Female #FoodHeroes

Jennifer Schmidt

Jennifer farms full-time on her third generation, 2000-acre family farm. On the farm they grow field corn for the poultry industry; high oleic soybeans the meal of which is also used in poultry feed, while the oleic oil refined and used in food manufacturing to eliminate trans fats in packaged foods; tofu soybeans for the MidAtlantic/Northeast Asian food processing companies making tofu and soy-based food products; Roma tomatoes for canned tomato products; fresh market soybeans which are distributed at grocers; and wine grapes sold to various wineries in the MidAtlantic region.

 

What do you do?

Along with my brother in law, I manage all aspects of the day-to-day production of the various crops on the farm. I run the sprayer and apply all the crop protection products, run the tractors and combine harvester, manage irrigation, and finances… Basically I am a Jane-of-All-Trades as needed!

Why do you love your job?

It is rewarding to see each growing season progress to the end point of harvest knowing you did all that you could to produce safe, nutritious foods for consumers.

How did you get here?

I married into the farm, and eventually left my job as a clinical dietitian at a local hospital to work full time on the farm. I did not grow up on a farm and so this was completely learning by doing. My degrees in nutrition were beneficial, because the science of nutrition applied to humans isn’t all that different from the science of nutrition applied to plants and soil.

What is your advice for young women wanting to contribute to sustainable food and farming?

Be persistent and find your path, even if it’s not a traditional path. Although farming is a typically a male career, women in agriculture have a lot to contribute and should not be intimidated into venturing into a non-traditional career in agriculture. Find a mentor, develop a network of women in agriculture to guide you and advise you as you move forward.

How does agriculture need to change to be fit for the future?

I think we are on the path to increasing sustainability as more technology and innovation allows us to increase production, while using less resources and softening our food print on the land. We will absolutely have to continue to do more with less as the population increases globally and we find new and creative ways to improve distribution, infrastructure and other means to reach adequate nutrition to those most in need. Like all industries, we need to be agile and able to adapt quickly to changing climate and the circumstances that impact our ability to produce food.

Jennifer Schmidt card

What’s one challenge you face as a woman in agriculture and what do you think needs to be done to overcome this?

When I’ve been challenged about my ability as a woman in agriculture, it hasn’t tended to be because I am female, but rather because I did not come from a farming background. The mis-belief is you must be from a farm to understand farming, but many skills are translatable to becoming a good farmer, such as my background as a Registered Dietitian and my academic training in science.
Agriculture is part of the food continuum. As a farmer, I’m working at the front end of food – the production side – while as a registered dietitian, I worked at the end of that continuum with consumers – the consumption side. Either way, it is a readily translatable skillset that is actually a strength over those who come solely from an agriculture background and don’t have a broader perspective.

 

Jennifer is just one of many inspirational women working in agriculture. Visit our Female #FoodHeroes page to hear from other women working to improve plant science and nutrition.