Why Ag Breeds Entrepreneurship: My Story

Thursday, March 31st, 2016

Erin Ehnle

This blog was originally posted on AgCareers.com 

Special Guest Blog by Erin Ehnle, Ag Lifestyle Photographer

In agriculture, entrepreneurship is bred into us. Most of us have farming and ranching in our blood; most of us grew up in an entrepreneurial culture without even knowing it.

Our earliest memories are of watching our parents in the planter in the spring and riding along as they reaped the benefits of their labor in the fall. We grew up and had our own bucket calf. We worked to give it the love and attention it needed, and later sold it and got to deposit that money into our very own savings account. Later, in FFA, we had our SAEs; we started our own mini-businesses, selling sweet corn, mowing lawns, mechanic-ing on tractors, renting farms. You name it, and there’s a young agriculturist out there making it happen.

It really is amazing, when you think about it. From birth, we saw and then experienced firsthand how hard work can bring an idea to life. From birth, that seed of entrepreneurship was planted in us, just by watching our parents. It was watered with our experiences on the farm and then in 4-H and FFA.

And now it’s time for that seed to sprout, to get a job, to contribute to the greater good. I’m betting that’s why you’re on agcareers.com right now. If you’re like me, you’re weighing the options of working for someone else versus going out on your own. Here’s my story:

My seed was planted on my family’s corn and soybean farm in central Illinois. Like a lot of farm kids, we grew up riding in equipment with mom, dad, grandpa and grandma. We played in the beans, sold sweet corn, lived the typical farm kid life. I wasn’t so sure about the whole “becoming a farmer” thing, though. My FFA projects were selling sweet corn and assisting our local florist. That was more my style – the “pretty” part of agriculture. As a senior in high school, I picked up a camera, intending to hone in on portrait photography, brushing off my mom’s encouragement to “take some pictures of our farm”.

As a sophomore in college, I finally took her advice. I’d had enough of the ag-bashing going on, and I intended to do something about it. I created Keeping it Real: Through the Lens of a Farm Girl, a Facebook page that combines the farm photos I take with facts and statistics and quotes about how we really do things on the farm and in agriculture. Much to my surprise, my photos and designs took off. They were shared 10s, then 100s, then 1000s of times. Media interviews followed, and then so did the work opportunities. I started creating images for Farm Journal Foundation almost immediately and picked up graphic design work and speaking engagements before I’d even graduated from college.

When I did graduate from the University of Illinois, my degree was in – get this – Agricultural and Consumer Economics. It had nothing to do with my photography and design business I planned on pursuing full-time! (With hard work) anything is possible, folks! In the past few years, I’ve had the privilege of working with companies and organizations such as Elanco, The Climate Corporation, Farm Bureau, CommonGround and many others. In a way, I’ve become a one-woman PR Agency, providing clients with ideas for marketing their cause and providing the photography and design to make it happen. In addition to client work, my artwork is shipped to agriculture enthusiasts all across North America.

What I hope others can learn from my story is this: Agriculture is one, big, awesome place. If a farm girl with a love of making things pretty can find her niche in this dirt-filled industry, you can too.

Read more about Erin Ehnle and view her artwork on her website.