Women are increasingly becoming the face of farming in California and across the United States. According to the most recent USDA Census of Agriculture, women represent 37% of all producers in California. This trend is having an impact on how the agriculture industry operates, especially in the face of generational challenges such as pandemics and climate change.
Leslie Wiser, the child of Chinese-Taiwanese, German and Polish-Jewish immigrants, started her “dreamy but expensive” mixed-Asian vegetable farm in 2018. She dreamed of growing vegetables that reflect her heritage and teach her children where their food comes from, and this is exactly what she’s doing. Her farm, Radical Family Farms, grows a staple in many types of Asian cuisine, bitter melons, as well as other crops.
Women are increasingly involved in all aspects of agriculture, and this is reflected in the number of women majoring in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields and establishing careers in physical and life sciences, which include agriculture. Additionally, women are often inspired by the “community supported agriculture model” where people farm together on land they co-own and do everything from growing food to raising children and feeding their communities.
Women have always been essential parts of the farming community in California, but their roles have often been overlooked in behind-the-scenes tasks that are undervalued as key pieces of agricultural operations’ success, such as bookkeeping, marketing, or customer relationship building. Now, women are more and more a part of the actual production, and this trend in California mirrors a similar shift nationally. Between 2012 and 2017, the number of women-operated farms grew by 23% in the US.
Female farmers in the US are younger, more likely to be a beginning farmer, and more likely to live on the farm they operate compared with male farmers, according to the Census of Agriculture. Women-led farms in the US have laid off fewer workers during financial crises, along with being at the forefront of ensuring food security in their communities.
Research shows that women-led businesses in general have a community networking mindset approach to their operations, which means in times of crisis, women are filling in the gaps. Women of color, in particular, are continuing a long history of creating community-based mutual aid networks that support access to land and healthy food for all.
During the pandemic, women farmers in California stepped in to fill “the gaps in local communities for food access”. Radical Family Farm provided food for food-insecure seniors throughout the Bay Area when it was not safe for them to go to the grocery store or farmers’ market. Additionally, women farmers have been leading the charge through some of the state’s worst crises, whether it’s recovering from a fire or sharing tips about smart water practices and irrigation efficiency.
In conclusion, the growing presence of women in agriculture is having a positive impact on the industry, especially in the face of generational challenges. As Congress prepares to debate its latest farm bill, many women are calling for it to provide more support for what the legislation calls “specialty crops”: locally produced fruits and vegetables, often grown by women, as opposed to heavily subsidized industrial staples such as wheat, corn, and soybean.
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