When Danell Kalcevic was in kindergarten, an assignment asked her to describe what she wanted to be when she grows up.
“It sounds silly,” Kalcevic, 48, said, but what she put on the assignment was a farmer’s wife.
Fast forward and …
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Fast forward and Kalcevic is part-owner of Kalcevic Farms, which are located near Bennett and Lindon in eastern Colorado. Their primary crop is wheat, but they also farm corn, millet, sunflowers and cattle feed. The farm has been in Kalcevic’s husband’s family since it got its start near Denver in the 60th Avenue and Pecos Street area in 1898. It has been at the Bennett location since 1952.
“I love that it’s something we can do as a family,” Kalcevic said. “It takes a team to do what we do. In this country, it’s families that make up the farms.”
In April 2002, Kalcevic left her career as a project and product manager with Horizon Software to stay home with her two children. It was then that she slowly started picking up some tasks involving the operations of the farm. And now, she is an integral part of it.
Since the beginning of farming, women have been involved with the family farm behind the scenes — cooking, cleaning, bookkeeping, Kalcevic said.
“But because it’s always been men in the equipment and running the machinery, it’s been assumed that it’s men running the farm,” she added.
However, in today’s world, there are more women operating farms and pursuing high-end careers in the agriculture industry.
“The independent female can go out and start her own farm,” said Colleen Peppler, a retired educator who is a partner of Peppler Farms in Weld County. “It doesn’t have to be a man.”
Leveling the playing field
According to the latest Census of Agriculture — which is conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture — 30 percent of the nation’s farmers were women in 2012, up from 27 percent a decade earlier. These female farmers controlled 7 percent of the farmland in the U.S. The Census of Agriculture is conducted every five years, and the 2017 census will be done this winter.
In Colorado, the USDA states that women farmers make up 37 percent of the state’s producers. There are 21,443 women farmers in Colorado who farm more than 13 million acres.
“We’re starting to see a very level playing field,” said Jennifer Tucker, the small acreage agent for CSU Extension in Adams County. “Ranchers and farmers within the agriculture industry don’t see it as a man’s industry.”
Peppler Farms consists of four locations in Weld County near Mead. In August, one of the farms was honored at the Colorado State Fair by the Colorado Department of Agriculture and History Colorado as a Centennial Farm — meaning the farm has been in the family for 100 years. Peppler Farms produce corn used for livestock feed, wheat, alfalfa hay and beer barley for Coors.
Peppler’s father was a wheat farmer in eastern Colorado, so she has been hands-on with farm operations since she was about 13, she said. In fact, she and her two sisters were her father’s “harvest crew,” Peppler said.
And Kalcevic’s two daughters, Tabor, 19, and Asia, 16, are also very much involved in their family farm’s operations.
“Often, when people think of a farmer, they think of a man,” Tabor Kalcevic said. But “when women step into these roles, they can really shine.”
Tabor is currently a sophomore at CSU in Fort Collins pursuing a bachelor’s degree with a double major in soil and crop science and agriculture business. She hopes to someday become the CEO of Kalcevic Farms.
“Women bring a different perspective to any industry,” Tabor Kalcevic said. Different, in a good way though, she added. “A strong work ethic is what gets you there.”
More than ranching, farming
There is a lot of interest among young women wanting to enter a career in agriculture, said Brooke Fox, CEO of the Colorado Agricultural Leadership Foundation, also known as CALF. Career fields pertaining to agriculture are just about endless, she said. Careers can be anything from veterinarians, livestock producers and crop scientists to lawyers, media relations, mechanics and those who develop the new technologies for modern-day equipment, said Fox, who grew up on a cattle ranch near Larkspur.
“It’s not just ranching and farming,” she said. “No matter what your interests are, you can find a place in agriculture.”
CALF is a nonprofit organization dedicated to connecting people of all ages and abilities to agriculture through educational programs, community projects and special events. Since 2009, CALF has served more than 19,000 children, Fox said, and annually, between 10 and 15 students in 4-H or members of Future Farmers of America raise livestock at the foundation’s working educational ranch, Lowell Ranch, in Castle Rock.
“Every person on the planet relies on agriculture in some form,” Fox said. “We need everyone to be thinking about our future and how to produce healthy, safe food.”
Both Danell Kalcevic and Peppler are volunteers with a group called CommonGround, which is a national grassroots movement designed to help bridge the gap between the women who grow food and the women who buy it.
For the most part, it is still primarily women who do the grocery shopping for most households in the U.S., Peppler said. Therefore, she added, women “are a keen ear of knowing what consumers want.”
CommonGround volunteers share their personal experiences, science and research to help consumers sort through the growing number of myths and misinformation surrounding food and farming.
“We’re the ones who start conversations in the grocery store,” Peppler said. “This is our career. And we take the responsibility of growing the nation’s food very seriously.”
A greater understanding
Most people today are between four and five generations removed from agriculture, Fox said. She added that unlike in the past, it is uncommon for the majority of today’s children to have a grandparent who grew up on a farm.
This means that people are becoming “less and less aware of where their food comes from,” Fox said.
Most of today’s society is far removed from producing its own food, Kalcevic said.
“The further removed we are, the more fearful we become” of the food we eat, Kalcevic said. “CommonGround helps consumers understand that farmers are regular people who are eating the same food that everybody else is serving their families.”
There are a lot of misconceptions out there about what farmers and ranchers do, said Tucker, who lives on a small-acreage ranch near Bennett and raises sheep and horses.
But overall, man or woman, “everybody in the agriculture industry wants a safe food supply,” Tucker said.
Although production agriculturalists are a small percentage of the U.S. population, she said, no matter if you’re in Denver or New York, through social media, you can connect with someone who knows a rancher or farmer.
And most likely, they would be willing to bring you out to their ranch or farm to help you better understand the industry and where your food comes from, Tucker said.
“We’d love to show you what we do,” she said, “because we’re pretty proud of it.”
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