guest essay: lesbian farmers
Lesbian Farmers by Kellen Kaiser
Kellen Kaiser was born in San Francisco. She is loved and supported by her four lesbian mothers and one younger brother. As a child, she frequently represented the gay community as a speaker on panels and in the media. Her story has appeared on CNN, in Marie Claire and in the Seattle Times. Kellen went on to attend NYU Tisch where she founded a dialogue group about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Post-graduation, making good use of that college degree, she became a nanny/actress, and an inconsistent blogger. She is now thrilled to be publishing her first book, Queerspawn in Love.
Image courtesy of Kellen and Helen.
We are the Lesbian Farmers that Rush Limbaugh fears. Only he is way too late.
Recently it came up that Rush Limbaugh believes lesbian farmers are invading rural America.
Although Mr. Limbaugh believes government support of LGBTQ folks involved in Agriculture will lead to a scourge of lesbian farmers proliferating, I have some news for him. As someone who grew up involved in what might be the country’s only lesbian owned and operated cattle ranch, I can assure that lesbian farmers are already in action and thriving. We’ve been here for decades.
My own godmother, Helen Wagner was a part of the back to the land movement in the 1970’s and has been forging her own path in the Ag community ever since. The land, Full Moon Ranch, located in scenic Mendocino County has been home to sheep, pigs, organic veggies and currently an Angus/Hereford cow-calf operation. We raise grass fed, free range humanely raised beef on over five hundred acres of rolling oak hills, north of San Francisco.
Originally drawn to farming through childhood visits to a friend’s sheep ranch in the Sacramento Delta, Helen and her partner started with that animal. When they separated, Helen taught herself the cattle business which was more low maintenance. For many years, she worked full time as an engineer in the city, commuting two hours north each weekend to tend to the cows. She appreciated an alternate route to success that involved being outdoors, and being independent.
Over the years she has run a long-standing profitable business, along with putting up countless fences, raising a barn, hosting women’s music festivals, teaching valuable skills to younger generations and serving as a powerful example of liberated womanhood. Now ninety one years old, she still participates in the daily business of the ranch, living off-grid, pumping and distributing water, setting out alfalfa and watching over the cattle. She credits her stubbornness, along with her work ethic and love of nature for her longevity in the field.
My mother Nyna, who met Helen because of her own desire to be involved in Ag, moved up to the Ranch full time a little over five years ago. She knew how important it was that Helen be able to stay independent and on the land for as long as possible. After putting up a house from which she can vaguely spy on my elderly godmother, she honed the skills necessary for country living, like how to handle solar heating, and local mushroom identification, while herself working elsewhere full time. Nonetheless, the garden my mother has put in feeds us for much of the year. I joke that we are almost homesteading at this point.
Perhaps it is partially a function both of feminism and necessity, that at our place there is nothing considered “too manly” for us to do. My mother once ruined a Saturday afternoon of mine by insisting I learn how to replace a toilet. Since I joined into the family business a couple of years back, I’ve learned how to use a chainsaw, drive a tractor, pour concrete, and sort cattle in a pen. Although physical strength is definitely key to many tasks around the property, the motto, “work smarter, not harder” goes a long way.
I take great inspiration from the ‘can-do’ attitude of the two generations of women who have come before me and I am not the only one. Each time we round up our cattle we try and teach someone new to farming how to do things like castrate, put in ear tags or give shots. The powerful example provided by my family may well indeed lead to other young Queer folk farming. So while we are not invading any traditionally conservative locales, being that we’re located in Northern California, we are still probably Mr. Limbaugh’s worst nightmare.
Lesbians teaching anyone they can get their hands on how to castrate America’s future burgers and steaks may well be what keeps Rush Limbaugh up at night. And then there’s the fact that each of our cows has our unique brand seared into their sides. Although registered as “circle, hanging cross,” Mr. Limbaugh would recognize it as the women’s symbol. That might just send him over the edge.