March 8 has been celebrated as International Women’s Day since 1909. Originally called International Working Women's Day, it commemorates the movement for women's rights. Over the years, the day is celebrated by groups around the world in many different ways. Here at IL Corn, we’d like to tip our hats today to three female leaders in the world of corn. They are Pam Johnson, first and only woman elected President of the National Corn Growers Association, Theresa Schmalshof, first woman Chair of the Illinois Corn Marketing Board, and Donna Jeschke, our second woman at the helm of ICMB.
Theresa was the first woman elected to chair ICMB when her term began in 2000. Theresa was awarded the Illinois Corn Growers Association World of Corn award in 2015 to honor her many years of service to the corn industry. She shares that award with her husband, Gary, who also spent years volunteering for the betterment of corn. When Theresa took over at ICMB, she was the District 9 director. California’s laws regarding ethanol in gasoline were in the news, and as a member of NCGA’s ethanol action team, Theresa was on the front lines.
At a meeting in California, Theresa said, “Our group is here to extend the offer of support, sharing knowledge and hard-earned experience in the Midwest. We want California farmers, government officials and environmental groups to know they have much to gain right here in their own back yard. Yes, corn growers nationwide will benefit, but California has much to gain too." Theresa was also engaged in the newly minted C-FAR, the Illinois Council for Agricultural Research. She said, “This interdisciplinary research program is providing powerful information to assist Illinois farmers and farm groups to make more effective decisions." #hattip to Theresa for carrying the ethanol flag and for paving the way for women in leadership at ICMB.
During her term as ICMB Chairwoman, Donna contributed to the early stages of what we then called the farmer image campaigns. Donna was chair in 2008-2009. You’ll remember that at that time, anti-conventional ag messaging was kicking up in the media. The feature length docudrama, Food, Inc., was released in 2008. The Time magazine cover article titled, “The Real Cost of Cheap Food,” followed soon after. Early research indicated that women were great messengers about agricultural topics, especially when women consumers were the group that we wanted to speak with. So, #hattip to Donna for her early work in this subject matter area, along with all the other more typical work that comes before the Chair of the Illinois Corn Marketing Board.
About the farmer image work than then became the Illinois Farms Families collaborative effort, Donna said, “We’re committed to having conversations with consumers -- answering your questions about food, farmers, and farming -- and openly sharing what really happens on today’s Illinois family farms. More than 94 percent of Illinois farms are family owned and operated, and we feed our families the same food we grow for yours. We’d like to show how you we grow nutritious, quality food for all our families, and what it takes to protect our land and our animals. We’d also like to offer you the chance to get your food questions answered by the farmers who grow it.”
Pam Johnson took over as the head of the National Corn Growers Association in October of 2012. At that time, Pam was a director of the Iowa Corn Growers Association and was also a former Iowa Corn Promotion Board chair. Pam serves with Maizall, the international maize alliance of corn grower associations from Argentina, Brazil, the National Corn Growers Association of the U.S. and the U.S. Grains Council. On the national level, she has served as a board member of the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) and the National Coalition for Food and Agriculture Research (NC-FAR). Johnson also was Chair of the NCGA Research and Business Development Action Team and a member of the U.S. Grains Council Biotech and Trade Policy Action Teams.
Pam stated to attendees at a Commodity Classic several years ago, "As an industry, we are better when we are diverse. We make better connections with the people we are trying to engage when we look like them. We are better today than when I started in this business, but we still need to improve.” Thanks, Pam, and #hattip for your continued service to the corn industry.