By BETTY THOMPSON
OK Dept. of Agriculture
GOLTRY — Some people search their entire life to find what they are truly passionate about. Spend just a few moments talking to Hope Pjesky, and you will have no doubt she found her passion.
Pjesky believes no matter where they are from, no matter what type of agriculture they are involved in, farmers have much more in common with each other than they realize, and it is critical that they support each other.
She has had a unique opportunity to experience agriculture from all over the world, from her own experiences on her family farm in Virginia, to travels in Asia as an Eisenhower Agriculture Fellow, and now hosting farmers from across the globe on her own farm.
Growing up in the Appalachian Mountains on a farm that has been in her family since the 1770s, Pjesky has always been deeply rooted in agriculture. Her family raised commercial sheep when she was young before transitioning to cattle when she was older.
“With nine billion people to feed by 2050 and a quickly increasing middle class around the world, farmers around the world should not be competing with each other,” Pjesky said. “Farmers should be supporting each other so all farmers can be productive and have good lives.”
Pjesky is passionate that farmers, no matter what size their farm is or what they produce, need to be on the same team.
“We use conventional production practices on our farm,” Pjesky explained, “but I know farmers who use organic, biodynamic, natural, free range, grass fed, no-till, confinement and many high-tech production practices, and I support them all.”
Pjesky has been a member of the Farm Foundation Round Table and steering committee, the Oklahoma Agricultural Leadership Program and Advisory Council, the President of Agricultural Leadership of Oklahoma, the Global Farmer Network Board of Directors, and the American Farm Bureau Partners in Agricultural Leadership Program, just to name a few.
In fact, she met her husband Ryan while competing at the American Farm Bureau Discussion Meet at the age of 22. At the time, Pjesky was still living in her home state of Virginia and working for Virginia Cooperative Extension.
“We spent a lot of time and money on phone calls,” Pjesky laughed. “We really did get to know each other better than if we had just dated conventionally, because we had to talk.”
Not long after, Ryan proposed during the National Young Farmers and Ranchers Conference in Portland, Oregon, that happened to fall over Valentine’s Day.
She has lived in Oklahoma for over 24 years since they got married.
Over the years, Pjesky has continued to collect a long list of agricultural awards, activities and honors, but she is by far the proudest of being the 2008 Eisenhower Agriculture Fellow.
The Eisenhower Agriculture Fellowship is awarded to one outstanding farmer or rancher in the United States annually providing a customized professional experience abroad. To be selected from the many applicants across the country, the winner must have a track record of accomplishment and leadership in their field and the potential for broad, positive impact in the future.
When the coordinator of one of her leadership programs sent out an email with the application information, Pjesky thought there was no chance she would be the one selected.
“I thought ‘what the heck, I probably don’t have a chance,’” Pjesky recalled, “but I filled it out anyway.”
Not long after, she received a call and flew to Philadelphia for the interview. When a week passed, and she had not heard back, she was sure she didn’t get it.
“My husband brought an envelope in and as soon as I took it I had a good feeling,” Pjesky said. “When I opened it, the first word was ‘Congratulations.’”
Pjesky was the first Eisenhower Agriculture Fellow to travel to Asia for her professional experience. She spent seven weeks in Japan, Malaysia and Thailand.
“It was an amazing experience for me,” Pjesky said. “It has led me to have a much larger world view, and the most important thing I’ve learned is farmers everywhere have much more in common than they do different.”
Now, she and Ryan host both Eisenhower Fellows and Nuffield Scholars on their wheat and cattle farm from all over the world. Pjesky said she feels that this is her way to give back for the amazing experience she had.
Pjesky said that even though their farming operation is financially and legally separate from her in-laws, it operates like a partnership. She helps mostly with the cattle.
As a farmer who has seen agriculture all around the world, Pjesky feels it is important to be an advocate for the issues she believes in.
Pjesky wants to speak out on issues that benefit all farmers everywhere and encourage them to look beyond what is best for their individual farm and instead look at the larger agricultural and food industry across the globe.
“I have learned there is no universally good or bad agricultural practice and no perfect size for a farm,” Pjesky said. “I want all farmers to be productive and have a good life.”
Editor’s note: This is part of a continuing series of stories on Significant Women in Oklahoma Agriculture. The project is a collaborative program between the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food & Forestry and Oklahoma State University to recognize and honor the impact of countless women across all 77 counties of the state, from all aspects and areas of the agricultural industry. The honorees were nominated by their peers and selected by a committee of industry professionals.