Michele Ruby, part-owner of a large family dairy operation in the Western Oregon, seemed a bit surprised when answering a question about the challenges facing women in production agriculture: “It’s not something that ever stopped me or seemed like an obstacle.”
Ruby not only is part of the Fir Ridge Holstein Farm family dairy along with husband Kevin Wilson, mother Ida Ruby, brother Scott Ruby and nephew Matt Ruby.
She also owns an agriculture-centric public relations firm, was a journalist in New York state and is the current executive director of Oregon Ag Fest. She has also served as the communications officer for the Dairy Farmers of Oregon and the Tillamook County Creamery Association.
All that focus and energy stems from her upbringing, Ruby said.
“My parents raised me with the same expectations as my older brother, and we worked side-by-side growing up,” Ruby said. “I can’t think of much he did that I didn’t do as well — buck hay, milk cows, feed calves, rake hay, drive tractors, et cetera.
“I’m so grateful for that, because I never realized there were limitations in life, let alone on a dairy farm.”
Fir Ridge Holstein Farm milks 500 or so cows each at its Scio location, which ships milk to Safeway, and at a second location in Cloverdale, which ships to Tillamook.
Ruby said her life with ag has been a guiding force. It has proceeded arrow-straight from the early days in 4-H and FFA to the current work at the dairy.
“I can still picture my dad standing in my doorway growing up saying, ‘Don’t you think it’s about time to start your day?’ And it was still dark out! I blame him for making me a morning person and a night owl both; that’s kind of a must on a dairy farm.”
From Scio High School, during which she was chosen Oregon State Dairy Princess in 1991, she moved on to earn a degree in ag communications from California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo, then took on her first job at the New York News in Ithaca, N.Y.
“I’ve always been curious and have a very opportunist personality,” she said, by way of explaining her next move, to California and a public relations job at an international marketing company.
Then came a nearly four-year stint at the Tillamook Creamery, followed by five years as communications director at the Dairy Farmers of Oregon.
She began her public-relations firm, Ruby-Do Inc., 15 years ago in Portland, then moved back to Scio and married her husband 18 months ago. Along with his four children and a lesser workload with Ruby-Do, she says she “just wants to enjoy family life and our time here.”
She and Kevin — the Scio dairy’s manager — are building a home on the hill overlooking Fir Ridge Holstein Farm, adjacent to her mother Ida’s home.
Throughout her career and life in agriculture, Ruby says she has dealt with her share of “vendors, salesmen, servicemen” that are used to dealing only with men.
“Other people’s attitudes have never held me back,” she said. “There are amazing women across our state and country doing really interesting things on farms and for agriculture. (In my public relations work) I happen to take my on-farm experience to help companies, cooperatives and farmers tell their story in a way that resonates with their customers.”
In that way, she adds, she is “very fortunate to be able to feed all my interests.”