Women in Agriculture: Florida's Women Dairy Farmers
30% of all farmers in the United States are women according to the latest USDA Census of Agriculture, including some of Florida’s dairy farmers. From entrepreneurial business owners to Doctorates of Veterinary Medicine, women are a powerful force on Florida’s dairy farms. Below, you’ll get to know just some of the next generation of women in Florida agriculture who make diary farming their full-time profession and help bring the food from the farm to your table.
Jan Henderson stands at the forefront of sustainability and modernization on Florida dairy farms. As CFO of Alliance Dairies in Trenton, Florida, Jan has her work cut out for her. With 6,000 acres and 9,500 animals, it’s important to Jan for Alliance Dairies to continue to modernize and adopt sustainable practices.
“I truly believe the statement that farmers were the first environmentalists,” says Jan,” and I wish the consumer knew how highly skilled our employees must be to produce high-quality milk while being good stewards of the environment, cows, and land.”
Alliance Dairy was an early adopter of methane digesters. The one on her farm generates enough power to run 425 houses all year round. “We use the manure from the cow to make electricity and then we turn around and put that manure on crops as fertilizer, which we grow and then harvest and feed back to the cows,” says Jan, “So we have a nice circle going around where we are using everything we have to be as environmentally sound as possible.”
Jan serves on the board for the Florida Dairy Farmers and United Dairy Farmers of Florida.
Meghan Austin, a 2nd generation dairy farmer, helps run Cindale Farms in Marianna, Florida. “We invest countless hours every day to provide high quality milk and ice cream in the most sustainable manner possible,” says Meghan, “We love our land, cattle and what we do.”
Meghan takes pride in being a dairy farmer. “Being able to provide the American public with food and our local community with food is something that’s truly, truly rewarding, and something that I don’t take for granted,” Meghan says.
Meghan serves on the board for the Florida Dairy Farmers and has a Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine and Large Animal Medicine. Cindale Farms won the Southeast Milk, Inc’s Outstanding Young Dairy Leaders in 2015 and the prestigious Ag-Environmental Leadership Award from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in 2017.
Courtney Nickerson Campbell
Courtney Nickerson Campbell runs Nickerson Bar III with her brother, Logan, and their parents. They milk a total of 2,000 Holstein cows twice a day at three farms, all located in Hardee County. Their farms use rotational grazing, a cost-effective and simplistic management style that allows them to focus on what matters most: cows and making milk.
When asked about what she likes the most, and the least, about dairy farming Courtney said, “One word: Family. They’re amazing! Truly, they are my most trusted advisors, an invaluable source of knowledge and experience, and the most supportive and understanding coworkers. Family businesses can be difficult to manage because our personal and professional relationships overlap. But ultimately, there is no one else I’d rather work with every day!”
Courtney was Southeast Milk Inc.’s Outstanding Young Dairy Leader in 2019 and currently serves on the Florida Dairy Farmers board of directors.
Kris Rucks and her family run Milking R Dairy in Okeechobee, Florida, home to about 1,200 milking cows. “We’re very fortunate to have raised our family on the farm,” says Kris, “and it’s just a lifestyle that we just really, truly enjoy and hope one day that our grandchildren will grow up on the farm just like our children did.”
Sustainability is important to Kris. “Every day we’re making sure that things are working the way they should to ensure this world that what we’re doing on this farm is sustainable for many, many years to come.” In 2005, Milking R gave up 100 acres of land to create their own wetland. They use that water for irrigation, so they don’t need to use any water from the aquifer. It also serves as a bird and other wildlife sanctuary.
Lindsey Rucks Pettit
Dairy farming runs in the Rucks’ family and Lindsey, Kris’s daughter, is no exception. “I love dairy farming, waking up every morning, working alongside your family, taking care of animals like these makes it truly special,” says Lindsey, “It’s not a job, it’s a way of life.” Lindsey started her dairy farming journey overseeing the younger cows on Milking R, but her career took an unexpected turn when the COVID pandemic hit in 2020.
Just before the COVID pandemic, Milking R had started creating their own unique ice cream flavors. Plagued with excess inventory and lockdowns, the family wasn’t sure what they were going to do. Lindsey spotted the opportunity to start selling their own products online and started with ice cream. Recently that has expanded into bottled milk and home-grown beef as well. You can purchase the ice cream if you visit Milking R, seasonal hours vary.
What started out as a small project has quickly expanded into a growing business. “There’s nothing boring about living and working here,” says Lindsey, “Every day is a little different and that’s one of the amazing things about farm life.”