Agriculture is a part of all of us. From the fresh fruits and vegetables we consume, to the plush wool sweater we wear during the frigid Maine winters, to the biofuels we now use in our cars, Maine farmers work on a daily basis to provide us with the food, fiber, fuel, and feed we need to survive. These same farmers are producing more food, on less land, using fewer resources, than the families that farmed the land before them.

While we often imagine the farmer driving the tractor in a field, donning jean overalls and work boots, how often is this image a male farmer? Certainly, agriculture and farming was a male-dominated profession for many centuries. However, there has been a positive insurgence in recent years of women in agriculture that is leaving both a lasting impression and hope for more women to become engaged in this noble field of work.

From the classroom to the field to the office setting, Maine women are having a significant influence in agriculture, one of our most vital industries. As of the 2012 Census of Agriculture, there are 969,672 female farmers in the United States. In Maine, there are 5,398 female farmers, accounting for 41 percent of all farmers in the state. These female farmers are farming on 631,417 acres, and generating $52.3 million of economic impact.

Maine is one of the top five states in the country in terms of female farmers. These figures alone speak volumes about the importance of women in agriculture, yet do not tell the whole story about the role these women play in Maine.

The following women are just two of those that are having a dynamic impact in Maine.

Alicyn Smart is the executive director of Maine Farm Bureau, a nonprofit, grassroots organization based in Augusta. Although she was not raised on a farm, Smart knew at a young age that agriculture was a passion of hers. She attended an agriculture high school, where she majored in plant science and managed the school greenhouses and worked for a landscape company during the summers. She then came to Maine and attended Unity College, where she majored in horticulture. During her time at Unity, she worked at the UMaine Insect Plant Disease Diagnostic Lab and was a plant health care assistant at the same landscape company that she worked for during high school. After college, Smart enrolled in the Doctor of Plant Medicine program at the University of Florida. As part of receiving a fellowship from the USDA in food production and food safety, she worked on a farm to create a Harmonized Good Agricultural Practice (GAPs) program. Before graduating from her doctorate program, she accepted the position at Maine Farm Bureau and just recently purchased her first tractor.

Before starting at Farm Bureau, a mentor of Smart’s told her that it’s important to vocalize your thoughts.

“This might sound obvious but as a young female in agriculture you are often surrounded by people who have decades more experience than you,” she told me. “While this is great because you have so many people to learn from, it can also be intimidating.

“I have followed this advice and I know it has helped in my career because I have learned more by asking questions, and ultimately helped me succeed in my job by vocalizing my ideas I knew would move our organization forward.”

Anne Trenholm raises Guernsey dairy cattle and Angus beef at her family’s diversified farm and creamery in Winthrop. She specializes in direct marketing of handmade cheeses and yogurt and premium beef, as well as “whey-good” pork, for their farm brand, Wholesome Holmstead. Trenholm’s roles on the farm include milking, feeding, cleaning, and animal husbandry and caretaking. She also focuses on marketing, sales and product promotion, and assists in the creamery with inventory management.

Wholesome Holmstead is the longest continually run dairy in their community, and Trenholm is the third generation to be involved on the farm. She is involved in leadership and volunteer positions for various food and agriculture groups at the community, state and national level. The connections and conversations she has with people who work to provide food, fuel, fiber and flowers — items that we rely on in our daily lives — have been especially insightful to her as a consumer and producer, she said.

A farm is a living, changing thing, with a lot of interconnected parts. There is a lot happening at once that might not be immediately obvious, and so much can happen in one day. For Trenholm, “agriculture is an avenue to connect us with our own lives and the lives of others.”

Trenholm suggests women interested in agriculture “build their skills in financial management, project management and understanding soils. Then, they can progress to other aspects like animal husbandry, plants, etc.” She also noted that “It’s essential to put in the due diligence to reflect upon the system that a farmer inherently agrees to steward. It’s important for folks to realize that the closer one’s involvement is in production part of our food system, the more they might realize that the timeline of agriculture does not always align with the timeline of other parts of human lives.”

As consumers, it is important for us to recognize how our food and fiber products are produced, to appreciate the role that agriculture plays in providing us with a safe, affordable, and abundant food supply. We must understand the value of agriculture to our state’s economy, and the opportunities that exist within the industry.

As Maine residents, it is our responsibility to encourage, educate, and empower future generations to meet our state’s growing food, fiber, and fuel needs. Most importantly, as leaders, it is essential that we never forget our agricultural roots and heritage, and to acknowledge those in agriculture with a simple “thank you” for all of their efforts in providing for us.

Ashley E. Sears is a fourth-generation dairy farmer and a marketing specialist with the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. She lives in New Gloucester.