As we continue to evolve as a society, we are seeing more women take the risk, whether independently or with a partner, to depend on soil and seeds for their livelihoods. Some women are even leaving behind their 9 to 5 jobs with benefits and vacation time to pursue a career in farming. Ask any farmer and they will tell you that farming isn’t for the faint of heart, as your product is truly at the mercy of Mother Nature. But this isn’t a new trend or a new challenge for women, as women have been making contributions to agriculture for well over a century.
Women Farmers and the Census of Agriculture
Before 2002, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) only allowed one person to identify themselves as a farm producer or operator. Even if a farm was family-owned and operated, the man would typically register his name with the Census of Agriculture. With time and renewed interest among individuals in farming, the USDA began to change the way it accounted for farm producers and operators, which allowed for more women to be recognized in the count.
LEFT: Liz, co-founder, and farmer of Honey Bee Hills Farm, holds edible flowers grown on the farm. They will be doubling their flower production this year. RIGHT: Honey Bee Hills Farm’s strawberries are coming along, but farmer Liz says they will be a little late this year.
When the 2017 Census of Agriculture was released, women were the principal operators of roughly 29.13% of farms and over 30% of farm producers were women. Among the women who operate and/or produce, you will find women who have either chosen farming as an entrepreneurial endeavor or women who have taken over farm operations from an aging parent.
Women Farmers of Happy Dirt
At Happy Dirt, we work with multiple farms that are either owned or operated (or both) by a woman. Knowing that a lot of people perceive farming as a masculine endeavor, we were curious as to if some of our women farmers felt like they were treated differently in the farming community or experienced any obstacles.
LEFT: Amy, founder of Fox Farm & Forage, holds her oldest hen, Dottie. RIGHT: Amy grows many varieties of mushrooms on her farm, including gray oyster mushrooms.
When we asked Amy, owner, and founder of Fox Fam & Forage, if she faced any obstacles as a woman farmer, she said, “I’ve had so many people ask me that question and it’s always perplexed me, and honestly I’ve never run into anything that I found to be challenging.” She thought long and hard for 24 hours about the question. “I guess if I had to think of one challenge, it would be that I’m just not as strong as some of the men,” she laughed. “If I can’t pick something up, I’ll ask one of the guys. If they aren’t around, I figure it out or just use equipment.” Liz, co-founder of Honey Bee Hills Farm with her husband Rich, had a similar reaction.
“I can’t think of anything,” Liz responded when we asked her the same question about her experience in farming. “I think older farmers or people whose families have been in it forever there may be more defined gender roles,” she added. “Rich and I are coming at it from a fresh slate. We certainly do different things depending on our strengths and interests, but it’s a partnership for us.” She went on to talk about how the farming community supports each other, answering questions and lending a hand when there is a need.
Hope for the Future of Farming
While women farmers still tend to have less access to land, labor, and capital, we have hope for continued, forward movement in farming for women. After looking at the 2017 Census of Agriculture numbers and listening to Liz and Amy talk about their farming experience, encouraged us to continue to build upon the positive momentum. At the end of the day, everyone brings a different skill, talent, and idea to the field, and we’re here to celebrate the diversity among our farmers.