Last month, Amy Todisco offered the first-ever Women's Food and Healing Program at Hartshorn's Organic Farm in Waitsfield. Half a dozen females participated in the four-week program, which included mindfulness workshops and farmer instruction with the hope that its participants could come away with some of the confidence and skills needed to pursue a career in agriculture.
This is good, because women need farming. And perhaps even more important, farming needs women.
Historically, agriculture has been dominated by men, but a study done by the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Economic Research Service found that the number of female-operated farms more than doubled between 1982 and 2007. When all of the women involved with agriculture are added up – including primary and secondary operators – they are nearly one million strong and account for 30 percent of U.S. farmers.
When it was released earlier this summer, Mad River Valley Planning District's (MRVPD) documentary Hill Farming in the Mad River Valley showcased interviews with local agrarians who spoke about the importance of innovation in their field. Many of the farmers talked about working smarter, not harder, and many of them were women.
With the application of science and new technology, traditional methods of farming are evolving and so is its demographic. Across the country, many old-timers are expressing disappointment at their sons' desire to go away to college instead of staying home and taking over the family farm. But maybe this isn't such a bad thing.
Today, more young people are going to school specifically to study agriculture and food systems and they're motivated purely by their interest in the profession. They are men and women. They're from both rural and urban backgrounds. They span the socio-economic spectrum.
Now, at a time when large corporations like Monsanto are pushing for monoculture crops, the United States' agricultural economy needs diversity. Diversity means new ideas and new ways of thinking about old, outmoded practices.
Moving forward, the more agriculture can overcome its male-dominated past, the closer this country can come toward developing a sustainable, local food system. We are experiencing it right here in The Valley, where the farm-to-table movement is exploding in large part due to the efforts of female farmers, chefs and educators like Todisco. Because, in the end, you don't need testosterone to plant potatoes and you don't need a beard to drive a tractor.