Voice of the people

Colleen Cecil

PHOTO courtesy of Colleen Cecil

As a walnut farmer, wife and mother, Colleen Cecil knows what it’s like to be a modern woman in agriculture. But she’s also much more than that to the local farming community. Cecil been the executive director of the Butte County Farm Bureau for the past eight years, during which time she has overseen the day-to-day operations of the nonprofit organization of some 1,500 farmers, ranchers and landowners throughout the county. The Farm Bureau works to ensure that their voices are heard both at the local level and in Sacramento, and that they have a firsthand news outlet regarding issues affecting them. She is also uniquely qualified to give her take on the state of the modern woman working in an industry that traditionally has been dominated by men.

What are the main issues the Butte County Farm Bureau is focused on at the moment?

Right now, we decided that it is very important that we get in on the marijuana discussion. There are going to be two measures on the November ballot specifically for Butte County—Measure A [establishing stricter guidelines for where medical marijuana can be cultivated] and Measure B [to repeal the Butte County code that regulates certain aspects of marijuana growing]. It really has to do with public safety. We don’t have any problem with people who want to use it medicinally, but we have people who are growing it for profit, and with that comes crime. We are part of the “Yes on A, No on B” initiative. At the state level, we’re also involved in the groundwater initiative that’s going to be coming across Gov. Brown’s desk. With such a diverse state as California, it’s not practical to have one groundwater policy for every area.

How has the role of women in agriculture leadership changed in recent years?

I’ll say that it’s definitely improved. Women are taking a more active role in agriculture, and I don’t know anybody that would disagree. We are very much a part of this family. It’s diverse—a farmer needs to be an engineer, a scientist, an accountant. There are really a lot of hats that a farmer has to wear, and that’s true regardless of whether you’re male or female. There are a lot of women in the field today, and I think you’re seeing more and more women in a farming role than you may have seen in the past. I think it’s going to continue to grow, and that you’re going to keep seeing women go into active farming roles. It’s an exciting time to be a woman in the industry.

Do you think that the role of women in agriculture is going to change again? Will we see women step ever further into the role of active farming?

Sure. I think you’re going to see it continue to grow, and foster change, just because there’s more opportunity. There’s more acceptance, as well, in our community. What is traditional now? Traditional has changed a lot since, for instance, my grandparents’ dairy farm. My grandfather ran the farm, and my grandmother made meals for the workers. That’s all changing now.