“Bred a Buckeye, born to be a Boilermaker.”
Laura Barrett is a young Purdue student with high aspirations. A proud member of the class of 2022 in the school of Agriculture, she studies programs within the Applied Economics and Communications programs. Laura recognizes the necessity of technology and seeks to learn how to best apply these strategies to the world of agriculture.
Laura graciously accepted our request to interview her. We’re interested to see what the next generation of female agricultural leaders have to say.
Land Values: Can you explain your tie to agriculture and describe your life growing up?
LB: “My tie to agriculture is rooted in my family’s fifth-generation Ohio row crop farm where my parents taught me the value of hard work, to appreciate where our food comes from, and care about the people you are feeding. Their servant hearts instilled in me a passion for people and a love for food. Born in the city, raised on the farm, developed by 4-H and FFA, and now becoming a rising leader at Purdue, I am striving to better understand and advocate for the all-encompassing agriculture industry that is doing more with less.”
LV: What does your family farm?
LB: “…corn, soybeans, wheat, and hogs.”
LV: How would you describe FFA & 4H in the way they affected your path?
LB: “Not only did my experiences in 4H & FFA affect my professional decisions, but they truly shaped who I am as a person. They taught me the value of serving others and to always strive for better. The people I’ve met through these programs are always the most hardworking and genuine people, only deepening my love for the agriculture industry and those in it.”
LV: Being from Ohio, what brought you to Purdue?
LB: “Purdue has an outstanding college of agriculture, and I have family [members] that had great experiences when they attended Purdue. The return on investment was also a factor; I knew the money I put into my education would pay off while leading me to a great experience and future career. I ended up liking it so much that now I give tours of campus and encourage prospective students in their college decisions and path in agriculture.”
LV: Why did you decide to pursue a career in agriculture?
LB: “The greatest piece of advice I’ve ever received came from my Grandpa. He said to me, ‘Laura, no matter how much the world changes – people are always going to need to eat and take care of their health. Do what you enjoy, but the best [opportunity] is to go into the medical or agricultural industries because we always have and always will need these [services].’”
LV: What led you to your major: Applied Economics & Communication through the School of Agriculture?
LB: “When it came to committing to a major, I had to really think about what I wanted. I started out as a Communications major and love the creative aspect of it. However, within the first week I found myself missing the business side of things I enjoyed with FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America) during high school. Purdue let me do both majors!”
LV: What’s your favorite thing about being a Purdue student?
LB: “This college is always pushing you to grow, try new things, and get out of your comfort zone. They’re always there to support you every step of the way. My favorite thing about Purdue is that I have all of the benefits that come with a Big Ten University while still getting the individualized support and family atmosphere offered through the college of ag.”
LV: Who’s been the most influential within your academic career? Is there a particular instructor or advisor that’s been a mentor to you?
LB: “My most influential mentor has been Dr. Mark Russell. He serves as the department head of the agriculture communications department and knows just about every person that has been through Purdue ag’s doors. He is a front runner in diversity and inclusion, has the biggest servant heart and has been one of my biggest supporters at Purdue.”
LV: Have you been able to visit any local farming operations? If so, what were your thoughts? Any observations on how they differ from back home?
LB: “I have! In my home county agriculture is what we do – it touches every single person. We have lots of family farms that are small to medium sized. And we are also a very animal production heavy county (#1 dairy county in Ohio), to the point that we are grain deficient. Here in Indiana, there are fewer farms that are much higher in acreage per farm.”
LV: What are your plans post-graduation?
LB: “As I’ve gone through school, I have learned more about myself and the opportunities out there. I would love to do something in digital marketing, data analytics, sustainability or international trade. After graduation, I plan to find a career in marketing or continue to grad school. “
LV: Who’s your inspiration? Who do you look up to?
LB: “There are too many to mention. (Krysta Harden in DC, Maria Isabel on her organic farm in Lima, Peru, Women CEOs of ag companies, etc.). There are so many women in agriculture that have paved the way for me to continue breaking those glass ceilings.
But – a big person I look up to would be my grandfather. Before we even came along, he did a rebranding of our farm to be called “Red Barn Farms” unlike every other farm based on last name so he could break the stereotypes of passing the farm down to the eldest son. The farm is being passed down to my mom, and she’s doing a pretty fantastic job at it. This year, we grew by a third in land area; her ag econ degree from Ohio State has her making market decisions that leave the buyers recommending everyone else follow in her footsteps.”
LV: What do you see as a barrier to women considering a career in ag? How would you suggest overcoming this barrier?
LB: “I see the biggest barrier for women in ag to be ourselves. Women in agriculture are some of the strongest people I have ever met and we are only limited to what we believe we are capable of. Let’s focus on lifting each other up and encouraging the next generation of women in agriculture. Women have taken over our once male-dominated ag econ department at Purdue, and I only see that trend continuing to grow as we see more and more successful women in our industry and encourage up and coming leaders to do the same.”
LV: What would you say to fellow #womeninag?
LB: “I am so grateful to the women before me that paved the way for future generations of women to be successful in a male dominated field. Women are leaders, CEOs, policy makers, business owners, farmers, engineers, workers, mentors, teachers, and caregivers. Always be looking for ways to pay it forward and lift up other women in ag the way that you were encouraged and helped on your journey.”
LV: What do you envision for the future of women in agriculture?
LB: “Breaking gender stereotypes and leveling the playing field to encourage representation for all walks of life by placing people in positions based on the content of their character and ability to get the job done rather than what they look like.”
All photos appear courtesy of Laura Barrett.
Click here to see her portfolio.