When Tammy Halterman of Mazon was 10 years old, her father retired from the Army and settled on a farm in rural Mazon. Although her mother never touched a tractor, Halterman ran one.
“My dad had me run equipment, but fathers allowed kids my age to do that. Times were evolving and changing,” Halterman said.
When she was involved with 4-H Club or sports, Halterman said she had to be on the boys’ teams, but closer to her junior and senior years of high school, more girls were in her FFA group.
“Now you see a lot of leadership of ladies in agriculture, probably because of women’s equality over the years. Women have become more forward thinking, and many I know work alongside their husbands,” Halterman said.
Halterman grew up across the road from her now husband, Kevin Halterman, but the two didn’t cross paths early on. They married when Tammy was 28. A typical day for the couple includes feeding cattle, pigs and chickens, as well as taking care of and farming family and rental properties.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Kaylee Heap of Minooka was introduced to farming by her now husband, Kevin Heap, and Sara Mitchell brought her husband into her show pig business.
Kaylee said she grew up in the real estate world in Wilmington, but after she met Kevin in college, she quickly learned that if she wanted to spend time with the busy farmer, she had better learn a thing or two about the business.
The couple now has been together nine years, and Kaylee primarily works out of her home and car for Grainco FS Inc. as the central origination manager, helping farmers market their grain and managing a staff of originators.
During the fall, she helps Kevin run the family business, Heap’s Giant Pumpkin Farm. She manages the seasonal employees and gives school tours during the day.
“I like chaos and like the flexibility so I can be involved in all of it,” she said.
Mitchell said she grew up on a family farm, and when she finished college, she wanted to get involved in the show pig business. Now, she and her husband, Mark Mitchell, who did not grow up farming, help run Brockman Farms in Verona, which includes show pigs, custom pork and pigs the farm feeds out and sells.
Sara also sells crop insurance for First Farm Credit in Ottawa, and she and her husband have begun an educational wing to the farm called Think Oink, where they team up with Streator High School to show the process from pig insemination to birth.
Kaylee and Sara both said they feel as if they work in male-dominated roles on and off the farm, but also said that as long as they know what they are talking about, the fact that they are women has never played against them negatively in the agriculture world.
“I think in my business, being a woman is an asset, because I can connect to consumers, woman to woman, because wives are more active in the roles on the farm,” Sara said.
A 2012 Census of Agriculture found that in the U.S., out of the 3.2 million total farm operators, 30 percent were women, and of the total principal operators in charge of day-to-day operations, 14 percent were women.
In Grundy County, specifically, women play a role on 25 percent of farms and are the key operator of 6 percent of farms in the county, Grundy County Farm Bureau Manager Victoria Wax said.
“I work with men and am managed by men, which are awesome mentors,” Kaylee said. “I try to get creative and work with other women in the industry to see what works for them, and as long as I am knowledgeable and have an opinion, I feel confident.”