When someone says 'farm', what do you think of? Something like the picture above? I do, in part because that picture was taken just a few miles away from my family's farm. But that picture-house, barn, hay bales, and a farm family inside the house- belongs to a disappearing reality. More and more often, a 'farm' is a giant agri-business composed of 10 or more of the family farms from my childhood. And big or small, it's tough to make a living farming. As of the 2017 Economic Census, a higher percentage of US farms reported a net loss in earnings than a net profit. And that was before the US-China trade war kicked in.
But every action has an equal and opposite reaction. In small but increasing numbers, family farms are finding new ways to make agricultural life a sustainable reality: growing specialty crops, going organic, operating a CSA, or finding a value add, like making milk into ice cream or grain into whiskey. And a growing percentage of those farmers-up 27% since 2012- are women.
Make no mistake: women have ALWAYS been involved in farming. If you have actually lived on a farm, you know that the smiling pristine farm wife of movies and TV is just a myth. Trade that immaculate apron for some filthy coveralls and the plate of cookies for a battered pickup, and you'd have a more accurate picture. Every farm woman I know does the exact same work as the men; the cookies get baked after. But now women are also managing, teaching, and making decisions.
Example: Meg Gennings, livestock manager at Lilac Hedge Farm in Holden. Meg has been instrumental in LHF's mission to provide pasture-raised, free-range, humanely-processed livestock. If you eat meat, chicken, or eggs, this is a responsible and delicious way to do so. Meg is also an animal science prof at UNH and chair or the MA Farm Bureau's Promotion and Education Committee.
In the same 2017 Census, the average age of a US farmer was 58.5; if you want to eat food that is better for you, better for the environment, and ultimately better for our local economy, we need more young women (and men) to consider farming. One way you can help that happen is by contributing to Norfolk Aggie's scholarship fund, making it possible for young people interested in agriculture to learn about it.
An easy way to contribute to that fund is to attend our Third Annual MA Farm Bureau Harvest Fest, right here at Pour Richard's on August 25. Meet some of the farmers who grow your food. Taste some of their wares, prepared by Franklin's own Celestina Kopech of Cucina Celestina. Try some farm-to-glass cocktails. Some local craft beer. Organic wines. Please consider joining us for a day of delicious food and drink supporting our farms and farmers.