"When I purchased this farm, nobody in this area had seen a woman running a farm," Dunn says. "There are lots of challenges going along with that. If I had been a guy out there learning, I wouldn't have been scrutinized the entire way."
Today, Dunn says she doesn't even think about being a woman in a man's field anymore. Her advice to other female farmers: Keep going. "Don't take it personally when your every move is examined."
While Dunn operates in rural Kansas, Ruth Hambleton, 57, of Woodlawn, Ill., and her sister, Jean Fleck, 56, work together managing their 90-year-old father's 320-acre farm growing corn and soybeans. The business brings in revenue of about $18,000 a year.
Hambleton and her husband, Kenneth, 63, live on a 40-acre farm where they grow hay and raise a small herd of cattle. "We don't make a lot of money," she says. "I've got a pretty good life. I enjoy the quality of life and being my own boss."
Until she retired in 2009, Hambleton taught farm management at the University of Illinois extension program to help make ends meet. Her husband drove a truck until he retired that year.
Hambleton is also the founder of Annie's Project, an organization with instructors in 28 states dedicated to strengthening women's roles in the farming business. While farming is usually a family affair, Annie's Project "empowers women to be better business partners," she says.
"It's usually women with more resources returning to family operations and using their resources to purchase a farm because it's been a lifelong dream," Hambleton says.
Great to be the boss
Like Dunn and Hambleton, Karen Poulsen, 59, is now a veteran when it comes to working the land. For the past 19 years, Poulsen has been renting a 470-acre tract from her father in Ellensburg, Wash. She's a fifth-generation farmer.
Poulsen, who is single, started by raising cattle, but quickly began growing hay that is exported to Japan for its racehorse and dairy industries. The business brings in $500,000 a year in revenue.
Next: Wearing many hats. >>