FORT BENTON — According to USDA's Census of Agriculture from 2017, women accounted for 36 percent of the country's Ag producers. In recognition of women in agriculture, a conference was hosted at the Montana Agricultural Center in Fort Benton. The conference was referred to as "StrongHer Together."
Organizers Stacy Bronec and Chandee Bomgardner said there are conferences like this hosted throughout Montana, but there hasn't been one in the Fort Benton area, which is why they got together and create their own event where farmers and ranchers from North-Central Montana can come together.
Bronec said, "We wanted a conference that was more accessible to women in this area. We just felt like this was a need to have this conference where women can get together and network."
Bomgardner said, "We were in a dead spot around here. Everything was a lot further away. We wanted a place where women can come together and network. everything was a lot further away for people to travel, and we just wanted a place for women to get together, bring some education, and know that we're all into this together. Everybody's got the same kind of story."
The conference featured various vendors and speakers, where the public got the chance to network and connect with fellow female farmers and ranchers.
"We wanted to give women who have small businesses the opportunity to sell their goods, and also make connections with people who might not have found out about their products otherwise ... We just felt like all of it together would benefit all of us."
Bronec described the Ag lifestyle describing it as challenging, yet rewarding. "It's a whole different lifestyle," she said. "It's not just a career. It's a lifestyle. The farm and ranch dictates your whole life. It's challenging at times, but that's what's great with conferences like this. It's meeting other women who are in similar situations, and knowing challenges come to all of us."
One of the featured vendors was "Ask In Earnest," an organization dedicated to assisting farmers under severe mental stress.
Montana has approximately 50,000 agriculture producers. An estimated 20% (10,000) struggle with mental health including anxiety and depression; 5% (2,500) suffer from severe mental illness that includes suicidal behavior.
Darla Tyler-McSherry is a representative at Ask In Earnest. She stated, "We know from the data that farming and ranching has one of the highest rates of suicide per-occupation. The challenges of that is addressing stigma that's associated with mental health, but opportunities such as this conferences really elevates the conversation about mental health and help get more resources and access to people who live in rural Montana and rural U.S."
Topics surrounding discussions consisted of social media marketing in farming/ranching, occupational therapy, first aid on the farm, and many others.
Aly Robins led the talk on Social Media. She addressed the concern that audience members had on using social media in rural areas.
Aly said, "You would be amazed at how many people are actually on social media. You know, farmers and ranchers, they say, Oh, I'm not on Facebook. They are. And actually, a lot of people get connected even in their rural communities through social media. And it's just a great way to easily get in front of your potential customers and talk about what you have to offer."
Former Miss Montana USA Tahnee Peppenger discussed the importance of authenticity.
"It's about self-preservation based on your own values," she said. "If you know your values and if you remain steadfast with them, then I think you can live a very fulfilling life. So authenticity to me is just a cornerstone of who you are, what you want out of life, and where you're going."
The conference will continue through Sunday from 8am-11:45am at 1205 20th Street in Fort Benton.