Hometown: St. Joseph, MO
Current employment/job title: CleBer LLC/Partner
The Women, Food and Agriculture Network played a significant role in you beginning a career in agriculture. Can you tell us about that experience and how it spurred you to pursue a career in agriculture?
I grew up in St. Joseph, Missouri, a town of about 80,000 people. Depending on where you’re from it’s either a city or small town. I definitely didn’t have an ag background at all. Right before my senior year of high school I went to Farm Aid because it happened to be in Kansas City that year. I was walking through the vendors and I saw a Women, Food and Agriculture Network booth. I grabbed a flyer and put my name on the mailing list. Later I found out about the Annual Conference, which was in Des Moines that year. I decided to go the conference and was immediately drawn into WFAN’s mission.
The next year I started school at Iowa State University and majored in ag business. I had a very different perspective than a lot of my peers because I wasn’t from Iowa and didn’t have a farm background. I think that perspective helped me a lot.
What is one thing you took away from your experience studying agriculture?
I developed an even greater passion for regional food systems and small scale food systems because I was immersed in the epicenter of agribusiness and the Corn Belt. I came to understand that if we’re going to address the global food supply problem it’s not going to happen from large agribusiness and producing more grain. Small farmers must be a part of the food system and be able to produce more efficiently. They need to have a supply chain and marketing system that works for them at their size and they need to make money doing it. I especially developed a passion for regional food systems abroad where the situation is far more critical but also in America where we have the resources and infrastructure. We should be the leaders.
How did you get your current job?
My current position is with CleBer LLC, who developed the Oggun, a tractor created through Open Source System Manufacturing.
Last year I was a senior in college and went back to WFAN’s Annual Conference in Dubuque. I felt even more connected to the group four years later because I had more experience. As I was beginning to graduate I heard about this company (CleBer) that was working to manufacture tractors in Cuba. I called them to find out what they were doing and started building a relationship. I was inspired by their mission and vision–it’s really about making sure that small farmers around the world are able to thrive. The one tractor we create is just a part of that.
We started to build tractors in Cuba because they have a food shortage and import 70 percent of their food. They needed more mechanization but they want to keep small farms alive and don’t want to be part of the corporate agribusiness model.
We looked at the Allis Chalmers G as a model, which is frequently adapted for small farm use. We redesigned and modernized the G and took the proposal to Cuba. Now we are shipping to farmers all over this country and starting to establish international markets. Instead of shipping tractors to another country and using a vertically integrated business model we provide plans for building the tractors using locally available parts. That means the owners will be able to fix the tractor themselves and the cost of the tractor will go down over time.
The founder, Horace Clemmons, inspired by friend and long time business partner Saul Berenthal. Horace has a software background. Before tractors, the two built an international software company that was a leader in the open source software movement. A lot of what we’re doing is inspired by that.
What’s the best part of working in agriculture?
Society has come a long way compared to our grandmothers’. The opportunities I have are far greater than they had. However, there’s still many hurdles and challenges that come with being a woman in a traditionally male dominated field. It’s empowering every day to meet more and more women who want to pursue careers in agriculture and become farmers. And they’re really, really good at it.
We’re working with the Center for Environmental Farming Systems, which is a partnership between North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and North Carolina State University. They were one of the first farms to use the tractor. I remember when I delivered the tractor it was their farm manager Kayla who drove off with it smiling. It was really awesome that a woman was an integral part of testing out the tractor.
Seeing women be encouraged to farm or take on a new role on the farm because of how approachable our tractor is, is one of the best parts of my work.
What are you excited for in the future?
One thing I’m really excited about is our partnership with AgrAbility, which is a program that works to enhance the quality of life for farmers with physical disabilities. The Oggun is the perfect tractor for them because we encourage people to make adaptations. We’re just starting to work with them to adapt the tractor for farmers with physical disabilities—sometimes farmers who wouldn’t be able to farm but now they can.
Story from Women, Food & Ag Network, 3/17