DaFoe makes a difference in Wyo ag
Cheyenne – For Jessie Dafoe, agriculture has always been a part of her life, and she has taken her ag roots and used them to inspire her career.
“I was thankfully born into agriculture,” says Dafoe. “I grew up on a ranch 25 miles northeast of Cheyenne.”
Life on the ranch for Dafoe has always been a story of women working in agriculture.
“My brother was just young enough that when my dad needed help, it was always the three of us girls,” explains Dafoe, referencing her sisters Amy and Stacia Berry. “Ranching was never thought of as a man’s job. The three blonde Berry girls were always dad’s crew.”
Because she grew up in a place where women were strong and necessary to making their operation run, Dafoe notes that agriculture is, has been and will continue to be part of her life.
Dafoe grew up on a ranch homesteaded in 1910.
“My great-grandfather and his sons ran the operation until 1980,” she comments. “At that time the brothers decided to divide everything up.”
Dafoe’s father and grandfather reinvested in the Hereford cattle that had been sold. Today, the ranch continues to run Herefords, and Dafoe is proud to be a part of the operation.
“I am thankful and humbled by the opportunity have been raised on family-run operation,” Dafoe says. “I was able to grow up showing steers and breeding cattle in 4-H and FFA and experiencing county fair, state fair and all of the in-between events that entail growing up on a ranch.”
Whether she was putting up hay, branding, moving cattle or learning the leadership and business skills integral in a ranch, Dafoe notes that agriculture is an industry in which she is fortunate to be a part.
“Having a calf die in your arms, being dad’s right hand man at age eight and coffee breaks at grandma’s house are experiences that made me fall in love with agriculture at an early age,” Dafoe says. “My family has also played an incredible role in my life. They have been so supportive in everything I do.”
Following high school, Dafoe says she was fortunate to be selected as the Wyoming State FFA Association President. She made the decision to attend the University of Wyoming, where she studied ag business.
“I took the five-year route before I graduated,” Dafoe notes. “At UW, I was an ag ambassador, an ASUW senator for the College of Ag and a member of the Tri-Delta sorority.”
Dafoe also competed in the Wyoming Farm Bureau Collegiate Discussion Meet, where she won a trip to the national contest.
“One of the issues for the national discussion meet was water, and I didn’t know anything about water,” comments Dafoe. “Kerin Clark set up a meeting with Harriet Hageman and Kara Brighton to help me learn more.”
After competing in the national contest, Dafoe says Hageman and Brighton offered her a summer position with the organization now called the Wyoming Resource Alliance.
“Those ladies encouraged me,” she adds, noting that Hageman and Brighton’s influence led her to spend a semester interning for Representative Cynthia Lummis in Washington, D.C.
She says that each experience of her college career shaped her in a different way, particularly citing her time in Washington, D.C. as an incredible experience.
“After I graduated, I continued to work part-time for the Wyoming Resource Alliance,” Dafoe continues.
After eight months, Dafoe notes that the position she currently holds opened.
“I first read the ad for the Wyoming Ag in the Classroom opening in the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. I remember sitting back in my desk and thinking, there is no way they will hire someone of my age or experience. My advice to young women is to try anyway.”
Dafoe started with organization in April of 2011.
Though Wyoming Ag in the Classroom (WAIC) wasn’t where she pinpointed her future, Dafoe says, “I feel incredibly fortunate to be working for WAIC. The board is really a grassroots effort of men and women who believe in this cause.”
“To be surrounded by the people of the WAIC board is a phenomenal experience,” she continues, marking an emphasis for agriculture and the youth engagement in the industry as being inspiring.
“It is very exciting, especially as someone who is vested in Wyoming’s growth and growing the next generation of Wyoming’s stewards,” Dafoe says. “I take this job very seriously.”
In the position, Dafoe notes that she is an integral part in helping the next generations of Wyoming youth to understand where their food and fiber comes from.
Additionally, she says, “Really, we are working as trustees for Wyoming’s future.”
“I’m very thankful that every day I wake up, I’m doing something I care about, something I have a passion for and something that carries great weight,” Dafoe comments.
“I remember being in high school and like many FFA students, I wanted to be able to make a difference, but figuring out what that looks like is more challenging,” Dafoe explains. “With WAIC, I have come into an organization ready to tackle a challenge, grow and educate our youth. It is very exciting and very humbling.”
At the same time, she notes that WAIC is more than just a publication or a bookmark contest.
“We are true trustees of Wyoming’s youth,” she comments.
For the future
Looking forward, Dafoe comments that she doesn’t know where life will take her next, but she feels strongly about continuing to be involved in agriculture.
“I want to be involved in ag and to continue being a trustee of Wyoming’s future,” she says. “Right now, I look at one day at a time to see where I can make a difference in the ag industry.”
“Working for this nonprofit is similar to working on the ranch. There are days that are long and it is challenging but every minute is worth it. I feel blessed to work where my heart is,” Dafoe adds. “The exciting part for me is that I don’t know what my next step is, but I know the people I have met and relationships built will always be there.”
Advice to young women
Dafoe says that the secret to being a successful woman in the agriculture industry is to develop strong mentors.
“I think about Cynthia Lummis, Bobbie Frank, Harriet Hageman, Kara Brighton, Mantha Philips and other women that I have been surrounded by who helped me grow,” says DaFoe. “It is worth taking the time to find a great mentor and get to know those women who are successful.”
Dafoe suggests continually reaching out to those mentors for support.
She adds, “There is something to be said for people who are passionate.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.