Women: Past, Present, and Future of Agriculture

The views presented in these blogs are those of the authors.

The most recent USDA Census of Agriculture notes that there are nearly one million women farmers in America. We are two of them. One of us runs an organic produce and flower farm farm in rural Ohio and is a co-founder of a national organization working with volunteers making schools healthier places for kids to eat, learn, and grow. The other of us is a co-owner and operator of a multi-thousand acre production agriculture facility in Minnesota and is the first female Chair of a prominent state organization promoting Minnesota's agriculture farmers and businesses.

Although we have chosen two different farming paths, we are both part of a long history of women in American agriculture.

Women have been the backbone of America’s agriculture heritage for generations. We’ve tilled the soil, raised crops and livestock, and owned and operated farms. We are still going strong. In our two states combined there are over 15,000 women running over 1.5 million acres of farmland.

Agriculture has expanded past the field and into the laboratory, classroom, boardroom and beyond. As this has happened, we have been there too. Women are active in all aspects of agriculture – as scientists, inspectors, processors, nutritionists, CEOs, business managers, entrepreneurs and more.

In late October, we were both in Washington, DC with thirty other agricultural leaders to discuss what we can do to support women in agriculture. The Dialogue on Women Leaders in Agriculture, hosted by the White House Rural Council and the U.S. Department of Agriculture and co-organized by AGree, was as diverse as agriculture itself. As Advisory Committee members for AGree, we were delighted to join colleagues from agricultural organizations and businesses large and small to discuss the future of women in agriculture.

As part of our conversation, we were asked to consider how we can continue to recruit and promote women’s leadership in agriculture in order to stay competitive in both the global and local market place. We discussed current barriers unique to women in the ag sector and strategies we can develop to overcome them. We looked at successful efforts to recruit, retain and promote women in agriculture. Finally, we asked ourselves what are the most important things we can do, in our various roles, to support the next generation of women leaders in agriculture.

One answer to this question is identifying other women in agriculture. Are they among the hundreds of women volunteering their time to teach children about gardening, food, and nutrition? Are they a member of local, state or national promotional boards and committees? Are they involved with one of the other organizations or corporations at last week’s meeting? Are they farming down the street, or developing a new agricultural product in the next county? Are they at the farmers market or in the stock exchange? Are they leading a classroom or running a lab? Are they our mothers, daughters, sisters, nieces or neighbors?

Without recognizing these women's work and connecting them, we are missing an important opportunity to learn from and support one another. By identifying and supporting these women, we are building a pipeline for the next generation of agricultural leaders. As we discussed in Washington, building the next generation of leaders in food and agriculture – both women and men – is going to take personal and organizational commitments to ensure that we identify and inspire talented young people early in their careers (some who are still in school), mentor them, and provide opportunities for their advancement. This issue is critical issue to the future of food and agriculture.

As part of our meeting, USDA Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden released a video wondering who are the women in agriculture who inspire you? We invite you to use #womeninag to tell us and the world.

Authors: Debra Eschmeyer is co-founder and Vice President of External Affairs for FoodCorps and is also co-owner of Harvest Sun Farm in Ohio. Kristin Weeks Duncanson is co-owner and partner of Duncanson Growers in Minnesota and Chair of the Minnesota Agri-Growth Council.