Women farmers, America's sweethearts
by Cristina DC Pastor

The road to farming—if you're a woman—is often through the home or the heart.

For Ardis Hammock, 55, that road began when she fell in love with a farmer, married him and became a farmer herself.

Today, Hammock is vice president of the 700-acre Frierson Farms in Clewiston, Florida. We might not think of the Sunshine State as farm country, but it's the biggest sugarcane producer and top citrus grower in the United States.

Hammock is one of five involved in the farm's operation. She married her husband, Alan, 36 years ago, but it was Alan's aunt, the legendary Louve "Vee" Frierson Platt—Florida Agriculture's Woman of the Year in 1995—who mentored Hammock in the ways of the farm.

Platt was quite the farm innovator in her time. She and two other widows were part of a five-member cooperative, making crucial decisions to implement mechanical harvesting.

"She essentially asserted her knowledge and common sense in a field dominated by men," she said. To Hammock, it will always be Aunt Vee who "broke the glass ceiling."

When Platt died, the family inherited the sugarcane farm and Hammock's responsibilities grew. From doing payroll and other paperwork, she took over the bookkeeping and became vice president in 2007, running a full-time farm operation while raising her two children, Robert and Sarah.

There are special qualities that women bring to the farming culture, and they have little to do with setting the table and preparing the food. "[Women] get the job done on time, have passion and see the whole picture, but still focus on the details that are sometimes missed," said Hammock.

In the three years she was chairperson of the local Farm Service Agency County Committee, Hammock immersed herself in the details of federal farm issues to "understand the daily operations of other sectors of agriculture and make an educated decision."

That sounds straightforward enough, but it was hard in the beginning. Hammock recalled how she sat in meetings of the Sweetener Agricultural Trade Committee feeling intimidated. "[It was] similar to [being] any new kid on the block," she said. She would make her opinions known and generate mere passive acknowledgement of her comments.

"Not sure if it was gender or simply government sitting in their ivory tower thinking they knew more than the person with dirt on their feet," she thought then.

Today, their children are very much a part of the family farm. Robert came back with his wife to help run the farm. Sarahworks at a local bank as the loan-underwriting manager, reviewing all types of farmers' loans.

"God has blessed us with children who will pass on the strongly held family values that only life on the farm teaches you," said Hammock. "I can't imagine any other life than farm life."

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