Quick, picture a farmer.
Chances are you called up a rugged type, in blue jeans and a hat, possibly with some sort of tool in his hand. To Iowa resident Marji Guyler-Alaniz, the concerning part of this instinctive image is the pronoun: “his.”
For a long time, Guyler-Alaniz has been just as guilty of making inherent gender assumptions as the rest of us. “I worked for 11 years in agriculture. You never saw images of women,” she says. “It was completely shocking to me that it never hit me before.”
She fully realized the problem this past February, all thanks to a Super Bowl commercial. Guyler-Alaniz had recently left a decade-long career working for an agribusiness giant and was one of millions of viewers who saw a moving Dodge Ram ad featuring a narrator who extolled the virtuous farmer alongside a powerful slide show of images. There were barely any women shown in it–a fact that generated coverage in the Des Moines Register and called her attention to the gender stereotypes inherent in the ad. “It was an eye-opening thing for me,” Guyler-Alaniz says.
A photographer by training, Guyler-Alaniz has been on a mission ever since to make sure that images of farmers are more reflective of the face of farming today. Guyler-Alaniz’s website “FarmHer” now features about two dozen photo sets each featuring a woman farmer at work.
Her work is important because women actually are becoming a major voice in agriculture–especially at smaller-scale family and organic farms. Since the early 1980s, the number of women-operated farms has doubled, and females are now the most rapidly growing demographic segment in the industry. They make up about 30% of U.S. farmers today, Modern Farmer notes.
Most of the two dozen women Guyler-Alaniz has documented so far are in and around Iowa, but as more people have started to hear about the project, she has been getting invitations to bring her camera to farms around the country and even around the world.
Among her favorites to date are the images of Lois Reichert, owner of Reichert’s Dairy Air in rural Knoxville, Iowa. The business is a “micro dairy,” where Reichert milks 15 goats a day and makes cheese she sells in farmers markets and at Whole Foods.
“I follow along and document what they do,” Guyler-Alaniz says. “To me, the beauty in these is that you know they are women, you know they are working in agriculture, but it isn’t right there in your face. It isn’t posed. It is very real.”
Guyler-Alaniz wants to keep growing her project and documenting a wide diversity of farms and women, but she is also trying to figure out how to finance her work, whether that involves selling the photos or raising funds via the T-shirts and tote bags she’s now selling on the site. You can see some of her latest images in the slide show above. Check out the FarmHer site for more.