference. Torgerson described her life journey from a farm near Medicine Lake to a podcaster sharing the stories of rural life. One podcast features her cousin who now runs a family farm operation, and how that looks different than the previous generation and the challenges, including isolation, her cousin faces.

Entrepreneurship is another main theme during the conferences. Renelle Braaten, another keynote speaker at the Fairmont conference, described her journey as a business entrepreneur. She has been tenacious since childhood and conveyed that fact through multiple childhood stories including one in which she had a booming business selling other peoples garden vegetables without their permission. Her mother put a stop to that misadventure but not to her spirit. She started the Enell Company, which designed, patented, produced and sold bras in Havre. Braaten spoke about how marketing is a huge part of any business. Braaten was convinced that if Oprah Winfrey tried an Enell bra, she would endorse it. It took Braaten seven years to get to Winfrey, and she endured teasing from her husband and accountant who would jest, “Are you going to do work today or try to get to Oprah?”

Finally, Braaten did get an endorsement from Oprah, and it took a year to fill all the orders that came pouring in after.

Other speakers focused on ag-specific topics, including an interactive workshop called Tractor 101 instructed by Cindy Arnott and Kristy Rothe. During it, attendees learned “10 Commandments for Tractors.”

One commandment is to read and understand your operator’s manual. Another commandment is to know when to use a seatbelt; use a seatbelt if the equipment has a rollbar, but don’t if it doesn’t. Another commandment is to have shields on all PTOs — this commandment came with some gruesome stories designed to impress the danger of PTOs and the value of shields.

Attendees also learned about grants and loans available through USDA, the role of FSA Committees, estate planning, soil sampling, livestock feed and nutrition, and much more, gaining knowledge to take and use in their own operations.

Misty Annala attended the conference at Fairmont and said she intends to attend again next year and hopefully bring her sister-in-law with her. For someone who became more involved with agriculture later in life, she was pleased to see women of varied ag background and ages.

“I am late to agriculture as I didn’t begin feeding, driving tractor, and haying until the kids were raised, and I retired from my job,” Annala said, adding the conference was well-organized and interesting.

The longevity of the conference held in Western Montana is evidence that women appreciate the time to connect with each other and create lasting relationships. Already, the Eastern conference is fostering similar relationship building amongst attendees.

“The second-annual Eastern Montana Women’s Conference was a huge success! We had 40 women from all over Eastern Montana who joined us for a weekend of empowerment, and we built lasting connections. I am excited to see how much this event will grow in the future,” said Jeri Copenhaver, a membership ambassador with MFU who helped plan the conferences.

For more information about Ladies Who Ag events, Women’s Conferences, and other educational opportunities offered by MFU, visit www.montanafarmersunion. com.

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