Doris Scully and Rhonda Schafer were two of three girls growing up on a farm that raised cattle, corn, soybeans and hay. Their dad even tried pigs for a while.
It truly was a family farm. Their parents worked together, Scully said, adding “mom was by his side all the time.”
It wasn’t until years later that the sisters came to appreciate how special it was that their mother was so involved. And even more, to grasp how much work they did on the farm, too.
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Growing up, Schafer said she remembered people saying to her dad: “Oh you have three girls, what are you going to do? How will you take care of the farm?”
The answer was simple.
“We knew how to drive the horse trailer and drive every piece of machinery on the farm,” Schafer said. “No matter what, boy or girl, dad made sure we knew how to do that.”
“Our parents were very big on us girls being involved on the farm and learning more about agriculture,” Scully added.
Both parents made a strong impression on the young women. Scully said her dad treated her the same as he would have handled a son.
“He always had me come out there with him,” she said. “And he had to be patient with me to learn everything.”
Their mother was setting new norms, as well. Scully said their mom always took the grain to the elevator. She would pull up to the huge storage structures in a big truck. It was what many would describe as a manly environment. But their mom never acted like she didn’t belong.
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“I always thought that was unique,” Scully said, “and not many women did that.”
Their mom, Tresa Sips, said many were surprised by how much she did on the farm. It was different from her childhood when girls and women seldom helped with farm work.
“I had a brother, and he helped my dad,” Sips said. But then when she got married, there was so much work to do on their new farm, Sips said she had to pitch in, too.
Still, she said she always felt accepted once she started doing more.
“In fact," the 82-year-old Sips said, "many admired how much I was able to help my husband on the farm.”
Now she admires what her daughters are doing and all that they have accomplished in farming.
Scully said she tried to get off the farm — both she and Schafer went to college and studied subjects unrelated to agriculture. But majors changed, and their summers kept pulling them back to work on the farm.
“I tried, I really did, but I don’t know, I just came right back,” Scully said. “We knew we wanted to be in agriculture. It gets in your blood and you can’t get it out, we just loved it.”
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Scully and Schafer have now taken over their parents’ operation.
Scully, 57, works with her husband and one of their sons to raise corn, soy and hay as a cover crop.
Schafer, 54, and her husband took over the cattle part of the farm.
But that’s not all they do, not by a long shot.
Scully also works as a resource conservationist for the Natural Resource Conservation Service with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That means she interacts with farmers on a near daily basis, helping answer questions and providing assistance on how to manage their land.
Schafer is a teacher and also runs a flower farm she and her husband recently started with their daughters. The flower farm is a passion, something they’ve always wanted to do, Schafer said, “but it couldn’t function without everyone working on it.”
Scully and Schafer live just a few minutes down the road from one another. While they have each other for support, they're also part of a growing network of women working in agriculture in a variety of ways. They share ideas and work together in a setting where they feel comfortable asking when they need help.
“It’s been a real community and we are so blessed to have other women to talk to about these things,” Schafer said.
The women and their mother think that emerging community, as well as advances in technology, has been key to helping many more women enter into agriculture.
“I think, and hope, there will be a time when we won’t even remember there was a difference,” Scully said.
And just like their parents were for them, Scully and Schafer hope the leadership they are modeling will have a strong impact on their own kids. They want to show them that people and jobs should not be defined by gender norms. It’s an approach that's helped Scully’s sons, for example, not be surprised when they see women taking on farm jobs.
“The thing that was instilled in me was the work ethic and appreciating how we were raised, and to appreciate the land and to appreciate family and working on it together to make it better,” Schafer said of life on the farm. “I’ve carried those in my life in everything I do.”
Call IndyStar reporter Sarah Bowman at 317-444-6129 or email at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook: @IndyStarSarah. Connect with IndyStar’s environmental reporters: Join The Scrub on Facebook.
IndyStar's environmental reporting project is made possible through the generous support of the nonprofit Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust.
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Two sisters take over, expand their family's Indiana farm operations