MFU Celebrates 10th Annual Women’s Conference
Nearly 90 women gathered over their love of Montana’s farming and ranching communities this past weekend during the Montana Farmers Union 10th annual Women’s Conference.
Attendees listened to inspiring speakers, participated in hands-on workshops and networked with women from across the state during the conference held at Fairmont Hot Springs Feb. 10-12.
“Women’s Conference celebrates the women who are the backbone of our rural communities, whether it’s directly in production agriculture, rural entrepreneurship, local food development, food system advocacy, looking to grow in leadership, or finding a network of women who want to learn and lead together, it’s truly endless,” said Rachel Prevost, who serves as MFU’s membership services director.
Topics ranged from developing youth leadership to lentils, to spices, to seeds, to scientific advancements, to conflict resolution, to mental health, to tackling big ideas in small towns.
Though the topics were varied, the importance of storytelling was threaded throughout the conference.
Everyone has compelling stories, and those stories are valuable tools for advocating for yourself and conveying key values to others, said Sarah Elkins, owner of Elkins Consulting.
Define what qualities you want others to know about you and your purpose and then follow through with your actions.
“You have to take those actions and you have to do it consistently,” Elkins said.
Then collect and tell stories that convey those characteristics, values and vision to unlock memories for others as you share your own.
“That’s the magic,” Elkins said.
Many times stories can inspire change.
“I just think our stories can be so powerful in ways we’re not even expecting,” photographer and writer Becca Skinner said, sharing about how people have witnessed something, like beekeeping, and then been inspired to start themselves.
Sharing personal stories, though, can be intimidating although it doesn’t have to be.
“I think it can be as simple as talking to your neighbor and it can go up from there,” Skinner said.
Being intentional about how we tell stories and what we want to convey through them is important, especially when we’re talking with the next generation, said Courtney Kibblewhite, vice president and co-owner of Northern Ag Network.
“A kid’s not going to remember a list, they’re going to remember stories,” Kibblewhite told the women.
Not telling stories often means people’s interpretation of events and key moments can be detrimental to their and others’ mental and emotional health. For example, not talking intentionally about a divorce might leave a child to blame themselves, Kibblewhite said.
“So we have to talk about the hard stuff,” she added.
Stories we tell ourselves impact our physical and mental health, Kibblewhite said, encouraging attendees to use tools such as employing a growth mindset and practicing gratitude to help strengthen instead of tear themselves down.
“We have to keep our minds strong and keen so that we can pass down to the next generation those things that really make us who we are,” she said.
When thinking about the future and legacy, think not only about what you want it to be, but also what your role is in bringing it to fruition, keynote speaker Rebecca Undem said.
“If you’ve been given an idea, it’s potentially yours to usher forward,” said Undem, who is passionate about Growing Small Towns.
When making a vision reality, it’s important to surround yourself with five types of people: ones who will champion you, ones who will hold you accountable, ones who are also striving to meet audacious goals, ones who will mentor, and ones who will challenge you, Undem said.
“Choose your people wisely more than anything else,” Undem said.
Overall, the weekend was a success in connecting and inspiring women. In part, because of that legacy of success, an inaugural Eastern Montana Women’s Conference is planned this spring in Sidney.
“Eastern Montana has such a rich heritage for agriculture and leaders, that we can’t wait to see another group of women gather to grow, learn new skills, and build a network they can use,” Prevost said.
Wherever the Women’s Conference is held, it’s about lifelong support networks.
“This conference is about empowering, rejuvenating, and inspiring each other to be the best we can be for our rural towns, our farms and ranches, our families, and our state,” Prevost said. “I am so excited to see what all these amazing attendees will do when they get back home!”