Take a look at the North Star crew picture again:
The staff is made up of almost entirely women. At Drumlin, the last farm I worked at, all 4 of the apprentices were women, which was double the number of our male supervisors. At CRAFT (Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training) meetings in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, there are always noticeably more women.
Why? What draws so many women to organic farming? And why, despite the wealth of women apprentices, does it seem that the majority of farm owners and managers are men?*
We talk about this sometimes at work. Some of my coworkers suggest that many women have an innate nurturing quality that is expressed through tending to plants, and it is becoming easier, because of the feminist movement’s advances, to be a female farmer. Others think that vegetable farming takes patience and meticulous care, while livestock farming takes more brawn and might be better suited to the male physique.
Who knows? One thing’s for sure: it’s a lot harder to find guys in this field (pun intended) than girls. According to the most recent USDA Census of Agriculture: the number of female main farm operators in Vermont has almost doubled in 5 years. There were 236,269 women-operated farms in the US in 2002. That’s a 12.6 percent increase from 1997.** There are companies dedicated to farm equipment for women, such as Green Heron Tools (check out these seriously awesome overalls), farm schools for women (see here), and countless not-for-profits dedicated to female farmers.
Why does it matter that the new generation of small, sustainable farmers in certain areas is dominated by women? I believe that it’s an exciting sign for women’s rights. It helps battle the generalization that women are weaker and less mechanically savvy than men. Will it change the future of food? Some people think so. I’d like to think that both men and women are capable of producing economically and environmentally sound vegetables. But I’d also like to think that both men and women are equally capable of representing the US as President, and history hasn’t given women the chance to prove that’s true. So maybe, if and when many of our executive farmers are women, we’ll see a difference in local food systems.
In the end, it’s about the person you are, not the height or strength or gender of choice. A good farmer is a person who is conscious of sustainable practices, humble towards the elements, always looking to learn, and excited about fantastic food. Thanks to Jen for her comment on my last post, which inspired me to write this one!
*(A disclaimer: I have noticed these trends in the Northeast in small, sustainable agriculture, and do not extend these generalizations outside of my own observed experience.)
**Stats taken from http://www.americanagriwomen.org/history and http://www.uvm.edu/wagn/?Page=vfwf.html