Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Farmer and the Farmerette

On Tuesday, Clear Spring Creamery played host to a Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) workshop. And I was on the itinerary. According to the schedule, I was slated to discuss my "personal journey" as an intern at 3:15.

I was not expecting much, to be honest. I thought I would tell everyone what I studied in college (theatre and drama), mention how I became interested in sustainable agriculture (Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver) and explain my future plans (Food Studies MA at Chatham University). There would be two or three stilted questions, and that would be that.

Instead, I became embroiled in an hour-long discussion, in which I eventually realized that I was being treated the mouthpiece of an entire generation of young farmers - the so-called "Generation Organic".

The discussion as a whole was quite interesting, and certainly thought provoking - one moment in particular, at least for me. During a discussion about the FFA (Future Farmers of America), I commented that my mom was a national officer in the FHA (Future Homemakers of America), "...before girls were allowed to be farmers," I ended snidely.

A local extension agent cut me short. "Abigail Adams was a farmer," he said. "So was Martha Washington."

I understand his point. Of course women have farmed throughout history, and continue to farm today. But frankly, the view of farming at present- especially conventional farming - is that of an overall-wearing, grass-chewing, tractor-driving boys club.

This predominantly male farmer stereotype has some statistics backing it up. According to the 2007 USDA Census of Agriculture, the average percentage of female principal farm operators is a mere 14%, increasing  to 22% when you look only at organic farms.

But change is in the air, according to the same 2007 Census: from 2002 to 2007, the number of women as operators has jumped 19%, and as principal farm operators 29%. This is significantly higher than the growth of farmers overall, which was a measly 7% in comparison.

Clearly, the tide is turning, and it is turning more quickly in the world of "alternative" agriculture, such as organic and biodynamic farming. I'm looking forward to reading the results of the 2012 Census of Agriculture, to see how the trend is looking.

As a parting gift, I feel I should mention that my blog comes up when one Googles "sexy girl on tractor," just in case anyone was curious just what, exactly, the role of lady farmers is... or should be.

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