Trailblazer

Farmer Jennie Schmidt sits on the steps of her combine. Schmidt was recently recognized with Top Producer magazine’s 2021 Executive Women in Agriculture Trailblazer Award.

SUDLERSVILLE — Jennie Schmidt has been a full-time farmer for only a few years, but her work in agriculture spans much of her career.

As a registered dietician and farm mom, she has for years communicated with the public about myths and facts in modern agriculture.

Her advocacy has carried on through service in state and national farm organizations, becoming the first female board member and first female president of the Maryland Grain Producers Utilization Board and a member of the Nominating Committee of the National Corn Growers Association.

As one of the main operators on her family’s third-generation diversified crop farm in Queen Anne’s County, Schmidt is part of a still-small but growing segment of full-time, female farmers.

“It’s an unusual foundation,” Schmidt said of her background leading into the farm, “but it’s still a foundation to be a farmer and make me a better farmer.”

In forging this atypical path, Schmidt was recently recognized with Top Producer magazine’s 2021 Executive Women in Agriculture Trailblazer Award.

“What motivates Jennie is being able to share the benefits of modern agriculture,” said Sara Schafer, editor of Top Producer, in presenting the award. “She’s a fantastic communicator and can relate to others as a farmer, a nutritionist and as a mother.”

Schmidt said what makes the award special to her is that she didn’t grow up on farm.

“As I became more involved in the family operation I developed a real love of farming,” she said. “It’s been a real honor for me to become more involved and take on leadership roles and then be recognized for that through this award.”

Schmidt said while the award recognizes her trailblazing, she is also following the example of other women leaders, including, Hampton, Iowa farmer, April Hemmes, who received the inaugural award in 2019, and nominated Schmidt for this year’s award.

“Without them as role models and setting an example for leadership, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” Schmidt said.

As a dietician, Schmidt’s counsel included how to read food labels and food buying, and with dietitians not trained in food production practices but getting asked more about how food is grown, she said she saw a need for education and has since participated in dietician training at the national and international levels.

“I have the direct connection that a lot of people don’t have,” she said.

She was one of the first volunteers in Maryland to participate in Common Ground, an ongoing outreach effort through NCGA that has farm women share their perspectives and facts with the curious public.

Schmidt’s blog and social media page, “The Foodie Farmer,” started 10 years ago and furthered the science-based communication efforts, educating readers about genetically modified crops, pesticide use, nutrition and other food topics.

About five years ago, roles were somewhat reversed on Schmidt Farms when her husband Hans took an off-farm job as assistant secretary for resource conservation at the Maryland Department of Agriculture, creating the opportunity for Jennie to join the farm operation full-time with Hans’ brother, Alan.

Jennie said while she was around the farm for years, having a day-to day-role and being involved in decision-making was completely different and it’s to Alan’s credit that it’s been able to work.

“He perfectly had the option to hire someone on this farm because it needs two people to operate,” she said. “The fact that he was willing to work with me, I want to truly thank him for that opportunity.

“For me, I’ve learned a lot of skills from it.”

Much of the science she used as a dietician comes into play farming, she said, but there’s always a new path to explore as well, in order to sustain the farm so there is a place for the next generation of the Schmidt family.

“I’m one of those people who if you tell me I can’t do something, I will prove you wrong,” Schmidt said. “To me, that’s just part of the continuum of learning and having the disposition of being a lifelong learner.”

This article is reprinted with permission from The Delmarva Farmer, an agribusiness newspaper for the Mid-Atlantic Region. Visit online at www.americanfarm.com.

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