Posts Tagged ‘farming’

posted by | on , , , , , | Comments Off on Farming as a Woman: A Fresh Look at Entrepreneurship

By Kelsey Figone, local food system and sustainability advocate

I asked my sister to describe an entrepreneur for me. “A man, obviously…he’s in front of a whiteboard, pitching an idea.”

This is our stereotype of the entrepreneur, a man that we simultaneously glorify and mock for his contributions to the changing face of business. But the entrepreneurs I’ve met recently are quite different. They look like women wearing durable pants and driving tractors. They talk about risk and cash flow, but they also talk about gravity-fed irrigation systems and weed control. They slice open a sun jewel melon in the field and pass around tastes during a break in harvesting. They know numbers and long days at work and competition, but they also know what it’s like to “live a life in tune with natural cycles.” These entrepreneurs are women farmers.

I met Liz Whitehurst, farmer and owner of Owl’s Nest Farm in Upper Marlboro, MD, three years ago at the Petworth Farmer’s Market. I joined her community-supported agriculture (CSA) program and our friendship ignited my interest in food and local agriculture.

I’ve carried that interest in my move to Oregon this year, where I met Brenda Frketich via her farm blog. She is the third generation to farm her family’s 1,000 acres of grass seed, hazelnuts, and various other seed crops.

These two women may farm at different scales and with different growing practices, but they are similar in that they both own and operate their own business.

So, what does it mean to be a modern-day female entrepreneur in agriculture? Liz and Brenda shared their experiences with me, and these are their realities.

Agriculture as business

Make no mistake, these women aren’t homesteading or “going back to the land” – these farms are their businesses. Agriculture, in many ways, is the opposite of nature because it harnesses the land for human needs.

“It is easy to romanticize this off-the-grid thing, but I’m totally ‘on-the-grid,’” Liz said. “I’m running a business, number one, that has employees and pays taxes like everybody else. Still, it’s beautiful that it’s not just that.”

While Liz manages her business solo, Brenda’s operation is a family endeavor. Brenda and her husband took over her parents’ land. Right now, the office work is chiefly her responsibility and she does a lot of farming with her three children in tow. The day-to-day of her job often focuses on planning, forecasting, and other typical office and financial activities.

While she grew up on the farm, she hadn’t looked at the farm as a career until mid-way through college. “I knew a lot about harvest because that is when I worked on the farm the most,” Brenda said. “But I had no idea about all the work that went in, year-round, to growing a crop and running a business.”

Women in agriculture

It’s clear that owning a farm shares many aspects of other, more mainstream, entrepreneurial endeavors. Unfortunately, one of those aspects includes a historical resistance to women owners.

“When I first started, I had multiple women approach me, saying that their dads wouldn’t let them farm because of the physical labor side of things,” Brenda said.

She initially encountered some physical barriers, such as adapting equipment to quite literally “fit” her or accommodate her when she was working alone. Now, she feels a lot of that has changed because of “how far farming has come with the use of technology.” “Something as simple as a cell phone has allowed me to stay a lot more involved ‘on the farm’ even when I’m home with my kids,” Brenda said.

She feels part of a generation and a region that has mostly accepted women farmers and encourages women not to despair. “We go to meetings where we are the only woman,” Brenda said. “We joke about it, and we move on because we all know it doesn’t really matter, the soil doesn’t care, the tractor doesn’t care, the plants don’t care. And if a guy does care, then that’s on him.”

Liz admits that she occasionally encounters male farmers who mansplain and assume that she needs help, even some “cool, progressive men.” Still, she doesn’t let it discourage her. She capitalizes on those perceptions of herself as weak and lets them give her a hand, thinking, “whatever, if you’re going to help me out!”

Support for farmers

Neither Brenda nor Liz will deny the incredible help they’ve received from family, mentors, and the broader farming community. Their parents supported them in different ways, with direct farming experience and land, or financial support to purchase a farm.

Today, they go to meetings, workshops, and retreats, where they can learn about the latest technology and methods from peers. They connect with other farmers at farmer’s markets and make trades for massages or meat or a crop that wasn’t successful. They cooperatively buy seed or equipment with neighboring farmers to capitalize on economies of scale. They also respond to inquiries from other young women farmers looking to get started, in order to keep that community going.

Liz views her role as a mediator between the land and the people. This mediator role helps her CSA grow and keeps human interaction at the center of her work. For both Liz and Brenda, farming is more than the land and its plants. They cultivate communities.

Considerations for new farmers

It’s important to note, though, that farming is a challenging field to break into. Both Brenda and Liz are white women, and were steeped in agriculture before deciding to make the career switch themselves. Like Nichelle Harriott’s blog post in January and Leah Penniman’s recent article on Civil Eats point out, communities of color may associate agriculture with slavery and sharecropping.

