After more than 50 years of involvement in agriculture on the family farm and three decades of selflessly volunteering for a number of agriculture organizations, Jean Meyer was one of four women selected to receive American Agri-Women's highest honor, the LEAVEN Award, at the organization's annual convention held in San Antonio last November. Although an acronym for "Loyalty, Enthusiasm, Anticipatory, Valiant, Effectiveness and Nurturing," LEAVEN also has another translation.
"Leaven is a small element that can interact and influence everything around it. It permeates and raises elements it is mixed with. Leaven multiples its effectiveness for good. This award is presented to those persons who, to an outstanding degree, have acted as 'leaven,'" said Janice Moen, president of the North Dakota AAW chapter.
"I was very humble because everyone works hard for these organizations and there are so many just as deserving," Meyer said.
Three of the four winners of the Leaven Award are joined by American Agri-Women president Marcie Williams. From left, Heather Hampton-Knodle of Fillmore, Ill., Barb Overlie of Lake Crystal, Minn., Williams and Jean Meyer of York.
Not all agree.
"Jean is an outstanding leader in so many aspects of agriculture and eludes a strong community spirit," said Moen. "It is amazing how she has managed to give of herself in all of these areas always there when needed and doing her part with class and dignity."
Her volunteerism and sense of community came early.
Meyer grew up in Churchs Ferry, a small town in Ramsey County off U.S. Highway 2 where her father worked on the railroad and her mother cooked at the town's only school. Although the town was later evacuated in the early 2000s due to prolonged flooding of nearby Devils Lake, the school was saved and she remains a leader for her hometown's alumni association, which holds reunions annually.
She left Churchs Ferry for Harlow, a small farming community, after marrying Bernard Meyer in 1956 to live on the Meyer homestead, now over 100 years old.
Coming from the "city," rural life was an adjustment.
"I didn't know a thing about farming but my husband was very willing to teach me," Jean said. "It's our livelihood so I learned to do everything from riding the combine, to swathing, hand-picking and taking care of the animals." The couple raised small grains, registered Angus and hogs in addition to their two children: Tammy, an NDSU graduate and currently the executive director of the Nebraska FFA Foundation, and Jimmy, who was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at age 2 and died in 1991 at the age of 34 from complications following a stroke seven years earlier. As a result of the stroke, Jimmy lost his speech for a short time but was permanently blind and handicapped, spending long stretches in the hospital at a time. The couple brought their son home and cared for him for seven years until he passed away in his sleep.
"We have no son to carry on the family name so we keep going on as long as we can," Jean said.
Through their decades of farming and ranching, both Jean and Bernard became involved in numerous state and national ag organizations including the North Dakota Pork Producers, North Dakota Angus Association and both Benson County and North Dakota Farmers Unions.
"It was important for them to be active in what they believed in and help to promote and advance those various organizations ... as they looked at the various issues facing agriculture," said Tammy Meyer. "When people ask me to decribe her, I always share that she is the strongest person I know and has taught me a lot as I watch the ways she goes about doing everything."
One of Jean's longest associations has been with the American Agri-Women, a group she joined in the mid-1980s. AAW is a voluntary, non-partisan public interest organization that is open to women involved in farming, ranching or agri-business and is actively involved in legislative and regulatory matters on local, state and national levels as well student and consumer education. The national organization was founded in 1974 by four state women's agriculture groups at a National Farm Women's Forum. In 1983, the North Dakota Chapter was formed on National Ag Day in Grafton under the leadership of Evelyn Landis of Inkster, who was a former president of the national organization. Today the group consists of 19 state Agri-Women groups and 31 commodity affiliate organizations, which combined, represent more than 40,000 women.
With 50 members in the North Dakota chapter, everyone has a job to do.
"I've held every job there is and I did it to promote what we did for a living," Jean said. "The AAW works so hard to educate and make people realize what farmers have to go through. It's unreal for people to live in an ag state and to not know a thing about ag they think everything comes from a store."
In this effort, the state chapter is involved in several state-level activities including sponsoring the annual Red River Valley Farm Women's Conference, the FFA Agri-science award at the FFA state convention, the Ag Day Baby contest held on National Ag Day and several educational projects.
More than half a century after they began farming, the couple remains in the original farmhouse and sleep in the same bedroom where Bernard was born. With physical ailments and age setting in, the couple now rents most of their land to a young area farmer, leaving a quarter for themselves.
"We specifically rented to a young farmer because we need to keep the young in the area," Jean said. Aside from a few rows of grains, the couple also have a few cows and most recently, 12 piglets.
"I am out there every day taking care of my piggies - which is good because it keeps me out of trouble," Jean said.
(Prairie Profile is a weekly feature profiling interesting people in our region. We welcome suggestions from our readers. Call Regional Editor Eloise Ogden at 857-1944 or Managing Editor Kent Olson at 857-1939. Either can be reached at 1-800-735-3229. You also can send e-mail suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.)