Women Lead the Way in Sustainable and Organic Agriculture
By Eleanor J Bader
Truth Out, November 17, 2013
Straight to the Source
According to the US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, the number of women-operated farms more than doubled in the 25 years between 1982 and 2007. In fact, female farmers now make up the fastest-growing sector of the country’s changing agricultural landscape and nearly 1 million women – approximately one-third of total domestic farmers – list farming as their primary occupation. The National Women in Agriculture Association calls it “breaking the grass ceiling.” It’s that and more.
Some are choosing to farm as a way of maintaining continuity, tending land that has been in their families for decades. Others, however, are choosing farming for many different reasons, among them the desire to do something concrete, constructive and quickly gratifying; to tweak gender norms; or simply to have better control over their work lives. Many see their efforts as overtly political.
“Women are leading the way in sustainable and organic agriculture,” Lindsey Lusher Shute, executive director of the National Young Farmers’ Coalition told Truthout. Although she works for the Coalition full time, as co-owner of the Healthy Roots Community Farm in Tivoli, New York – 100 miles north of the city – she is involved intimately in all aspects of growing fruits and vegetables in a sustainable manner.
A Midwesterner whose grandfather farmed, Lusher Shute’s career was launched in Brooklyn, New York, where she helped create the East Williamsburg Community Garden in 2002. “We grew vegetables, ornamental plants and flowers,” she begins. “I loved the interface between gardening and the community. The community started out divided between residents who’d been there for a long time and newcomers, but the opportunity to work together on something to beautify the neighborhood led to friendships that might not have happened otherwise. We held weekly barbecues, and the garden became a place to work out community tensions and problems.”
Lusher Shute, now 34, ultimately left Brooklyn, married, had children and moved upstate. Nonetheless, the desire to farm led her and her farmer spouse to buy 70 acres of farmland. “It is critical for farms to ring cities,” she said. “We employ eight or nine people, some of them year-round and some seasonal, and grow vegetables and produce eggs for a community-supported agriculture program that runs 22 weeks a year.”