Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Cal Poly chapter.

Whether you have been involved in agriculture or know nothing about it, your life has been constantly affected by the trade. Agricultural production is much more than a common industry; it is a rich community composed of unique people, an incredible history, and a phenomenal mission: to feed the people of the world. It’s time to shine a spotlight on some of the unsung heroes of agriculture: women. From cattle to produce, women are an integral part of feeding America and the greater world, and their narratives need to be shared.

I spoke with some all-star women, Cal Poly alumni and current students included, to get their take on what it’s like to work in Ag, what inspired them to pursue this career to a typical work day and what are some issues in the industry that they would like to see resolved. 

Colby Pereira, a Cal Poly graduate in Agricultural Business with a minor in Crop Science, is the Chief Operating Officer at Braga Fresh. Colby says that “every day is different” as she engages with a variety of departments throughout Braga Fresh. She often has interactions “with [their] Farming and Harvesting teams to review crop schedules and harvest plans,” as well as meetings with “Processing, Cooling and Shipping to monitor how product is flowing through internal systems.” However, it doesn’t stop there as Colby speaks with Sales to monitor pricing and review forecasted sales. The incredible thing about agriculture is that it involves a myriad of “touch points” like “production, technology, advocacy, policy-making, education, and so on,” as stated by Colby. Braga Fresh prides itself on their innovation and sustainability. In alignment, Colby stresses that we need to talk more about the overall sustainability of the industry. She states, “How can we collaborate with other stakeholders to ensure that agriculture remains viable and is able to continue producing a safe, affordable product for consumers?” Colby had grown up surrounded by Ag as her grandparents started their family farm in the 1950s, and she cherished driving to ranches and work meetings with her grandfather. Her love for the industry runs deep, remarking that it’s “truly a melting pot of individuals from all sorts of backgrounds, interests, and skill sets.”

As COO, Colby has her toe in many aspects of agriculture, whereas Meghan Clifton focuses more on the marketing and production aspect. After graduating from Fresno State in Agricultural Communications, she became a Product Development Representative for 3 Star Lettuce where she “plants seed trails to show growers [the] different seed varieties [they] have to sell.” She often travels between Salinas and Yuma, AZ to keep up with crop production in the winter time. Meghan grew up in the Salinas Valley surrounded by agriculture and was “inspired at a young age when [she] would drive around with [her] dad” to check fields and meet customers. She states, “I loved the passion I constantly saw” and wanted to get involved. Meghan has faced adversity in the field as a woman and notes that “you definitely have to prove yourself a bit more. I think sometimes I get to the field and lots of people are shocked to see a girl step out of the truck.” However, she does not let that stop her and continues to advocate for more girls to join the workforce. “It just makes me want to work harder to prove my strength and capabilities.”

Camilla Mcfall also proves her capabilities daily as a fourth-year Wine and Viticulture major right here at Cal Poly, juggling internships, classes, and being the Vice President of the Vines to Wines club. After studying abroad in high school in Mendoza, Argentina, she fell in love with the winemaking culture and decided to pursue the industry. Camilla appreciates “the sense of community” in agriculture and states that she “never had any fear going up to somebody and asking them for help or advice, and especially as a woman in agriculture, since there aren’t as many of us we really do try to help each other.” One issue Camilla would like to see addressed is the mistreatment of internships as opportunities for labor instead of learning. She states, “particularly in the wine industry, there is a huge focus on the importance of internships…and as students, we are taking a lot of pressure and time to do these internships, and in return being treated like workhorses…by the end, we realize we didn’t actually learn anything.” Despite these challenges, she continues to succeed and is proud of her accomplishments with the Cal Poly Wine & Viticulture department. They are currently working on the 19th Annual Cal Poly Winemaker Showcase, a fundraiser that directly supports the students by raising $360,000 for development and equipment. No matter your major at Cal Poly, check out the Vines to Wines club to learn about the wine industry and meet some cool people! You can also catch Camilla on the Cal Poly Horse Polo Team!

Celeste Settrini graduated from Cal Poly with a degree in Agribusiness Marketing and went on to be a partner of Settrini Ranch and owner of Celeste Settrini Co. both located in Salinas, CA. She has been involved in her family’s 109 year old cattle ranch since she was big enough to feed the cows. Celeste says, “Agriculture really is the heartbeat of everything I am about.” She’s at the ranch at 7:30 each day to care for the cattle. Depending on the season, that could include birthing (aka calving), branding calves, putting out bulls, prepping for marketing and shipping, and other routine tasks like feeding. Celeste welcomes a challenge as she juggles multiple projects like representing for Turlock Livestock Auction Yard, assisting with the Champions Chant Auctioneer Bid Calling Seminar, or creating social media marketing for herself and The Bull Sale Bulletin which shares information on California Bull Sales and Events. She also helps with the Cal Poly Bull Test! She expresses that “it is important for us to have a united front” especially in the beef industry as there are multiple treatments–grass fed, grain fed, organic, non hormone treated, etc–all competing for the best practice. Celeste clarifies, “At the end of the day, we are all producing beef…and we need to focus on having a united front for our consumers.” Amongst her numerous accolades, Celeste served as the state president of the California Women of Agriculture and states, “that was truly an accomplishment, representing over 3000 women in California and on loads and loads of committees to serve the industry that I love.” Wow.

