Monday, December 14, 2015

The Rising Tide of Female Farmers

Donna and her husband had worked alongside one another for decades, hustling cattle across hundreds of acres, back-breaking work that doesn’t ease no matter how many people are helping you. She is wizened and weathered, with callused hands and a deliberate, cautious walk. She still does the cattle drives and typically has between 340 and 350 head, which on the face of it feels overwhelming. But Donna dismisses it, saying, “The labor ain’t nothing like what my grandmother had to endure.” Modesty aside, Donna is a striking example of an intriguing and expansive demographic in America today. According to the Economic Research Service, a U.S. Department of Agriculture agency, in the past three decades the number of women-operated farms has increased substantially in the nation. Between 1978 and 2007, when the last agriculture census was completed, the number of women-operated farms in the U.S. grew from 306,200 to nearly a million. Women run 13 percent of all the nation’s farms and are 30 percent of all farmers in the U.S. In the popular imagination these women’s lives and work are a curious turn on the idea of rugged individualism. Writer Lori Rotenberk noted in a June 2013 column in the online magazine Grist, that many of these women “are 40 and older, leaving behind office jobs and careers for the opportunity to get their hands dirty and create something tangible. At the other end of the spectrum are younger women who are coming out of agricultural and environmental science programs with a dedication to food justice, education and reminding a nation led astray by fast food and TV dinners where its sustenance really comes from. There is also an older generation of women who have outlived their husbands and now own vast amounts of farm and ranchland. Combined, they are making new inroads for women who are determined to build a life around farming.” But to Donna, none of this seems to matter much. There’s work to be done, and she quietly goes about it daily. Never mind the fact that in 2000 she was inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, joining the ranks of only a handful of women who possess such bragging rights...more

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