American agriculture is a great success story, mostly because of the families involved in farming and ranching. As proof, 98% of farms and ranches in the United States are family-owned and operated producing food and fiber so abundantly that most Americans don’t worry about where their next meal is going to come from. Women in agriculture are a large part of that success! Recently at the 23 rd Annual Women in Ag Conference themed Resilience in the Desert, Gertie Hickman was awarded the Resilient Women of the Year Award, the first recipient to receive the recognition.
Former Governor Jan Brewer visiting with Gertie Hickman. As noted in the article, Gertie loves visiting with politicians and making sure they get the real story about modern-day agriculture.
Without these women who take on volunteer leadership roles, become career professionals, accountants, business partners and in some cases the independent business owners of farms and ranches themselves, while also prioritizing other family responsibilities, agriculture would not have the strong foundation and family roots that it has today which has helped make it resilient. It’s due to these reasons that the coalition of Arizona Farm Bureau Women’s Leadership group established the Resilient Women of the Year recognition. And, from their perspective, there was no better woman to give the first one to than Gertie Hickman
She Was a Natural When it Came to Raising a Flock of Hens
Gertie was born and raised in Glendale, Arizona. Gertie’s father had a retail clothing store and her mother played mini-farmer to different animals they raised throughout Gerties’ childhood. Though she was never raised on a farm she had some experience through time she spent on other farms including her grandmother’s farm in Ohio where she would help collect eggs from her chickens and sell to the local grocer.
After Gertie Attended Arizona State University, she married Bill Hickman. Bill had a full-time job managing a Glendale service station, while Gertie had a bit of time on her hands, and experience working in her father’s local dry goods stores. Bill bought Gertie 500 baby chicks to match her mothers-in-law’s flock, and the two women were 50-50 partners in the new business venture. Soon, egg production exceeded the back-porch sales, so Gertie started selling eggs out of the back seat of Bill’s ‘55 Ford coupe to local cafés and grocery stores.
Business was so good that in two years, the flock had grown to 3,500 hens. Their first son, Matt, was born in 1959, so as soon as the insurance company paid the hospital off (yes, medical coverage was a big deal even back then), Bill left the service station to run the egg business full time.
In the next 10 years, from 1959 to 1969, Hickman’s Egg Ranch grew to 100,000 laying hens on 10 acres on 67th and Missouri avenues. With the growth of Maryvale and the Metro Phoenix area Bill Hickman had the foresight to purchase 40 acres way-way-way out on 91st and Orangewood avenues in 1968. Bill and Gertie first built their family home there in 1970, and then they built hen houses to expand and eventually relocated the 67th Avenue farm. Expansion over the years led to additional barns, a processing plant and they expanded over the years, adding barns and a processing plant. By 1997, they had a processing plant capable of grading 72,000 eggs per hour and a feed mill running around the clock, supplying not only their feed for their hens but feed stores around the state — and 350,000 laying hens. Eventually, they ran out of room.
In 1997 the Hickman’s purchased land in Arlington, AZ west of Buckeye, and continued their expansion. Today they have facilities in Tonopah and Maricopa as well and more than 10 million laying hens.
With the business doing so well, Gertie was also busy raising her family! With five children, multiple grandchildren and great-grandchildren Gertie is very involved in everything that they do. Gertie’s biggest impact on the ag industry is her commitment to working for specific politicians that are ag friendly. Gertie likes to make sure that she develops a relationship with the politician that will continue to grow while they are in office. She relays the correct information from a farmer’s point of view to the politicians and makes sure that they are up-to-date on the issues affecting the agriculture industry.
Gertie is definitely one of a kind and has been a staple in the agricultural industry here in Arizona. We salute her achievement as the Resilient Women of the Year recipient.
Next year, Arizona Farm Bureau’s Women’s Leadership Committee will take a vote on the next recipient of the Resilient Women of the Year Award. Arizona agriculture has a great group of women to select from.
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