WOMEN IN AGRICULTURE THROUGHOUT HISTORY

This week on Corn Corps, we’re celebrating ag history!  Come back everyday to learn more about where we’ve been and where we’re headed! 

Women have always been a part of the agriculture industry, but most the time have been overlooked. However, this trend is changing, and women are becoming more prevalent on farms today. Do you know any women in agriculture, either on farms or in the industry?

In early American history, a woman’s job on the farm typically meant bookkeeping for the farming operation. Women also tended to the family garden, which was most likely a major food supply for the farm family. Even though women did contribute to the farm, their work was never recorded by the Department of Agriculture, thus making women seem non-existent in the agriculture world.

The growth of the women’s movement in the 1960s-1980s made clear that women participating in agriculture were very important to the well being of the farm. This change in roles was very hard for some male farmers to handle. Did you know that crisis hotlines were set up so men could call in and deal with no longer being the sole provider in the family? There was also an increase in alcohol use and abuse reported during this time in American agricultural history.

In 1981, Sherrod Perkins, a rural mental health counselor, said, “There is a confusion of roles and rural women are caught with one leg in each camp…What happens to these women?” This did not discourage women from joining in on the agriculture trend, as we can see today in our modern agriculture industry.

Recently, the 2007 census recorded that a woman operates two out of every ten farms in the United States. Also, the number of farms run by women has doubled from 1978 to 2005, from 100,000 to 250,000 farms; how awesome is that?! We have also found that 65 to 75 percent of all the food grown worldwide is grown by a woman. There is a good chance that some of the foods you will consume today have been raised by women!

This number of women farmers is increasing because a lot of women today want to be involved in organic farming as well as community based agriculture. These tend to be smaller operations, but farms none-the-less! Also, many farmers are starting to age, and these farms, some being larger operations, get handed down to wives, daughters, or other female family members. Taking on a farm is a huge task, but these women are up for the challenge!

Executive director of the Northeast Organic Farming Association, Karen Anderson said, “I think that food is really a women’s issue. It’s a healthy sign of a reconnection between food systems and agriculture that women are interested in farming, not just cooking.” Next time you see a woman involved in the agriculture industry, say thanks! And know that she has fought hard for her respect in the agricultural world.

Erin Palm
Illinois State University student

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