This year CSANR sponsored travel for several WSU students to attend the Tilth Conference in Spokane, WA. We are posting reflections written by the students over the next several weeks. Please feel free to comment and give these students your feedback. To view student posts from this year and prior years, visit http://csanr.wsu.edu/tag/tilth/
First of all, I was happy to join the Tilth Conference and learn on a number of different topics. One workshop of particular interest to me was “Women in Agriculture Panel.” I think that women have a significant part to play in agricultural and rural life. Thus, I was excited to learn about the challenges facing women working in Washington farms.
This panel was conducted by Audra Mulkern who is founder of the Female Farmer Project, which is a multi-platform documentary project. During the panel, she mentioned that they make personal essays, profiles of farmers, photographs, and a podcast. In addition, they have an upcoming documentary film. She added that “We hope this discussion will inspire all of you and all of us to pursue leadership roles, to be engaged at the policy level, and to celebrate women and their role in agriculture.” What I found most interesting was that the three women panelists, all farm leaders in different ways, had found different sources of support and community. Here are some kernels of wisdom I took from the session:
Anne Schwartz: “I hooked into the people who were creating Tilth in 1979 and found my family, and I never looked back… My goal really is to change Agriculture. And actually, we’ve had some fairly profound impacts in the last 40 years. And it’s exciting to see you all here. Women are really a critical part in pushing for change. My personal goal is to really encourage and inspire women to do more than just grow food and find your seat at the table… Tilth has been such an important place, because there have been many women involved in agriculture. I don’t have a lot of access to other women that farm easily. By circumstance, many people who have come to work for me have been women. It is really cool to crank out all the amazing food with a mostly woman team.”
Micha Ide: “I recently just joined the board of directors for a very small farmer’s market. It has been eye-opening… I’ve felt pretty supported in agriculture. I started off on a community plot of land, but within this community space, there were many women. So it was good being a part of a group of people who look like me. I also have my husband. But there have definitely been situations in which I have been excluded from conversations, it may be societal but also, I have to learn to assert myself.”
Beth Robinette: “I run the Lazy R ranch with my dad 16 miles west of town here. I’m 4th generation on that place. I also am the co-founder of LINC Foods which is a worker-farmer owned co-op food hub based in Spokane. With a non-profit called Roots of Resilience, we do a five-day intensive course for women who want to get started in animal agriculture. It’s called New Cowgirl Camp. “I’ve been a part of a group called Women and Ranching, out of California. This group brings women ranchers from all over the US. It’s a great group because it provides so much support… At first I had a lot of anxiety about running the ranch despite having grown up on the ranch. So these women I met through the organization are super inspiring. Ranching is a good old boys’ world for sure. Sometimes, when interacting with other ranchers, they would have full conversations without recognizing I’m there. Some of it was an age thing, especially when I was in my early twenties and everyone was 40 years older than me. But more recently there is a growing breadth of inclusivity and representation.”
In summary, all three panelists said that we have come a huge way. We spent many years trying to find a seat at the table and in policy making, and it is a completely different ballgame now. It’s much more accepted that in this new generation we are changing the picture of who is going to farm. There are so many more women. It’s amazing how far they have come.
With this panel I realized that the women who are in the same business have a specific story. These women all found different sources of support, built their own voice and leadership style, and promote women as farmers. Listening to them, I wanted to think about the story of all women farmers, who are fulfilling so many different responsibilities in their homes. Women always produce something. Wherever there is success, I believe that there is a female hand whether it is seen or not.