Women, food and agriculture have at least one thing in common: They’re underrepresented in politics. WFAN’s Plate to Politics program works to encourage women in food and agriculture to run for office at all levels of government. Wisconsin dairy farmer Sarah Lloyd is one woman in agriculture who decided to step up and run for Congress. We are particularly proud of Sarah because she is our first Plate to Politics trainee to run for office (and thrilled to have her speak at our Plate to Politics Wisconsin Workshop). Bridget Holcomb, WFAN’s Executive Director, recently talked to Sarah Lloyd about her experiences and advice for women in our network.
It’s about winning. And it’s not about winning.
The evidence shows that when women run we win at the same rate as men do, we just don’t run as often. This is for a variety of reasons, often very personal reasons, but many of them are grounded in fear. The benefit of taking the risk is participating in the political process and bringing light to issues that are most important to you.
“I’m running to win,” Sarah said, “but actually I’m engaging in a large civic process, and I’m still a believer in the power of the people. Everything that I was doing was about that.”
There are very low moments in a campaign and very high moments. In Sarah’s Congressional campaign her low moments revolved around reacting to news and events quickly and building up a campaign team from scratch. She got through these times by relying on her support system: other women she has met who have been on the campaign trail and could commiserate (and offer some supportive words!), as well as family. Her husband and her father were particularly supportive.
And there were the high points, which definitely helped her through the low points. For Sarah the highest points were the people who stopped her to thank her for running. “It was a boost to have people recognize that when you run for office – school board to something bigger – you are putting yourself out there,” she said.
Dealing with sexist remarks in political campaigns
Sarah said she thinks that if she had run for Congress in the time before social media she may not have known about any sexist remarks made about her. But through social media she received comments on how she dressed, the tone of her voice, her hair, and her weight. Many of these comments were under the guise of “trying to be helpful,” as if that makes a comment less sexist.
She shared one of these comments with a man she knew who was the elected county executive, and was running for the state legislature at the time. “I have never, ever had anyone talk to me about how I look, and I’m a slob!” he said. “I don’t believe that you have to put up with that.”
What I got from talking to Sarah was that she dealt with sexist remarks the same way we all do: we recognize that it’s a sexist remark, and while those people are wasting time telling us how we should look, we get back to work. But it’s one of the reasons I’m grateful to Sarah that she put herself out there.
Lessons learned in a congressional campaign
Sarah didn’t win the election, but she also knew that it was a long shot to get elected in her first Congressional campaign running against an incumbent. But just because it was a long shot doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth it. She is proud of bringing issues out during the campaign that weren’t really talked about in her district before, and because people heard her talk about them they felt empowered to talk about them, too.
“Even though I didn’t get the overt win of winning the congressional seat, there were lots of other wins that I will bring on to my next endeavor and to the larger project of building a broader network and making things better. You meet all the cool people,” she said. “You go out and talk about things that you are deeply passionate about, and guess what? People who are passionate about these issues will come out of the woodwork to talk to you. How else would you get that in normal, everyday life?”
Sarah Lloyd’s recommendations for women who want to run
For women interested in running for office at any level, Sarah strongly suggests working on your stump speech. Working on this through a training like Plate to Politics is particularly helpful because we don’t get many chances to practice stump speeches, get feedback, and be timed unless we make time to do it. But a good stump speech is essential. It is the main way you communicate when running for office, and it is your first fundraising tool: inspiring people to donate to you.
She also recommends working on other campaigns. She worked on a friend’s campaign and got experience knocking on doors, making fliers, and being on the “kitchen cabinet” making decisions about the campaign. She also learned the importance of going with the flow. “As much as we would like everyday to go according to plan, new issues come up all the time.”
I think that’s something all of us women in food and agriculture can relate to.