Grower Spotlight: Theresia Gillie (Hallock, Minnesota)

July 1, 2007

Theresia Gillie is sick of the stereotypes of women on the farm.

She doesn’t wear an apron all day, or can her own jams, or spend hours on end jotting down recipes. Theresia runs a 2,600-acre wheat, soybean, and sunflower farm with her husband, Keith, and her son, Bryce.

She’s responsible for the farm’s budgeting, bookkeeping, tax preparation, marketing, government regulation compliance, and field work. And when she’s not handling the books, she’s handling a $185,000 combine while working 14-hour days during harvest.

In her spare time, Theresia finds time to perform in the community theater, lead Vacation Bible School and the children’s church choir, teach Sunday School, coach figure skating, and serve as den mother for the local Boy Scout troop. She is also a member of MARL (Minnesota Ag and Rural Leaders), 4-H Leaders Council, and is Church Council Secretary.

On any given year, more than $1 million in operating expenses move through her farm’s checkbook. Yet in a good year, Theresia and her husband would be lucky to bring home $30,000 to pay their living expenses—and that total includes government farm supports.

“I’m sure the urban media would talk about us as a huge, corporate farm that doesn’t deserve any federal assistance,” she joked. “I’d like them to find a single big corporation in this country that’s barely breaking even and paying its executives next to nothing.”

“I don’t farm because I want to become rich. I farm because I love it,” she explained. But even Theresia admits that without a strong farm bill it would be nearly impossible to hold onto the farm that her husband’s great-grandfather started in 1899.

Despite the meager household income and the uncertainties on Capitol Hill, Theresia says she hopes to never change careers. Why?

“Because there’s a smell, a feeling when you’re out there,” she says. “It’s quite an accomplishment to put the wheat in the bin.”

The one thing she’d like Congress to keep in mind about her when voting on her family’s future in the upcoming farm bill: “Farmers are like everyone else. We love our families. We’re involved in our communities. We work hard. We’re smart. We’re just like the people working in downtown Minneapolis. We just have a little dirt under our fingernails.”