The Montana Farmers Union Women’s Conference is an opportunity for members to come together to celebrate their contributions to agriculture, learn about the diversity in the industry and take in some personal and
professional development workshops. As a bonus attendees are able to soak in the hot springs of Fairmont!
At the 2020 women’s conference in February the Founder of Red Ants Pants Sarah Calhoun kicked off the event. Calhoun shared her story of the personal and financial struggles she overcame to start the first company dedicated to making work clothes for women. It began with a chance encounter with a prominent designer at a coffee shop who provided her with the industry contacts to get the business up and running. She started sewing backpacks to learn the trade and soon after moved to Montana after being inspired by Ivan Doig’s This House of Sky. “There are three things I promised myself when I started Red Ants Pants,” said Calhoun. “Number one if I can’t be authentic with my customers then I don’t deserve to be in the business. Number two; if I can’t operate and manufacture clothing in the U.S. then I refuse to operate a clothing company and Number three, if I can’t make it personal and have fun connecting with my customers then I don’t want to be in business.” Calhoun said her strong work ethic, good sense of right versus
wrong and knowing how to treat people has led to her success. Red Ants Pants has expanded to include a foundation, annual music festival and now a leadership mentoring program for high school juniors.
Saturday morning Calhoun led the women in agriculture panel featuring panelist Caroline Reese, Abby Majerus and Liz Matovich. The panel focused on how each of the ladies got started in their respective fields, challenges they faced and what they have learned along the way. Caroline Reese owns Little Creek Lamb Ranch in Townsend. She shared her story of growing the business using Instagram as the sales platform. “I found if you are being truthful and authentic people will notice that and keep on coming back.” Reese has a farm club clients can join for discounts on her products and a digital only membership for her Instagram
page @bigskycaroline for those who love seeing the images from her Townsend Ranch.
Panelist Abby Majerus is a third generation farmer and rancher in Central Montana. She had some words of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.“Become comfortable with failure,” said Majerus.“Hone in on your mission statement and make sure everything you do feeds back to your mission statement. And if it doesn’t re-examine your purpose.” Other workshops included estate planning by Jennifer Bishop and Ashley Mahoney of KLB Business Law. Deanna Fusillo-Hinsz with Sassy Girl Entrepreneur shared her story and Nancy De Pastino with the Missoula County Health Department presented on suicide prevention. Alisha Hadfield did a demonstration on goat milk soap and attendees also had the option to enjoy a Zumba workshop or learn photography. Attendee Laurie Lohrer of Lewistown said she enjoys connecting with other women each year at the conference. “I loved this year’s MFU Women’s Conference at Fairmont,” said Lohrer. “There were great speakers, food, and hot springs to boot. Maybe the best part was getting to know women from across the state, learning their stories, and especially seeing all the younger women active in ranching and farming. We had a blast!