NOTE: This week on the USDA Blog, we’ll feature the stories of America’s Harvest Heroes who, like farmers across the nation, are working this harvest season to secure the bounty of healthy food American agriculture is renowned for. From laying the foundation for the next generation of farmers putting down roots in rural America, supporting the fruit and vegetable growers who are helping to build healthier communities, bolstering new markets for the products of agricultural innovation, to harvesting renewable energy that is made in Rural America, with USDA’s support our farmers are yielding strong results for every American.
Farming and ranching in central North Dakota is a family affair for the Zieschs. Shelly and Robin Ziesch have three daughters who are all involved in agriculture, from ranching on their own to agriculture education to helping out on the family farm. These soon-to-be grandparents take great pride in their oldest daughter, Bailie, a nurse who also ranches with her husband Russell just south of Mandan, ND. Their middle daughter, Cassidy, attends North Dakota State University and is studying to be an agriculture teacher. She comes home often (whenever there isn’t a home football game) to help out. Their youngest daughter, Morgan, is a junior in high school and between her many sports and activities helps out on the ranch.
Both Shelly (SZ) and Morgan (MZ) share their insights into what it means to be a woman in agriculture and how each of them thinks about the future of their family operation.
How do you start your day?
SZ: I start my day by getting up at 5:45 a.m. I clock in to my off farm job as a medical transcriptionist for a local hospital at 6 a.m. and I work part time so I am off by 10 a.m. With electronic medical records I can telecommute and work from my home office so this works out well with our ranching schedule since this way I am able to go help the rest of the day on the ranch.
MZ: During the school year, I start my day by waking up at 6:25 a.m. and doing my morning routine. I either ride the bus to school (an hour and a half ride) or I drive because of sports or other after school activities. During the summer time, (before haying) I try to wake up before it gets too hot and I ride one of my horses. After I get done riding, I usually help Dad or Mom with something outside, or (if I don’t procrastinate) start on a 4-H project. After we start to hay I don’t always get to ride, but I take all the chances I get. Otherwise I go out to the hayfield and either rake or mow.
What is your favorite part of your job?
SZ: My favorite part of ranching is being able to work side-by-side with my husband and kids. We have a lot of “bonding” time when working together that not all families get. I also love working with animals and watching crops grow. There is a sense of accomplishment that is second to none when you have raised and sold a good load of calves or finished a good harvest season.
MZ: My favorite part of my “job” is getting to be outside most of the summer and be with animals (which I love). I don’t really consider living/helping on the farm a job, but more as a lifestyle. I have never lived any other way, and I don’t think I would want to either!
Who are your role models?
SZ: I look up to a lot of people and have many role models with none of them on reality TV. I am fortunate to have many strong women in my family from my great grandmothers down to my daughters. I learned a lot from my parents and they were great role models for me. They taught me how to have a strong marriage, love of the land and how to have a good work ethic. We lost my dad in 2013 to cancer and while I am still missing his influence in my life, I am amazed at how strong my mom has been, and continues to be.
MZ: There are many role models in my life. I have many people to look up to starting with my family. There are also many people in our community that I have as role models. Living in a rural community, we all seem to live very similar lifestyles and we can learn from each other.
What are you watching, reading or listening to?
SZ: My favorite things to watch on TV are comedies including The Middle and Mike & Molly, but don’t ask me when they come on since I love DVRing everything and watching it whenever I have some time. I love to read almost anything I can get my hands on with strong favorites being mysteries by James Patterson, Mary Higgins Clark and Sue Grafton. I also love music and you will rarely find me working without a radio on. I listen mostly to country music, but I also like bluegrass, pop and 80s rock just to change things up from time to time.
MZ: Currently, I am watching a couple TV shows: Grey’s Anatomy, Heartland, and Nashville. Being busy in school, I don’t get to read very often, so currently I am not reading much outside of textbooks. And of course, you can always find me listening to a little George Strait.
What inspired you to get involved in agriculture?
SZ: I don’t know when I was inspired to get involved in agriculture since I literally cannot remember ever not being involved in agriculture. My parents got us involved at an early age and while I didn’t really appreciate chores and responsibilities at the time, I am happy that they did it now. I am a fourth generation cattle rancher and was raised on the farm/ranch that my great grandparents started over 100 years ago. Our home ranch is the one started by my husband’s grandparents and we also run my family’s original ranch. It is great to be able to raise our family on the land our ancestors farmed and ranched and to be able to ride the same trails, hay the same fields, see the same landscape and watch our children do the same leaves me with a feeling that is almost indescribable, but makes my heart feel so much joy.
MZ: I’m not sure that you could really call my involvement in agriculture as something I was inspired to do, but more of a willingness. In other words, I would rather be outside doing stuff rather than be cooped up in the house doing dishes.
In seven words or less, what is some advice you would offer your fellow women in agriculture?
SZ: Measure your success only by your happiness.
MZ: Hard work pays off.
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Really nice article. I like to see women being recognized as ranchers instead of rancher's wives or rancher's daughters.
Thank you for this important series. I would love to contribute a written piece about my wife Jennie London, who has been a farmer for over a decade. Otherwise, I would love to connect someone at USDA who could help to share her story. She is a true hero in my view!
Love this article! I know both of these lady’s, and they are awesome! I love gardening and can understand their feeling of how they feel when you harvest your own food! My garden is small compared to theirs most likely. Females need to learn to be strong and do on their own, and when they get married or in a relationship. Because if it dosen’t work out or you loss your other half. You know you can stand on your own two feet and survive.