Female farmers are a big deal these days─and I’m not just saying that because I am one. Women in agriculture are on the forefront of an important shift in today’s farming landscape. They’re reshaping the way we perceive farming, making an impact on the world around them─confronting adversity as female farmers every day─and in many cases, they’re doing it with kids in-tow. Personally, I think that’s downright amazing.
Women have always been there farming right alongside men, but because of our gender and status within society, we have predominately been excluded from the agricultural discourse. Women’s labors have been made invisible within the American society; we’ve been left out of books, art, and archives, our names kept off bank loans, land titles, business documents, and equipment purchases.
Thankfully the women’s rights movement has achieved great success over the past few decades, uplifting the voices of urban and suburban women and making great strides in breaking rigid roles and glass ceilings that once held them strictly to household and reproductive duties. Today, women’s contributions are increasingly being recognized, and more women are choosing to call themselves “farmer” in spite of the challenges and adversity that come with that title. Myself included.
1. Women on the Front-lines
There is a paradigm shift taking place in the agriculture and food industries, and women are on the front-lines. The public is waking up to the dangers of processed foods and the agricultural system that produces them; increasingly people want to eat clean food made from real ingredients that were produced in a manner that does not harm the planet. Alternative agriculture continues to grow hand in hand with the local food movement, to the point that our perceptions of what constitutes farming are beginning to change as well. These shifts are creating new opportunities for women.
Temra Costa, author of “Farmer Jane: Women Changing the Way We Eat” said:
Women make the food choices, they make the choices on what to feed their family, so their movement into farming is very natural.”
Since the dawning of civilization, women have been largely responsible for providing their families with food─not just because it’s a cultural expectation based upon our gender─but also because it’s one of the ways we care for our loved ones. Even in today’s modern era, women continue to do the majority of food-related work in their households: the shopping, processing, the cooking and the serving.
In many cases, food provision is essential to many women’s identities─it even gives them power within their household, and their community. Gardening to provide food for the family is a natural progression for women, and from there it is just a short jump to selling excess goods to your neighbors and community.
2. Overcoming Challenges
The biggest challenges facing any beginning farmer are access to credit, access to land, and education. Female farmers, however, must also be strong enough to overcome a hegemonic, patriarchal society, as well as the invisibilizing mythologic perception of agriculture, and the burden of a disproportionate division of household responsibilities.
It’s a lot to ask anyone to take on, but more and more women are pursuing careers in agriculture. Women have learned to think outside the box─seizing opportunities that might be overlooked or rejected by male farmers like: making use of smaller parcels of land, creating diverse operations that favor sustainable practices, and prioritizing food production over commodity crops.
Female farmers shatter the old stereotypes, and the public perception of farming is slowly changing. 40 years ago, rural women raising horses or selling agricultural products to friends and neighbors generally weren’t considered farmers. Now, according to the USDA’s 2012 Agricultural Census, approximately 60% of women farmers sold less than $5K in agricultural goods in the previous year. Yet these women are much more likely to call themselves farmers today, than they would have in 1978─as are their neighbors and government more likely to consider these women “farmers”.
3. With Kids in Tow!
If you ask me─the most important reason female farmers are such a big deal, is because most of these women are doing it with kids in tow. This is the paradox of modern gender relations─for even as women’s participation in the labor force has increased, the time women spend on traditional household and family duties has not measurably decreased. A whopping 88% of women still maintain primary responsibility for food preparations, child care, and the management of family health and of the home.
When it comes to male vs female farmers, the United Nation’s Food & Agriculture Organization’s experts point to a “productivity gap”, with data documenting yields for women-powered farms at 20%-30% lower on average than farms operated by men. The FAO goes so far as to site the burden of household chores as the cause of this disparity:
These additional responsibilities limits women’s capacity to engage in income-earning activities.
It is a huge undertaking for a woman to be a farmer. To care for a family and manage a household, along with the responsibilities that comes with owning and operating a farm, requires a massive amount of coordination, work, and expended energy─every single day. Women must coordinate and budget limited time and energy, in order to be out there in the fields, farming and running businesses, marketing and selling farm products, and still return to the home at the end of the day to care for their families and households. In contrast, male farmers typically have wives who manage those domestic responsibilities on their behalf, allowing men to focus almost exclusively on the job of farming, thus earning more income to support their farms and their families.
Female Farmers ARE a Big Deal
It makes sense that women would feel called to farming; studies have shown that women are naturally more compassionate, empathetic and nurturing than men. It is instinctive for women to care for the people around them: children, husbands, parents and other family-members, friends and community-members. It’s that instinct that drives the local food movement, as women all over the world are stepping up to provide healthy food for their families and friends, protect the environment and their homes, and build thriving communities.
Women who choose to call themselves “farmer” are facing adversities and overcoming major challenges every day in order to do the work that they do. They are Bad. Ass. That’s why female farmers are a big deal.
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