Mary Pat Sass grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin. When she married Josh, MP became a member of Sass Family Farm in Woodstock, Illinois, a 5th-generation row crop farm, where they grow corn, soybeans, and a little bit of wheat. Josh and MP farm alongside Josh’s parents, his two brothers, and their families.
Prior to working full-time on the farm, MP worked in agriculture technology but chose to make a change to focus on being a mom. She didn’t intend to become a full-fledged member of the Sass Family Farm team, but she realized quickly she was meant to be more involved. She created a role for herself by sharing their family’s story on social media. She now focuses on helping educate the public about agriculture, such as knowing the difference between sweet corn and field corn and helping other farm women to find their own roles and recognize their contributions.
The biggest difference for me is that growing up, we were a one family dairy farm. That meant we had to be fully committed to the operation year-round, and while we had some employees to help, it wasn’t really possible to pass off our responsibilities to take a vacation. While I don’t feel I missed out, as some of my best memories are on the farm, we are able to raise our children differently. In fact, we were just able to enjoy a recent and much needed vacation. With three other members of Josh’s family here on the farm, we can lean on each other and take turns taking a break. We have a better balance of farm life and family life.
Oddly enough, there was a specific moment when I decided I wanted to start sharing, even before I knew exactly what that was going to look like long-term. One day, I brought my husband a second lunch because he’d run over his first lunch with the tractor. I thought people might think it was funny because we thought it was funny.
As I’ve continued to share, I’ve realized there is a lot of confusion about agriculture and people appreciate the opportunity to learn more in a fun way. I also really enjoy connecting with other farm women. There’s such a stigma that women have to find work off the farm. While there are good reasons some women choose to do that, there are ways for farm wives to contribute to the farm outside of driving the tractor or serving as my husband’s personal lunch delivery driver.
I am still learning more about how the farm originally started, but my husband’s grandpa farmed over by Chicago growing vegetables and then bringing them into town to sell. In fact, some of the ground he rented makes up part of O’Hare International Airport today. Eventually, Josh’s grandpa expanded the farm over to where we’re located today, and my father-in-law came back to farm alongside him. From there, they worked together to scale the size of the farm, and they transitioned away from vegetables and into row crop farming.
I would tell them that they should really focus on you, your farm, and your story. Draw your audience in by sharing about what it is you’re up to. Don’t bite off more than you can chew and try to speak for the whole industry, because I know what large differences there are even between a dairy farm and a row crop farm. Stick to what you know, but please tell your story because it’s important that we show the world that there are lots of good, hard-working people out here ensuring you have safe, healthy food.