By Susan Lutz
The roles of farmers often seem to go to men. Perhaps rooting from generations of roll assignments – the men work the land, the women raise the children and support their husbands. My family’s roots stretch back to farming. I remember the stories of my grandmothers supporting their husbands, doing the chores, and feeding the family and the extra farm hands. Without these women, the farms wouldn’t run. As times change, the farm is changing, too.
Organic lifestyles are creating demands for less pesticides, more local crops, and food grown without GMOs. Farms used to rely on the next generation of children, usually the son, to step up and take over. As large corporations took over acres, they created a mass production and marketing system and small farms couldn’t compete. We watched family farms collapse in the ’80s. Today, women are finding ways to farm with new insight and success.
The US Department of Agriculture reports that, beginning in the 1980s, women farmers were the “fastest-growing sector of the country’s changing agricultural landscape” and they will continue to be well into the next 25 years. The number continues to rise and women farmers are gaining visibility. The economic challenge for farmers has shifted from the tradition of turning the farm over to their children, especially to the boys, to the unknown. Many families turn away from the farm for work, but today more girls and women are choosing to stay. Some enter farming for reasons such as wanting to raise children in the rural lifestyle while others may see it as a profitable way to live. Some simply want to promote organic living. Some women choose sustainable farming and some undertake a larger scale.
Where does a woman, either working alone or with a partner, turn for resources? The growing number of women farmers has created new opportunities in education, management, production, and financial resources. The Internet, blogging, and social media have opened up a new avenue of community to women farmers. With a quick click, any woman can look up how to attack a cucumber beetle without pesticides or when the best time to plant a certain crop is, and they can share stories and develop friendships with other farmers.
Women are taking back the earth. Not from men, but together as partners. My grandmother and grandfather left the farm even before the economy suffered. Over time they gravitated closer to factories and industries offering steady pay. I wonder, if the resources today were available to them, would they have had a chance to grow their farm and adapt with help rather than flee in the hopes of just staying alive and making ends meet. The organic movement is so important to so many women I know. One farm at a time, we may see the land and its caretakers turn over a whole new leaf.