Amy Cornell has strong roots in agriculture. Growing up on a crop farm in Illinois, Amy was ironically allergic to most things—which didn’t foster fondness of the farm in her early years, especially at harvest time. But things changed when she interviewed her father about farming for an assignment while studying at Purdue University.
“That changed my whole career path. Once I had that conversation with him, I decided that even if I wasn’t going to actively farm, I still wanted to help farmers. I realized that growing up on the farm was unique. And that there was just a lot of history—a lot of family history. I actually still have that assignment. I saved it, and I got an A on it.”
Her father’s hard work and passion for farming inspired her to return to her farm roots, and so she went to law school with the intent to become an agricultural attorney. From internships at Indiana Environmental Management and the Indiana Farm Bureau, to involvement with the American Agricultural Lawyers Association and the State Department of Agriculture, Amy actively sought out roles where she could make an impact.
“I started to crave a bigger platform, because in agriculture we do a really good job of talking to each other, but we don’t necessarily do a great job of talking to the general public.”
This drive eventually led her to her current role as Vice President at Bose Public Affairs Group and President of the Agribusiness Council of Indiana. As for her impact in the agricultural sector, Amy succeeded (and continues to succeed) in spectacular fashion.
In 2018, Amy was one of three recipients of the Women in Agribusiness Demeter Award of Excellence. This award recognizes excellence and extraordinary contribution to the agribusiness industry. She was the sole representative from the United States, with the other two award winners hailing from Canada and the United Kingdom.
“It was very rewarding. I was super shocked and honored to get it. What I also appreciated about it was, my family flew out with me for that conference and they let my daughter come onstage. She was three at that time, and she got to be onstage when I received my award and got to see an entire room of professional women. And as a mom that just made me really proud.”
Like many women, Amy has more than one full-time job—and being a mom is a 24/7 one. In fact, our initial interview session with Amy got postponed a few hours because her daughter needed a last-minute visit to the doctor as the cold/flu had made its way around daycare—a scenario most moms can relate to. This series of events poetically introduced the reason for our interview as we seek to shine a light on women working in food and agriculture—an industry that often requires the same juggling skills that are honed while multitasking throughout motherhood.
There’s a lot that goes into a successful career in agriculture, and women in this traditionally male-dominated industry have some unique challenges.
“Often in [some] cases, women don’t make a jump or try to make a jump to a leadership role unless they’re encouraged to, whereas males that’s not so much of a thing. I don’t necessarily know if it’s so much formal policies as it is identifying women leaders and encouraging them to take the next step.”
Most importantly: Don’t be afraid to fail.
“I think you have to create some level of a culture of honesty. Everyone’s trying to do their best all the time, but not everything that we do is a raging success. And helping people understand that that’s okay, right, it doesn’t mean you have to take yourself out of the game. If you’re a committee chair, and something didn’t go well for the organization, that doesn’t mean you can’t run for the board later. As long as you’re demonstrating that you learned from that opportunity, and you’re moving forward and continuing to be resilient, that’s what’s important.”
So, how do we inspire women in the industry to pursue leadership roles?
“I think by continuing to see more women leaders and continuing to encourage people to take risks. It’s about investing time and, in my experience, it’s about letting people know that you care about them and that you see them. Lifting people up makes the biggest difference.”
And to the young woman looking to start a career in agriculture—Amy’s advice is to seize the day.
“I think opportunities are everywhere. It’s about inserting yourself into the opportunity that you want to have. I don’t think gender should be limiting in agribusiness. You may look at leaders and see all of these skills that they have and feel totally intimidated by it, but know that those leaders didn’t come into the workforce with all those skills and talents. They built them over time. So, look for opportunities, be open to opportunities. Don’t necessarily turn something down because it’s not in your normal skillset, be willing to stretch yourself, and you will find the opportunities. And pay it back! I got to where I am and am continuing to grow because people are continuing to invest in me.”
The environment in which we work can be just as important in fostering success and career satisfaction. Often, this culture is defined from the top down. Healthy working relationships and a realistic understanding of work-life balance is key to improving the workplace and employee retention.
“I’m a whole person. And so, I don’t stop worrying about my daughter when I walk in the door. All of that stuff – it’s still there. Even if you’re trying to push it into the background and just focus on the work, you’re a whole person—and understand that your boss is a whole person. It’s about being able to adapt to individual employee needs, and I’ve found that in my current role. Where someone’s willing to invest the time and willing to invest the extra emotional energy and just caring about me, the whole person, and being invested in my family, and all the things that make me get up and work a lot harder every day.”