Womens History Month: Sara Neagu-Reed
By: Sara Neagu-Reed
Rise and shine, it’s Monday morning and the Sunday scaries are fading. I jump out of bed and rush to my barre class to sweat out the stress for the week ahead. Sweat session over with, coffee and meditation next. Got to satisfy my caffeine fix and get my mind right. It’s now 7:15am so I quickly shower, grab some fresh California produce and head out the door for my morning commute. No, I’m not walking, I’m not driving and I’m not using public transportation. I’m hopping on the 9:00am direct flight from Sacramento to Washington, DC. You can call this my monthly commute and I am loving every moment of it.
Describing my job is hard at times. My mom thinks I work for the government, my dad thinks I am an attorney and my friends think I’m just plain overworked. I’ll try my best to describe it in one sentence – I am a young female advocate representing 32,000 California farmers and ranchers at the federal level. Some people call me a lobbyist, but that term doesn’t always get the best rap. I’m not persuading Members of Congress to hike up the cost of prescriptive drugs, and I’m not pushing for legislation to pass that would give kiddos more corn syrup- infused school lunches. I fly to DC to meet with Administration officials in-person, yes that includes the White House. I am meeting with regulatory agencies that implement the laws we abide by. I am also meeting with that Member of Congress you (hopefully?) voted for to find solutions for California farmers and ranchers that will ultimately keep them in business so YOU can continue enjoying your delicious farm to fork restaurants, Saturday morning farmers markets and Whole Foods apples that aren’t imported from abroad, but rather grown in California. My job comes with thrills: big wins like passing bills I helped craft, farm visits and educational opportunities with urban dwellers who have never seen miles and miles of citrus groves before.
My job also comes with its fair share of difficulties. Let’s revisit two key words in bold and underlined above. Young. Female. It’s unheard of my industry. If I had to take a wild guess, based on the interactions I’ve had the last 9 years in the game, I’d say the average age of an agriculture lobbyist ranges from 44 – 60. In terms of females in my industry, we probably make up less than a quarter. I spend majority of my time around older men. This isn’t an issue for me, it’s empowering and allows me to speak up and advocate for fresh ideas or new ways of doing things. It wasn’t always easy though. When a man walks into the room who is new to the job, industry and field of work, with that black suit and combed hair or receding hair line, he is embraced and trusted without even saying a word. When I walked into the room, I was scanned up and down, ignored, questioned on my knowledge of the issues, and my favorite one, men would not make eye contact with me.
On top of the 5-hour flights, more than a dozen issues I handle for the largest agriculture producing state (stakes are high folks!), intensive meetings that take place from 8:30am – 7:00pm followed by a dinner meeting; now I have to worry about proving myself worth, ensuring I’m prim and proper, but not too much to draw attention, and how to dodge questions in a respectful manner about how I keep a work-life balance and when I plan to start a family. All things a man doesn’t need to worry about.
When you are passionate about the cause behind your job, these things are put in the back of your mind. It’s not to say they are ok or acceptable, but we as females are above it and that is why I’m blogging away about myself and the work I do within my industry.
Breaking though the fallowed ground (ag reference) or glass ceiling isn’t easy. It’s a hurdle no one should have to be faced with. The one thing that got me through it was my female squad and female farmers.. Surround yourself with women of all ages, industries, backgrounds and the men who treat you like they would another man. Reminding myself of these key ingredients to the perfect concoction in order to keep the energy I need to thrive, hustle and perform is crucial.
As I wrap up this blog posting, I am standing outside of a congressional office for my 1:00pm EST meeting to discuss some of the most pressing issues facing our growers. I am reminded this month of the struggles we have as females, but also how we can rise above them if we band together. I feel empowered to step into this office, and many more today, to represent female farmers, consumers and all my other sisters, as a young female advocate in my industry that is breaking the mold.