Mindy Ward let’s farmers tell their stories

In small town Marthasville, Missouri, the fall breeze blows softly, the tall grass rustles, and the sound of singing birds fills the small valley where a little two-story farm house sits peacefully. This is the home of Mindy Ward, editor of the Missouri Ruralist magazine and MU alum.

In 2006, Ward started working for Missouri Farmer Today full time. She stayed with this company for six years before becoming editor of the Ruralist (circulation 20,000) in February of 2012.

As editor, Ward is now responsible for managing free-lance writers, editing all copy, slotting or arranging articles in the magazine, updating Twitter, a blog and online copy every Thursday along with writing her stories.

“She does it all and I don’t see how she does it,” said Duane Dailey, professor at MU. “She is a hard worker and a good journalist. Count me as a fan.”

Ward is a 1991 alumna of the science and agricultural journalism program at MU. If you read some of the articles written by Ward now, you probably wouldn’t guess that writing wasn’t her first choice at MU. As a pre-vet major, Ward never thought she would be a writer, but, upon the advice of Warrenton High School FFA adviser Leon Busdieker, Ward thinks that it was the best decision she made.

Ward said she didn’t realize the weight a degree from MU held until she was working in the field. Having a degree from MU opened many doors for her, even outside of Missouri. She said often times the first question employers asked was if she had a degree from MU.

After receiving her degree, Ward worked for Fleishman-Hillard from 1991-1992 as an assistant account executive in Kansas City working mostly on animal health accounts as well as the John Deere turf and landscape account before moving to Minnesota as a newlywed. After settling into Minnesota, Ward obtained a job at Swift County Monitor News, a small town newspaper in Benson, Minn.

During Ward’s time in Minnesota, she covered stories on sugar beets, peas, and large dairies — all topics that were different than those she covered in Missouri. Ward said that she was glad that she had the opportunity to experience other varieties of agriculture.

“I think the best part of being able to move from Missouri to Minnesota was being able to report on the different agriculture,” said Ward.

After spending ten years in Minnesota, Ward moved back to Missouri to be with family.

Coming back to Missouri, Ward had to re-learn how to write stories on cow-calf operations and row crops.  At this time, Ward free-lanced for a year for publications such as Beef Magazine, Living the Country Life, and Missouri Ruralist.

What she enjoys most about her job with the Ruralist, besides being able to work from home, is visiting with the farmers.

“I just love talking to people, telling their story,” Ward said. “And it doesn’t matter what state, it was always visiting with farmers. Going to their operation, seeing what they were doing there.”

Sharing the lives of farmers is the focal point of Ward’s work.

“Over the years I have found that readers like hearing from their fellow farmers. They like to know what worked, what didn’t on farms in their state. Telling their story gives me great joy,” she said.

Ward said the farmers that she meets are very smart people, all looking to better the land they live on, or improve their operation to increase production that will in turn feed the world. She also feels that one of the most important issues facing agriculture today is consumer perception.

“There is no getting around the fact that agriculture is the minority,” Ward said. “However, for most of us in agriculture, who live in a rural community, it is difficult to truly fathom that consumers do not understand how their food is grown. I believe it is in large part because crops and cattle are out our front door. We are surrounded with neighbors with similar backgrounds. However, I think those in agriculture are becoming more vocal,” said Ward.

As agricultural methods and practices change, Ward said the change she noticed the most was the increase in technology. Ward believes that technology has not only helped with the development of crop yields, producing more crops on less land, but also in the livestock industry by improving genetics that will make cattle more efficient in feedlots.

“One up and coming agriculture practice change is the use of cover crops. This is a hot movement in the industry in order to put more nutrients back in the soil, while increasing forage production,” said Ward.

On the other hand, Ward said that one of the harder aspects of her job is the constant upkeep with technology. With constant new medias becoming available and social networking sites, the ways in which readers can keep up expands.

For those journalists who are just now entering the field, one of the most important things to know is “how to navigate social media,” said Ward. While technology is growing and the way to reach your readers is expanding, Ward feels that there is more to it than that.

“I also believe nothing beats being able to tell a producer’s story. The first part is listening. Just because you may know about cattle production does not mean you understand his/her cattle production operation. An interest in learning from farmers and ranchers is important. Then you need to have solid writing skills. You can only tweet 140 characters, but you will link it to a 1,100-word story. It has to be one worth reading or readers will not click through on your tweets,” said Ward.

The journalism industry has grown since Ward first began her career and it will continue to grow. Ward believes the way in which it will continue heavily depends on social media. While this will make it easier for some readers to keep up, it could also hurt the industry.

“The bad—anybody can post information without it being fact-checked. I found my 67-year-old father quoting a Facebook story as fact. Then reminding him, you cannot believe everything on the internet,” said Ward.

On a more personal level, Ward met her husband at MU and they now have two daughters. Their eldest daughter, Elisa, chose to follow in her parents’ footsteps and attend MU.