New Kind of Farmers

More women emerging as decision-making, tractor-driving farmers

When Anna Clements, of Clementine’s Produce and Provisions, walked into a local store in Gretna, Neb., an elderly man leaned over and asked if she was one of “those new kind of farmers.” She figures her dirty overalls and rubber boots gave her away. That, and the fact that she is a woman. “Well, yes, I am sir, but my fiancée still farms the old way, if it makes you feel any better,” she said. It did. Anna is one of many “new kind of farmers” — new kind of farmers referring mostly to them being female, but also that they focus on the organic and the sustainable — popping up across the country. She is also a new kind of farmer because she produces food rather than corn or soybeans, especially in Nebraska, which is the land of commodity crops. Local food movements have illuminated the role of women in sustainable agriculture, not only as the typical household food supplier and community advocate, but also as the decision-making, tractor-driving farmer. According to the most recent U.S. Census, the number of women listed as principal farm operators has increased by 30 percent over 2002 data. For Leigh Adcock, executive director of the Women, Food and Agriculture Network the increase is not surprising. She has seen her organization’s membership grow from just 250 in 2008 to nearly 1,500 in 2011. “Women traditionally are responsible for the care of their family’s health. They tend to think holistically about systems, both relative to human health and ecosystems,” says Adcock, “so it makes sense that we would farm sustainably.” It’s not just that women are farming, it’s that women tend to own their land and use diversified farming practices. Women are more likely than their male counterparts to own the land they farm — 85 percent versus 66 percent, respectively. While men dominate cattle, grain, commodity crops and overall farm size, women-operated farms dominate in vegetable, fruit, nut, poultry, egg, sheep, goat and general horticulture production. “A lot of people in the general public feel that women farmers aren’t real farmers. If you aren’t raising grain on 500 acres then you aren’t a real farmer,” says Adcock. “Anyone making a living off the land is a real farmer and women are making a living.” States like Arizona, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine and Alaska lead the way when it comes to women-operated farms. In Nebraska, women make up 8.4 percent of all farm operators, while Iowa fares only slightly better with 9.1 percent. Midwestern states, including Nebraska and Iowa, rank at the bottom, but that could change with the 2012 Census. Broad communication efforts and better reporting could lead to truer numbers about women in farming. To be counted, farmers have to sign up at nass.usda.gov/counts. Who knows? Eventually what is new could become old again.

posted at 01:04 pm
on Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

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