Whereas many women and men in the Ag industry were spurred on by childhoods on farms or ranches, Lola Coetzee, a first-year Animal Science major at Cal Poly, found inspiration in a more unconventional way. Her dad was born and raised in South Africa. She says, “Visiting there and seeing all the wild animals on the savannah and all the wildlife drove my love for animals and Ag.” Lola is interested in the veterinary field, specifically exotics, and loves the calving and equine science classes at Cal Poly. An issue that Lola would like to see reversed are the “negative stereotypes around people in Ag, like people not caring about the environment.”

Caroline Feliz, a first-year Animal Science major, and Melanie Couch, a first-year Diary Science major, are also interested in the veterinary field for livestock. Both were surrounded with Ag from a young age, as their families were in the industry. Caroline’s favorite class is also the equine science class and is excited for more hands-on experiences with animals and labs while studying at Cal Poly. She stresses that Ag is “very competitive and most of the time it’s about the connections you have and who you know.” Melanie is currently a member of the dairy club and dairy calving enterprise where she will occasionally end her day at midnight because she is “at the dairy unit checking on pregnant cows and doing chores.” Melanie says her greatest accomplishment so far is “helping [her] local town with FFA” and the improvements and impact they created.

Agriculture is multifaceted and ranges from labor based work such as production to administrative duties like business, marketing, and sales. Tammy Nunez graduated from Cal Poly and received her Masters in Tax from Golden Gate University. She is the Chief Financial Officer at Ramco Enterprises, LP, an agricultural labor staffing agency headquartered in Salinas, CA. Some days she is working with accounting to review financial statements, and others she meets with bankers or key business partners, or works on internal projects. Tammy grew up in a small town surrounded by Ag. She does not think “male vs female” when she enters the office because she has been fortunate enough to work alongside some great people. “I will say though, that starting in Ag in the 80’s, there were few women CFO’s at the time,” Tammy remarks and continues that “just to be given the opportunity to show someone that I could do the job and be good at it was an accomplishment at the time.” Tammy expressed that in California specifically, the industry is over-regulated by people that really don’t understand Ag, raising the need for more education and advocacy about the industry as a whole. Tammy remarks, “I got my start at Cal Poly and am always thankful for the education and team skills I learned there.”

Maggy Avila is also involved in a more administrative role as a Food Safety Coordinator at Ramco Enterprises, LP. She graduated from CSU Fresno with a BS in Plant Science and an emphasis in Agronomy. During the busiest season, she will conduct risk assessments, daily inspections, water sampling, and visit ranches to assess situations, while ensuring that food safety protocols are being followed. Maggy’s parents were farm workers doing general labor and remarks, “I have memories of when I’d visit them at work during the summertime, I’d watch them work hard, surrounded by the most beautiful sites, with endless rows of crops. These memories somehow sparked an interest in me and inspired me to pursue a career in Ag.” She loves how there is never a dull moment in Ag and is particularly proud of “building a culture that has the safety of food in mind.” Maggy acknowledges that she is working in a male dominated field and says the biggest struggle is being taken seriously. However, she does not let that get in her way and continues to stand with the great women in the industry that are paving the way.

Carla Harrison, Shasta JC alumni with an AA in Ag and Forestry and an Agricultural Science graduate from Cal Poly, experiences one of the more obscure parts of agriculture as an auctioneer. Her husband is also a rodeo clown, and together they own commercial and investment properties, run about 250 head of cattle, and put on a wild west show all while raising 3 children. She has been involved in Ag all her life because her parents were cattle ranchers and row crop farmers. Carla states, “I remember anxiously waiting to be old enough to join 4-H so I could take an animal to the fair, learn to weld, and all the cool stuff!” She has been involved in all aspects of the industry from short stints in produce to working back pens to selling feed for L.A. Hearne Co. Carla never paid much attention to any gender-bias struggles and “looked up to other females that are bad A’s in their fields.” She appreciates the strong community that surrounds Ag and says that “you have your finger on the pulse of life” as you uniquely know what it’s like to raise a crop or cattle. One of her favorite memories is selling the Heritage steer (a pure breed) at the Salinas Valley Fair. As she remembered the feeling of being a small part of a great community that supports its own, Carla stated, “one steer sold for $170,000. It was so exciting that I was STANDING ON the auction block, auctioning!”

Agriculture is brimming with a unique kind of life; it is filled with gracious and hardworking people who are the backbone of feeding the world. These phenomenal women have never let adversity stand in their way as they pursue their passions. After speaking with some other women in agriculture, they expressed their concern for the harassment and lack of HR or rules in place for truly protecting against “the crude comments about their youth or looks.” Being involved in a male-dominated field can affect every woman differently, and department, experience, location, and age can play a large part in the actions men chose to take and the response women chose to have. However, community is the protection against these horrific cases and talking with your peers can make a world of difference. We need to continue to encourage girls to take the stage in all workplaces, agricultural and beyond. We need to continue to support agriculture and take the time to understand the people behind what we eat. So next time you bite into your favorite In-n-Out burger, think of all the people, specifically women, that dedicate their lives to get food on your plate.

Sam is a first-year Economics Major at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. She is currently involved in Her Campus as an editorial writer and a part of other Cal Poly clubs such as Investing and Waterski. Sam loves traveling, The Princess Diaries, strawberries, reading, and winning at card games. If she's not making a new Spotify playlist, you'll catch her working out or hanging out with friends!