This seed got planted on a Super Bowl Sunday.
Marji Guyler-Alaniz watched the Baltimore Ravens play the San Francisco 49ers in 2013, watched Beyonce perform at the halftime show and, of course, watched the commercials. One stuck out: An ad for Dodge trucks narrated by Paul Harvey, with idyllic images of landscapes and farmers at work.
“It was gorgeous when I saw it,” Guyler-Alaniz, 33, said. “But then I read an article a couple days later that pointed out the lack of women in the commercial.”
She started thinking about that ad in a different way. (For the record, the commercial features four women and 22 men.)
Guyler-Alaniz had just quit her job of 11 years, working in Urbandale, Iowa, selling crop insurance.
“I never once saw a picture of a woman in agriculture,” she said. “It's just not there, and that's just the way it's always been.”
She decided to tip the scales.
For the past year, Guyler-Alaniz has photographed female farmers near her home in Urbandale. She's photographed a female rancher in Florida, a female dairy farmer in Wisconsin and been contacted by female farmers in Canada, South Africa and Mexico, all wanting to be part of FarmHer, the project which was born from that commercial.
Guyler-Alaniz visits women as they farm, taking images of their daily lives, much like the ones in the Dodge commercial. She posts them on FarmHer.com and tells their stories through the images and a blog.
Her work has been featured on the Huffington Post, in Fast Company magazine and on Upworthy, along with a number of agriculture sites and magazines in the past year. Guyler-Alaniz said she didn't expect such a response, but in light of it, her new goal is simply to keep going.
“It was an awful day when she came to the farm, rainy and windy,” said Denise O'Brien, 64, the first woman Guyler-Alaniz photographed. “She was willing to walk around and get muddy and things. Farming isn't just sunny days and blue skies.”
O'Brien, who has been farming since 1976 on Rolling Acres Farm near Atlantic, Iowa, is the former director of the Women Food and Agriculture Network, the organization Guyler-Alaniz first contacted to find women who might be interested in the project.
O'Brien said she'd always wanted to do a project like FarmHer.
“The face of agriculture in the United States is that Super Bowl ad,” O'Brien said. “Marjie is going to help change that.”
O'Brien helped Guyler-Alaniz spread the word after their photo shoot.
“Women are good networkers,” Guyler-Alaniz said. “It takes a lot for someone to be in pictures, out for the public to see dirty, gritty and working. But I started to hear from women on a daily basis.”
So far, she's photographed around 25 women, though not all of them are on the site yet.
“I worked in big ag for 11 years, so most of my experience up to last year was corn, soybeans, wheat and cotton on thousands of acres,” Guyler-Alaniz said. “This quickly opened my eyes to the huge and growing movement of smaller-scale farms that are starting. They love the land and are giving it a go.”
Guyler-Alaniz said Danelle Myer is one of those women, and she photographed Myer working on her small-scale vegetable farm, One Farm, in Logan, Iowa.
“The day she came there were 45 mile per hour winds,” Myer said, laughing, “and in the photos my hair is trashed.”
None of the women involved have heard negative feedback on the project.
“Women make up the majority of my customer base,” Myer said. “Anything that celebrates being a female farmer and doing physical work gets customers excited.”
Guyler-Alaniz said she's been contacted by some female farmers who run large scale farms and want to see more women like them in the project. She's not leaving those farmers out, she said, she just hasn't had the chance to photograph a woman who runs a corporate farm yet.
“When they ask me why I am leaving them out,” Guyler-Alaniz said, “I ask them 'where do you live?' ”
O'Brien said she's hopeful for the long-term impact of FarmHer.
“When young women see images of women in these roles, they say, 'oh, I can do that,' ” she said.
And, ultimately, it all goes back to the images of farmers in the Dodge ad.
“I hope men don't feel threatened by women entering into the scene, because it is a partnership,” she said. “At some point, we will both be there, with equal spacing.”