When Monica Wilke joined the Oklahoma Farm Bureau in 1999, she did not expect to one day become the executive director of the organization, which lobbies on behalf of Oklahoma farmers and ranchers and is the largest mutual insurance company in Oklahoma.
“I came to lobby for the agricultural part of the organization,” says Wilke, a 1999 graduate of the University of Oklahoma College of Law. A few years after joining the bureau, Wilke was promoted to general counsel and in 2009 took on the role of executive director after her predecessor retired.
To further Oklahoma’s agricultural interests and serve the farmers and ranchers who make up the bulk of the bureau’s membership, Wilke draws upon her own experience growing up on a farm in Grandfield in southwestern Oklahoma. Wilke’s great-grandparents, who immigrated to the United States from Austria, bought the farmland in Tillman County for their children, intending for it to be passed down through future generations.
Today, the land remains family-owned, including the farm run by Wilke’s parents, who raise both wheat and stocker cattle. Wilke and her husband also own farmland on which they currently raise wheat.
“The people who own us are the farmers and ranchers. I feel like I’m working at home,” Wilke says, adding that the bureau provides a voice for Oklahoma’s agricultural community to be heard on a state and national level. “The issues and concerns our members have are very personal to me.”
As executive director, Wilke oversees the day-to-day operations of the bureau, which is comprised of 500 employees and 200 agents across Oklahoma. Among the bureau’s many entities and programs are its insurance arm; community outreach programs; college scholarship programs; a young farmers’ group; a political action committee (PAC) and its legal foundation, which assists farmers and ranchers in courtroom matters.
Wilke speaks proudly of the farm bureau’s most recently established entity, the Oklahoma Farm Foundation. The 501(c)(3) non-profit foundation is dedicated to educating the public, especially consumers from a non-farming background, about agricultural issues in Oklahoma. The foundation helps consumers learn about the food they eat, how the food is produced and the farmers and ranchers responsible for raising and growing it.
Though Wilke is the first woman to be named executive director of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, she says it’s not at all unusual for women to hold agricultural leadership positions in Oklahoma. She notes that several Oklahoma agricultural organizations, including the Farm Services Agency and the Oklahoma Beef Council, are currently helmed by women.
“One of the things I love most about the Oklahoma Farm Bureau is we have offices in all 77 counties,” Wilke says, adding that the bureau’s omnipresence sets it apart from other agricultural and insurance-related organizations in Oklahoma. “We’re entrenched in communities across the state.”
Wilke says she is proud to be in a position to advance Oklahoma’s agricultural interests.
“The Oklahoma Farm Bureau has done an excellent job of telling our story on a state and national level,” she says. “We’re helping to build and sustain Oklahoma and Oklahomans.”