We had the pleasure of chatting with Katie Massy, founder of Women Who Farm, to talk about her sources of inspiration, the challenges facing women in agriculture and the resulting societal benefits of supporting and encouraging female farmers. Get inspired by her story:
What was the seed of motivation for starting your organization?
I am a farmer myself. I co-own the farm Heart and Soil Organics. I like to think of the farm as a hybrid between permaculture no-till and bio-intensive succession crop planting. All the food that my husband and I grow, we sell at local farmer's markets.
Women Who Farm started out as an idea I had in the field. I knew that I wanted to share my own story as a female farmer - I wanted to fully acknowledge and honour this amazing work. I remember bending down, digging up a lettuce bed when I realized I needed to share stories from other women who farm. So, I put out the call over social media seeking submissions, and stories started trickling in from all over. From the US and Canada, from Indonesia, and India: pictures, poetry and questions, stories and suggestions from farmers started becoming my morning news. Soon, we started sharing these pictures and they went viral. Women Who Farm grew so quickly in one year. Now, we are a project that not only highlights the capacity of women farmers, but also supports them. We are currently building a website with resources and services for farmers globally, and our goal remains the same: truly inspire and support the work of women farmers globally.
Why is it important to the food system as a whole for us to encourage and celebrate female farmers?
When you say the word farmer, you immediately think of a man. However, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, in some countries women raise and grow up to 80 percent or more of the food. By recognizing that women are an integral part of the farmer equation, we uplift and empower the women who are at the forefront of this work. Research shows that when women access land and start their own farms, they are deeply empowered. They have more autonomy over their finances, more say within their families, and more influence within their communities. What's more, research from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization shows that if women had access to the same resources as men, we would be able to pull 150 million people out of hunger. That is no small feat! Not to mention, it's been shown that women farmers are more involved in organic agriculture. So, when we look at the work that we are doing, women are key players in solving pieces to the global crisis that the world is involved in.
By recognizing that women are an integral part of the farmer equation, we uplift and empower the women who are at the forefront of this work.
What do you believe are some of the biggest obstacles facing women in agriculture today?
The biggest obstacle will be different for each woman. For many, it is accessing the land and resources needed to start and own her farm. Additionally, there has been a huge loss of knowledge of how to properly prepare soil and grow food through the industrialization of agriculture. Because many young farmers today are first generation farmers, they learn everything from the beginning. This has brought about many interesting and innovative forms of farming, such as no-till agriculture and spin urban farming. Today, we are seeing people growing on rooftop greenhouses in bustling cities, and even people cultivating farms on lawns in the suburbs. Such models come from having to adapt to the new situations present in our world.
You have many exciting things coming down the pipeline, including the full launch of your website this spring. What other developments are you excited about?
I am really excited about the launch of our new website, especially the addition of educational components for our community of farmers. I get a lot of questions daily about how to start a farm, or how to deal with pests, and unfortunately I can't respond to everyone in the way that they need. So, we are going to be adding webinars and many other free resources for farmers, like short how-to videos, along with providing more opportunities for farmers to connect to each other. However, what I remain the most excited about is how Women Who Farm continues to grow. It is so exciting to be connected to a movement that is much bigger than I ever anticipated!
What can we do as a society to encourage and support more women who want to enter the field of farming?
First, I think we need to address the crisis that farming faces today. According to the USDA Census of Agriculture, only 6 percent of farmers are under the age of 35. Over the next 25 years, two-thirds of all farmland in the US will need a new farmer. By encouraging women to farm, we encourage people to start farming; to achieve this end we need more resources and financial support.
I hope this work continues to change the narrative: to inspire human rights within agriculture and shift agricultural practice to one of care and respect.
Along with resources and financial support, we need to see a cultural shift too. Resources and financial support would allow women to start farming, but a cultural shift would enable her to believe it is possible. Lastly, an environmental shift towards ecological farming would sequester carbon and slow the climate change crisis. If we can do this, we will answer many of the issues we presently face, and women are at the forefront.
In what ways do you hope that your work inspires and creates a community for others?
I hope to inspire biodiversity within our farms and gardens. Ecological farming is our future, one that supports all life within the soil, water and plants. If we don't respect this, we will continue to move towards the desertification of soil, and drying up of water sources. I also hope this work continues to change the narrative: to inspire human rights within agriculture and shift agricultural practice to one of care and respect. Women Who Farm fosters diversity, and through the many farmers of our community, we begin to see what is truly possible when we think outside the box. And lastly and most importantly, I hope Women Who Farm continues to inspire the local food movement. I would love to see more farmers, yes, but also more importantly, people going to their farmer's markets and supporting local food. Small scale agriculture is rich in abundant growing models that can truly sustain human life, the soil and the water. And that is inspiring to see.
This post was originally published in March 2017.