A profession of hope: the realities of female farmers
-- NOW HIRING --
From the Ground Up has an immediate opening in our Agrarian Growing Center (AGC). This position is responsible for the growing of our country’s food, for planning, budgeting, implementing and executing the seasonal planting including, but not limited to, harvesting, washing, packing, promoting and selling of the crops. In addition the position requires at least 30% travel for weekly markets and route deliveries. The ideal candidate will also be responsible for sales and marketing, including digital marketing, maintaining and increasing presence on all social media sites.
This is a full-time, 24-hour on-call position including evenings and weekends.
Are you the energetic, early-riser, self-motivated person we’re looking for?
- Strong customer service skills (you have to remain calm when someone expresses shock at the prices of your product that you are in fact losing money on)
- Basic computer skills (Excel knowledge is a plus as you will spend most of your winter using it to plan your next season)
- Ability to work independently and in a team environment where you will be instructing interns on how to use equipment and which plants are weeds and which are food.
- Good written and verbal communication - including grant writing, recipe development and newsletters
- Ability to work in a fast-paced, ever-changing climate and environment
- Soil-Science, Agro-Ecology, and Arboriculture are critical, must-have skills
- Ability to grow food with less water than an average household uses in a week
- Develop sales strategies, proposals, & forecasts
- Accurate record keeping of financials and growing methods for those occasional audits from the USDA, IRS and certification programs.
- Develop and conduct product demonstrations and sales presentations at markets
- Prepare quotations and customer correspondence for restaurants
- Basic Veterinarian skills
- Construction background a bonus! Those barns and fences need constant mending.
- Big and small equipment maintenance. This includes tractors, implements, large refrigeration systems, irrigation systems and delivery trucks
- Positive attitude, for this is a profession of hope
We offer low salary compensation (likely under $10k), no medical or dental benefits, no paid vacation or holidays, and no 401K. You probably won’t own the land you farm, and you will be discriminated against for loans, but you will have unlimited access to fresh food and the chance to be in nature every day.
If you're ready to be part of a growing group of women that appreciates individual accomplishments, that are challenging the status quo, that greet their every day with joy, and feed the world, please apply.
Spreadsheets and 50-page grant applications, fence mending and all-night birthing sessions, these aren’t the bucolic visions of farming that many of us hold. We shop farmers markets, commit to eating in season and hashtag our photos with #eatlocal #knowyourfarmer. And yet, are we speaking in platitudes if we ignore the reality that many farmers, and especially female farmers are not earning a living wage?
According to the USDA Census in 2012 of the 2.1 million farms in the United States, just 14% had a female principal operator. Of those female principal operators; 76% had less than $10,000 in sales and 57% had off-farm jobs to supplement their income. The role of the farmer is arguably the most important part of our food chain; it requires an extraordinary skill set and often paid less than minimum wage.
How often do we consider all the work that farmers actually put into the food chain? How much did it take to get the dinner to the plate in front of us? For Annie Novak of Eagle Street Rooftop Farm in Brooklyn NY, often one of the larger challenges of farming is not the work, but growing (and successfully marketing) good food in a culture of over-consumption and environmental apathy. As she says, “ignorance is not bliss: it is disempowerment.“
The census also tells us that women control just 7% of the farmland in the United States and account for just 3% of sales. There are larger issues at play, which contribute to these disparities. In 2012 the USDA settled several lawsuits from women and Hispanic farmers that claimed discrimination and felt the agency denied their loan applications because of race or gender between 1981-2000. $1.33 billion was set-aside in 2015 for 53,800 filed claims of which approximately only 22,000 claims were deemed complete. Of those, only 3,210 were approved and only 2,504 were female farmers. Allegations of women claiming discrimination for loans and credit are long-standing and appear to be far from being resolved. We cannot fix a broken system if we don’t begin to fix the base first.
So why do women pursue farming as a career that often feels more like community service than a paying job? I have talked to so many women farmers over the last four years, and their reasons vary. For Melissa Cippollone of Southern Drift Farm in Georgia it’s about the bigger picture. “I wanted to pursue farming to help build local food systems that support the viability of small farms and the health of communities,” says Cippollone. “On a personal level, I wanted to work outdoors with my hands and learn a craft that lets me exercise creativity in all kinds of ways.”
For a younger generation, who has been far removed from their food system, farming can also be a way to connect the dots between a passion for food and how it’s grown. “I had this realization – I didn’t have any idea where my food was coming from. I’m eating all the time – and while I would see the farmers at the NYC Union Square Greenmarket – I realized I was in a food coma,” says Katie Baldwin who started Amber Waves Farm in Long Island, New York 8 years ago with Amanda Merrow. “I was asleep; I had no idea what was going on around me. I loved going out to eat but I had no idea about seasonality and I felt like I was very dulled out.”
The question remains: how do we create a better system? A system that is more just, equitable and truly sustainable? As Siri Erickson-Brown of Local Roots Farm in Carnation WA enters into her ninth year of farming, she reflects on the independence farming affords her, and the future possibilities. “It is possible to make a living farming. Yes, there are lots of entrenched interests and policies that make small-scale, diversified farming less profitable than it might otherwise be… but it’s not impossible,” says Erickson-Brown. “With thoughtful policy change we can be even better.”
As eaters, it is important for us to understand our system, to dig deep to get to know it better. It’s just not enough to know our farmers.
We have to pay them too.
We can begin a movement and demand a more equitable system by taking action every day, even if it feels like it’s on a small scale. Interactions matter. Research matters. Where you spend your money matters. If you care about the food you eat, then you should care about the person who grew it.
If it seems cheap, it probably means that somewhere along the chain, someone did not get paid a living wage.
Usually that someone is the farmer. So, get to know your farmer, buy her products at a fair price, and support the companies that do the same. It is that simple, after all, when you purchase directly, you are giving her up to a 60% raise. Let’s keep the revolution going and empower ourselves with knowledge.
We can make the change, one conversation, and one purchase at a time.
This essay by Audra Mulkern originally appeared in the Spring 2016 debut print edition of Comestible Magazine.