#WomenInAg Spotlight: Denise Hymel

AFBF Staff

photo credit: AFBF Photo, Mike Tomko

#WomenInAg recognizes the contributions of women involved in agriculture during Women’s History Month (March). AFBF is proud to salute Denise “Denny” Hymel, a Louisiana farmer and Farm Bureau leader!

Hymel currently serves on the boards of directors for the American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture and Louisiana Ag in the Classroom. She’s also a member of the American Farm Bureau’s Grassroots Outreach (GO) Team. She previously served as chair of Louisiana Farm Bureau’s Women’s Leadership Committee and on the AFB Women’s Leadership Committee representing the Southern region.

Hymel’s ag education outreach centers around Fast Food Farms, an interactive, educational farm she founded in Gramercy, Louisiana, nearly 20 years ago. The non-profit farm provides creative learning tools for schools, organizations and the local community to educate youth and adults about the importance of agriculture and how it connects with the origin of their favorite fast foods.

Denise Hymel AFBF

The farm is physically divided into five plots: Hamburger, Hot Dog, Taco, Fries and Chicken. Each plot consists of what makes up the fast food. For example, the Taco plot features Mazie, a dairy cow, representing milk to make cheese, in addition to corn for corn tortillas, wheat for flour tortillas, and tomatoes, lettuce and hot peppers for salsa.

Students from local schools serve as “peer teachers” during farm tours and other events, along with ag industry volunteers. Student groups (pre-K to first grade and grades two-three) typically range in size from 700 to 1,000 attendees. Each child leaves the farm with a “make & take” item, a give-away or the tasty memory of a vegetable dish he or she helped prepare onsite at the Mosaic Kid’s Kitchen.

“The most rewarding part is seeing them grow,” Hymel said, referring to student peer teachers, many of whom return to the farm year-after-year to assist with tours. Dedicated support from the area school system has also been gratifying, according to Hymel.

She encourages anyone interested in financial support for ag outreach programs to seek out and apply for grants, which are the primary funding source for Fast Food Farms. The Mosaic Company was the first corporate sponsor of the farm. Grants obtained over the years have allowed for expansion and enhancement of educational activities, including a recently awarded perpetual grant of $500 per month from the United Way/4-H Foundation.

The oldest of 10 siblings, Hymel enjoys time away from the farm with extended family when possible. She and her family are known in their local area (about 50 miles north of New Orleans) for hosting a Christmas Eve open house and bonfire that draws a mammoth crowd. Between 500 and 600 people typically show up, as the Hymels open their home to any strangers and local people who would like to celebrate with them. Louisiana specialties by the gallon – alligator sauce piquant, red bean gumbo, chicken andouille gumbo and jambalaya – are on the menu.