Today is International Women’s Day! A global day to celebrate the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. What better way to commemorate this occasion than to share some words from the amazing women farmers that I’ve had the privilege to meet and work with?
Women and Farming
If you think about it from both a global and temporal perspective, women truly are the heart and soul of farming. Thousands of years ago, it was women who were planting, tending and harvesting in the fields while men hunted wild game, and in many places around the world those roles still exist. While women have been the masters of farming throughout history, farming in the U.S. has been widely regarded as a male occupation for many decades.
However, women farmers the U.S. are on the rise. I’ve heard it said that women are one of the fastest growing populations of farmers. This beautiful photo essay, published in the Washington Post online (June 27, 2009), states that “women now run one of every 10 American farms.” I interviewed three of these women to get a sense of what is motivating women to start a career in farming, and what keeps them there.
Meet the Farmers
- Tracie Smith – Tracie’s Community Farm, Fitzwilliam, NH – Tracie owns and operates a successful, 300+ member CSA farm that she started 11 years ago, she also sells to local restaurants.
- Amanda Maurmann – Stonewall Farm, Keene, NH – Amanda is the Garden Manager at a not-for-profit, educational and working farm where she grows produce, herbs and flowers to sell through a four season CSA, farm stand, and farmers market.
- Stephanie Phillips – The Family Farm, Belleville, MI – Stephanie operates a biodynamic farm homestead that has been growing organically since 1980. She sells through a CSA, to local restaurants, and farmers market.
Answering the Call – What Draws Women to Farming?
“When I was 18, I grew my first garden,” says Tracie. “While prepping the soil, planting, cultivating, and harvesting, I knew I was doing what I was meant to do. It felt right. I had a connection with the plants and the soil.”
Amanda and Stephanie also feel that farming is just what they are meant to do. However, these two women were also blessed to be part of farming from a young age–Amanda through her grandmother’s and Stephanie through her parent’s farm (the same farm she operates today). Both women tried pursuing a different path but found themselves returning to the occupation of their ancestors. “I went to school for something totally unrelated and didn’t come to [farming] until I was in my mid 20’s,” says Amanda. “It was like opening a door to a piece of yourself. Your heart remembers it.”
Stephanie’s deep connection to farming even predates her own presence on this earth. “I came back to Michigan to reclaim my family heritage,” she says, “to reconnect with the spirit of my Cherokee ancestors. I think this is ultimately what inspired me to farm. The spirit of the Earth is in my blood, in my family lineage. No matter how hard I tried to do and be something else, I could not deny the call of stewardship to the planet and humanity.”
Without doubt, farming is anything but a walk in the park. Farmers spend long hours under the hot sun and in bone-chilling blizzards–the fields and animals don’t take a vacation, so neither do you. Living and working in a society that asserts that hard, back-braking labor is a man’s job is at times an additional hurdle for women farmers. Aside from personal motivation and passion, I wanted to know, what keeps these women farming?
Stephanie found one of her most valuable resources to be community. “When I needed rain barrels, I got them. When I needed compost, I got it. Free labor, no problem! There is a wonderful community of people and organizations here in Southeast Michigan that are committed to supporting sustainable farms, businesses and farmers.” Similarly, Tracie lists family, friends, and community-based organizations as some of her strongest supporters.
Amanda cites not only the community at large but a community among women farmers in Southwestern New Hampshire as an important resource. “Women farmers in this area have a strong bond with each other, we are connected in a powerful way. We go for months without speaking to each other, but whenever we need anything we can turn to one another. It’s a great supportive network.” In fact, Amanda told me that farmer Tracie was a huge inspiration to her when she was first considering changing her career to farming. “I thought, if she could do it, so could I,” says Amanda.
Farming into the Future
One thing is for sure, the number of women farmers is on the rise and their passion and drive will undoubtedly carry them far into the future of farming.
Want to learn more about how women are a powerful force, changing the face of farming in the United States? There are a number of organizations that have formed to specifically support women farmers (for example, UVM’s WAgN and MSU’s Women’s Agricultural Community Web Resource), and books that have been written on the subject of women in agriculture (such as, Farmer Jane & Women of the Harvest).
What’s the best thing you can do to support women farmers?
- Build a community that supports all of its farmers, men and women alike.
- Volunteer at a local farm or for organizations that help local farmers.
- Buy direct from farmers at Farmers Markets and farm stands.
- Sign up for a CSA–many are taking applications now for summer shares!
- Seek out and/or request local food options at grocers and restaurants.
Voracious for Vegetables,
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This is great Meg! So glad this is taking off and its great to see press on farmers in our area. Keep it up local food rock star!