The "Grass Ceiling" still exists, despite growth of women farmers
It was somewhere around ten years ago, I was in graduate school and wanted to write my thesis about how women were changing agriculture. Anecdotally, two different girl friends were starting to farm, and I visited a dairy woman in Johnstown, Ohio, who was offering a tour of her operation. When I mentioned my idea, she told me to wait. The women’s agriculture movement was coming , she said, but it wasn’t yet a trend.
Roxanne Molnar owns an 80,000 chicken farm in Grantville, PA with her husband. USDAgov, Creative Commons, some rights reserved
Now the likes of Grist and The Atlantic say the time is has come. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service last month released a report on woman-operated farms(pdf.) It found that nearly one-third of American farms were operated by women in 2007. That’s more than 1 million farms, and it’s an increase of 19-percent from 2002, “significantly outpacing the 7 percent increase in the number of farmers overall,” according to the USDA.
But folks at our rural media outlet, like General Manager and small farm owner Ellen Rocco, are circumspect about whether these women are really part of a trend, or just a fad.
The Grist article shows photos of women farmers, and examples of how they are joining the farm-force: an organic vintner in California, a mushroom grower in Cleveland, and a gal who raises Icelandic lambs in Minnesota.
The USDA survey says women-operated farms tend toward this type of diversity.
“Women are much more likely than their male counterparts to operate farms classified as “other livestock farms,” a category that includes horse farms, or “all other crops,” which includes hay farms. Men, meanwhile, are much more likely to run grain and oilseed farms and beef cattle operations.”
The problem, for women farmers at least, is that there’s a lot more money in types of farms favored by men. The USDA finds that the average value of sales at male-operated farms is $150,000, at female-operated farms, it’s $36,000.
Women farmers are above the federal poverty line, but not by much.
And so the question, will the idealistic goals of women like Hannah Breckbill, 25, of Elgin, Minnesota, “to work in something real and be the change I want to see happen in this world,” prove to be a sustainable trend?
Or will they fade like any other fad?
I’ve been waiting a decade for that answer, and it’s still not time for harvest.
Tags: agriculture, business, farming, food, rural life, small business, usda, women