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Celebrating Women in Farming - Whitney Vos

Updated: Feb 28





“Women are of vital importance to rural economies. Rearing poultry and small livestock and growing food crops, they are responsible for some 60% to 80% of food production in developing countries. In many farming communities, women are the main custodians of knowledge on crop varieties.” - (globalagriculture.org

It’s becoming harder and harder to be a farmer, and the style of industrial agriculture and growth of urban populations is keeping more and more people from even crossing paths with a small, diversified farm, let alone starting or keeping one afloat. I came to farming after being raised in a greater metropolitan suburb, working and living in cities, and initially trying out a career in the digital sector, spending my days behind a screen supporting other people’s businesses. Looking back I am still shocked how long it took for me to discover there was another way to grow and raise food other than the conventional model. It took me much longer to redefine for myself what it means to be a farmer.


Being a female farmer can feel like a badge of honor, representing women in a historically male dominated industry, especially one that requires and glorifies stereotypically unfeminine traits. The women I have met farming are the absolute toughest, hardest working, strongest people I’ve ever come across. And at the same time they hold gentle space and love for each other to process the challenges of being women and being farmers. They have babies and feed their children while still working long, sometimes grueling, stressful hours in order to feed so many more people in their community. 


When I found farming I was mentored by a young, first-generation, female farmer. She was a fierce force of nature who expanded and challenged my view of what a woman could do and what a farmer can look like. Even still, many of the men we crossed paths with in the industry preferred or insisted on doing business with her husband, who was not involved in the day-to-day operations of the farm. Many times both men and women underestimated or challenged our authority, experience, intelligence, and capability. I have encountered sexism where vendors in the agricultural industry won’t return my calls, explain problems or needs, or will try to overcharge me, making assumptions that my sex means I am naive, or lack the authority to make business decisions.


The 2022 Census of Agriculture data was recently released, and while the trends of land consolidation and increasing industrialization are not surprising, they are still discouraging.* In all of the data, one specific statistic made my heart sing: while the number of farms with just 1 female producer dropped 5%, the number of farms with 2, 3, 4, and 5 or more female producers all increased. 


“Compared to male producers, women in ag are slightly younger, are more likely to live on the farm they operate, and are more likely to be a beginning producer. In fact, 41% of beginning producers are women.” (USDA.gov)

Not only are more young women pursuing careers and lifestyles in farming, they are doing it in community. 


Working alongside the women of Harlem Valley Homestead has been one of the most beautiful, inspiring, educational, and supportive experiences of my life. Everyday I am surrounded by human and animal examples of powerful matriarchs, working mothers, devoted caretakers, and allies in a shared mission to nurture each other and our land. Breeding, birthing, raising, loving and then slaughtering or losing animals unexpectedly takes a huge emotional toll. Putting your body, mind, and heart on the line everyday, rain or shine, takes so much courage and resilience. It is impossible to do it alone, and I am convinced it is why so many small farms fail. 


It is a huge honor to be able to manage my own crew of livestock ladies this season. It is a joy to mentor new female farmers in an environment where we all get to wear the clothes that fit us, and work for us, and make us feel beautiful and tough. We all get to have muscles and ambition and drive big trucks. We can and should cry… regularly. The farming space is hard; it will keep being hard for many, many years. But in diverse and supportive communities like ours, we are also resilient and hopeful. 


I am so grateful for the support, understanding, and safe space I have found amongst a team of people that values my femininity, masculinity, and all the other parts of me, without imposing an expectation of what a farmer should look like. 


- Whitney Vos, Livestock Manager



Interested in joining our team? learn more here.


 

footnotes:


*“The largest farms (sales of $5 million or more) accounted for fewer than 1% of all farms but 42% of all sales,” the report said. “Farms with sales of $50,000 or less accounted for 74% of farms and 2% of sales.” “The number of producers did not significantly change, while the number of farms decreased 6.9% (from 2.04 million to 1.90 million) since 2017 when the last ag census was conducted.”(USDA.gov).


**“Female producers continued to account for 36% of the total number of U.S. producers, the same percentage as recorded in the 2017 Census. Male producers had higher rates of involvement in land use and/or crop, livestock, and marketing decisions than female producers,” the report said. “Female producers were most involved in day-to-day, record keeping and financial management decisions.” (USDA.gov).

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