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In Conversation with #WomeninAg: Cory Carman

Posted by Rachael Dubinsky and Wendy Wasserman, Office Of Communications in Conservation Initiatives
Feb 21, 2017
Cory Carman, a fourth generation family rancher in eastern Oregon
Cory Carman is a fourth generation family rancher in eastern Oregon. She is the owner and operator of Carman Ranch, serves on the Oregon Farm Service Agency State Committee, and encourages women in agriculture to “change what farmers look like”.

As part of our ongoing #womeninag series, we are highlighting a different leading woman in agriculture each month.  This month, we profile Cory Carman. Cory’s family has been ranching in Wallowa, Oregon since 1913. After graduating from Stanford with an environmental policy degree and working in Washington, DC and in Los Angeles, Cory returned to rural Oregon in 2003.  She now runs Carman Ranch with her husband, Dave Flynn and business partner Jill McLaran. 

Today, Carman Ranch specializes in grass fed beef and is engaged in multiple cooperative habitat and ecosystem restoration projects.  Cory works with local ranchers to explore collective marketing options for locally raised beef to restaurants, wholesalers and other buyers in Oregon.

Cory loves being part of a rural community and spending time on the ranch with David and their three children, as well as in Portland with chefs and buyers. In 2012, Cory was featured in a White House Google Plus Hangout profiling six leading women in local agriculture. She also is the only woman serving on the Oregon Farm Service Agency State Committee. USDA recently announced that the nomination period for local Farm Service Agency county committees begins Sunday, June 15, 2014. More information is available at www.fsa.usda.gov/elections.

We talked with Cory about why women need to “work smarter” on the farm, and why it’s important for women to take on more leadership roles in their businesses and their communities to “change what farmers look like”.

How do you start your day?

My kids get on the bus at 7 am and my husband heads outside to work.  I pour myself a cup of coffee and sit on the couch so I can look out at the cows and the mountains.  It’s the time of the day I get to appreciate the peace of where we live, without interruptions.

Who are your role models in agriculture?

I’m most inspired by producers who dig into a place and learn about the nuances of production in their landscape, its unique soil, wildlife and seasonal changes.  These people have a depth of understanding of a place that is hard to duplicate.  There are so many of these farmers across the nation. 

My grandmother lived on our family ranch for 90 years.  She had a profound knowledge of our land; where the water pooled when it rained, when the elk moved down, the hidden draws where the cows hid.  It’s a special type of wisdom that one can only be gained by spending many decades on the land.  Wendell Berry writes most eloquently about these experiences and I think he communicates a type of patience that’s easy to dismiss in our age of technology and instant gratification.

Who do you think are the most influential women in agriculture -- past or present?

I think women tell incredible stories about agriculture that change the way we perceive our practices and cause us to question the status quo.  Rachel Carson’s writing prompted a huge change in how we think about pesticides.  Nicollete Niman, Jane Black and Maryn McKenna are just a few women writing thoughtful, well-researched stories that, regardless of whether you agree with their conclusions, are prompting important conversations about how we produce food. 

In my day-to-day life, I think Temple Grandin has had an incredible influence on how we operate in the cattle industry.  Nearly every beef processing plant I visit points to changes they’ve made due to her observations and insight.

In addition to being on the ranch, you also serve on some public Boards and Commissions.  How are women contributing to these organizations?

I think women are contributing on several levels. They bring their unique perspective to leadership roles.  Agriculture remains a very physical occupation and on average, we just aren’t as strong as our male counterparts.  So we have to work smarter, not harder, and we have to manage relationships and be strategic.  These are great perspectives to bring into challenging or contentious conversations.

I can’t count the number of times a man tells me, “You don’t look like a rancher.” When I serve on boards with these men, they learn that I know what I’m talking about because I am a rancher, and they can adjust their idea of exactly what a rancher looks like.

I would encourage any woman in agriculture who is interested to serve on a board or commission, locally or nationally, to do so. It is a very rewarding experience.

Where do you currently sense the most energy and excitement happenings in women in agriculture?

Women have been an integral part of agriculture since humans have been growing food.  But in recent memory, they have often been on the sidelines.  I see that shifting and it’s exciting.  Women are appearing more frequently in leadership roles in both the public and private sector, and men are embracing the change. 

In my world of livestock production, we’re seeing a lot of women take on the role of communicating what’s happening on the ranch.  They are adding immense value to what’s produced by creating new marketing channels through telling the story of where and how the animals are grown.  Consumers are looking for those types of connections.

What are you watching, reading or listening to?

I’m reading a fantastic historical fiction novel about World War II called “All the Light We Cannot See”, I’m in love with a bluegrass trio called The Stray Birds, and I can’t stop watching Gabe Brown’s YouTube videos on improving soil health.

How do you spend the free time you have?

I love to go running.  We’re so lucky to have endless dirt roads with no traffic.  Almost every time I go, I feel like I’m part of a photo shoot for a running magazine.  I also love to hike in the mountains, and we go backpacking or camping every chance we can get away.

In seven words or less, what is some advice you would offer to the next generation of women in agriculture?

Change what farmers looks like.

From farmers and scientists to policy makers and communicators, women are at the forefront of agriculture.  Check out previous Conversations with #womeninag with Anne Alonzo, Administrator of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service;  cattlewoman Minnie Lou Bradley of Bradley 3 Ranch; National Young Farmers Coalition founder Lindsay Lusher Shute; Dean of the College of Agriculture at Virginia State University Dr. Jewel Hairston; and founder and editor-in-chief of Civil Eats Naomi Starkman. You can continue to follow our conversation with #womeninag on Storify.

Is there a leading women in agriculture you would like to hear from?  Send us your suggestions using #womeninag or via email at agwomenlead@usda.gov.

Category/Topic: Conservation Initiatives