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How Women Farmers are Changing the US Ag Industry

Farm & Ranch Life |

Posted on: Nov 28th 2016

Source: Civil Eats

In a male-dominated industry, women are rapidly changing the way we look at agriculture in the U.S. For a long time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture only allowed one household member to claim the status of “farmer” on census data. As you might imagine, most of the time a man claimed that title. In 2002, however, the USDA changed this rule, allowing more and more women to officially classify themselves as farmers.

This, of course, led to big changes in the roles women found themselves in on the farm and their consequent impact on the agriculture industry.

The fact is women now account for 30 percent of the farm operations in the U.S., a number which has tripled in the last three decades alone. Women today are leading the way to an important shift in modern agriculture, where they are starting to view themselves as farmers, rather than just farm wives and daughters.

Interested in this new profound change in the ag industry, authors Carolyn Sachs, Mary E. Babercheck, Kathryn Brasier, Nancy Ellen Kiernan and Rachel Terman pooled their ideas and research together to write a book on this very issue entitled “The Rise of Women Farmers and Sustainable Agriculture.”

This book explores the way women are changing their sense of identity and some of the obstacles they are encountering along the way. The authors have compiled stories from women farmers in the northeastern United States, detailing their hurdles and triumphs, as well as highlighting their strategies for running a successful farming business. This storytelling through real farm women is presented with investigative research done by the authors on the subject as they tie together the theory and practice of farming for women.

Terman highlighted one particularly interesting trend they came across while researching and writing their book. In an interview with Civil Eats, she said, “I don’t want to paint a  broad stroke, but it does seem like the women involved in sustainable agriculture are especially interested in multiple factors involved in farming—like the environment, health, food, nutrition and how the farm is connected to the community and the community is connected to the farm. It’s a different balance of priorities than we see in [male-dominated] conventional agriculture.”

Women are paving the way in this aspect of farming—by using their interest in multiple facets of agriculture to spur innovation and creativity in the industry. In her interview, Terman mentioned one woman featured in the book managed to combine her urban farm with a kid’s educational program, thereby earning a nonprofit status and opening up more opportunities for her farming business. Another farmer struck up a deal with her town to allow her to farm on community land, which she might not have been able to access otherwise.

This kind of innovation is what sets women farmers apart.

The book is definitely worth checking out, whether you are a female who has been in the ag industry for years or if you are thinking it might be something you’d enjoy. The book encourages women to be leaders in their chosen farming industry, and offers inspiring stories to help people and organizations in the ag business get the ball rolling by providing more resources specifically for women farmers.

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