According to the Women Food & Ag Network (WFAN), it is estimated that women now own or co-own close to 50 percent of the farmland in the U.S. WFAN reports that women landowners have strong conservation values, and those nearing retirement want the land farmed sustainably into the future by a young farm family. Surveys also show that women are under-represented on the boards of policy-making bodies.
Organizations are growing to help women find the information, networks, and support they need to be effective leaders of sustainable agriculture and healthy localized food systems. One of the goals of the nationwide WFAN, for example, is to “provide opportunities for education on economics and environment that articulate a holistic view of agriculture, instill a sense of place, and draw forward useful experiences from the past” with “respect to the spirituality of the land and people.”
This is a glimpse of some of the ways that Minnesota women are creating sustainable solutions in the growing industry.
Sharon Kennelly, White Earth Elder
I grew up on Bainbridge Island around Japanese and Pilipino Indigenous growers. They inspired my gardening passion. In the 1970s I took an organic gardening class from a professor who taught me to garden for balance with the earth.
I moved home to White Earth after I retired. For a business grant, I was encouraged to dream big. I wanted to expand my organic garden. I needed to learn to garden in a short season. I received the grant and got a tractor.
My goal every year is to help feed 200 people healthfully. With our high rate of diabetes, I am currently researching the growth of potatoes with a low glycemic index. Beyond selling, I give food to people, supplement their food, or give them plants to grow their own food. I use only organic fertilizers, compost, and ground cover to put back minerals that help feed the soil. It is all a big cycle. We feed the earth, it feeds us. — reported by Marcie Rendon
Summer Badawi, Urban Roots, St. Paul
My dad immigrated to America, bringing with him Egypt’s social culture rooted in good food and engaging others in what you love. I now manage Urban Roots’ entrepreneurial, community-based micro farm business that locally sells vegetables grown at six East St. Paul neighborhood sites.
Through paid internships, students who live or go to school in East St. Paul get involved in every production stage. They may not become future farmers, but perhaps will be inspired when making future food, garden, and community choices.
Neighbors get to positively connect with teens and enjoy our beautiful, green spaces. With high quality standards, we reflect back the respect we have for our community. — reported by Jenn Hyvonen
Noreen Jo Thomas, Doubting Thomas Farm, Moorhead
My grandparents had an orchard in Montana, and a fresh picked pear just tasted better. Food is sacred, intimate.
I married a fourth-generation farmer who was growing corn and sugar beets. Soon, I began experimenting with how to provide for our growing family by providing fresh foods for our community.
Today, Doubting Thomas Farms is a certified organic farm committed to community and conservation. We focus on growing and processing great-tasting, nutrient-dense foods such as heirloom vegetables, heritage oats, and grass-fed beef that is available at local farmer’s markets, grocery stores, and restaurants. — reported by Jenn Hyvonen
Lori Cox, Roots Return Heritage Farm, Carver
My love for the smell of healthy soil came from my grandparents. I’ve always grown food: in pots, on apartment decks, inside my home. Now I’m on year three producing fresh, dried, and frozen fruits, vegetables, and herbs with organic practices at my own sustainably run farm.
In my twenties, I lost my own connection to how things are made. I got distracted by money, and what was happening right now. Later, feeling cloistered and closed in, I realized that I needed to smell the rain, be involved in what I put into our mouths.
The writer Aldo Leopold wrote about inter-relationships — how we think things are separate but they aren’t. We are connected to the soil, and I’m just a temporary steward of what will survive long after me. — reported by Jenn Hyvonen
Kelly Tope, Farmaste Animal Sanctuary, Lindstrom
Making the choice to eat a vegan food plan was a fairly simple one. I had a lot of food sensitivities that caused me to cut out dairy, gluten, eggs, and red meat.
I always had a love for animals. A year ago I began the process of opening Farmaste. There we rescue farmed animals and provide them a home outside of the food industry, where they are recognized as someone, not something.
Once I started to get to know the personalities of the animals we rescued, it became clear why a vegan diet was right for me. Not only did I physically feel better and have more energy, I was saving animals. There are so many choices today. It’s a good time to be vegan.
To find more local growers to support, pick up the Minnesota Grown Directory of farmer’s markets, community sponsored agriculture (CSAs), garden centers, wineries, pick-your-own farms, and more. Available online, at libraries, travel information centers, or shipped for free. MinnesotaGrown.com