Also, don’t discount the financial barriers to starting a farm, with its high up-front cost and land access challenges. Most U.S. farm households bring in significant income from off-farm sources, with either a spouse or another family member working an off-farm or off-season job.

“It’s good to look seriously at your relationship with money and things,” Liz said. “If you’re going to be a farmer, you’re not going to be rich, I don’t know any rich farmers.”

Despite the challenges, Brenda and Liz are proud of the work they do every day. They’re entrepreneurs in their own right. As fewer people choose to farm, the population grows, and society increasingly values urban-centered desk jobs, their role in our food system is important. They need our support and investment, just like any other entrepreneur. Consider that the next time you go grocery shopping!

Kelsey Figone designed and implemented international engagement programs with PYXERA Global in Washington, DC. While living in our nation’s capital, she was a passionate advocate for strengthening and diversifying local food systems. She recently moved back to the Pacific Northwest where she is excited to delve into local issues of food and sustainability.

posted by | on , , , , , | Comments Off on A Delicious and Sustainable Spring Salad

By Elizabeth Hubley

This salad is everything I love about spring – crisp, tender asparagus; the first juicy vibrant tomatoes of the season, creamy pasture-raised goat cheese, and a light dressing featuring sweet local honey. A satisfying crunch from toasted hazelnuts brings it all together.

In each recipe I create, I choose ingredients that are good for you, people, and the planet. I believe that we have the power to support our bodies, strengthen our communities, and live our commitment to the environment through what we buy, where we make each purchase, and how we prepare and enjoy each meal. This salad was inspired by last weekend’s stroll through the Takoma Park Farmer’s Market and a quick trip to the TPSS Co-op.

I encourage you to make this salad a local adventure – seek out your local farmer’s market for the asparagus, tomatoes, goat cheese and honey. Support a food cooperative or independent grocery store for the hazelnuts and other dressing ingredients. Each dollar you spend is a vote for the kind of world that you want to live in. Not sure where to start? Visit Local Harvest to find markets, farms, and co-ops near you.springsalad3

As you enjoy the flavors of spring, know that you’re supporting your own health in addition to your community and the planet. This salad is rich in folate, a B vitamin that is especially important for women’s health. It also contains fiber, protein, and healthy fats for a well-balanced and nutritious meal.

Since local produce is harvested just before being brought to market, it contains more nutrients than food brought in from faraway places. Asparagus contain a wide variety of important vitamins and are a good source of prebiotics, which improve digestion. Tomatoes contain, lycopene, potassium, vitamin C, and vitamin E, as well as other nutrients that have been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol and blood pressure.

Purchasing local honey supports honeybee populations, beekeepers, and the health of our local ecosystem. Honey has been used as medicine since ancient times and locally produced honey has been shown to have much stronger antibacterial activity than conventional honey.

springsalad1Choosing goat cheese from pasture-raised goats is a responsible way to indulge in a little dairy. Learn more about the importance of selecting animal products carefully at Eat Wild. Following a vegan diet? Just double up on the hazelnuts, which are full of protein, healthy fats, and promote heart health. You can substitute another natural sweetener for the honey.

Most importantly, take time to prepare and enjoy this delicious salad! Know that you will be supporting your own health, people near and far, and living a little lighter on the planet.

Shaved Asparagus Salad

Serves 2

Ingredients:

Shaved Asparagus Salad:

1 pound asparagus

1 cup cherry tomatoes

2 oz local goat cheese

¼ cup chopped toasted hazelnuts

Honey Dijon Vinaigrette:

1 tablespoon raw apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon raw honey

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper, to taste

  1. Snap the tough ends off the asparagus. With a vegetable peeler, shave the asparagus into thin strips and toss into a bowl.
  2. Cut the cherry tomatoes in half and add to the bowl with asparagus.
  3. Crumble the goat cheese into the bowl with the vegetables.
  4. Make the vinaigrette: combine all ingredients in a separate small bowl and whisk well to combine.
  5. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss well.
  6. Divide the salad onto two plates and top each with half of the hazelnuts.
  7. Enjoy!

Make it a meal: top with a poached or hard-boiled local organic egg.

Tip: If you can’t find toasted hazelnuts, simply roast them in an oven at 275 degrees F for about 15 minutes.

Elizabeth is a Certified Holistic Health Coach and Yoga Instructor who created Siena Wellness to inspire people to live happy, healthy and fulfilling lives that positively impact the world we share. She believes that each of us has the power to change the world through daily choices that positively impact our own health, help lift people out of poverty, and protect the planet.

posted by | on , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Farm at Walker Jones

The following is a guest post by Courtney Hall Gagnon

Walker Jones Educational Campus

On April 27th, volunteers from DC Ecowomen enjoyed a sunny Saturday morning of volunteering at The Farm at Walker Jones. Walker Jones, an educational campus located at the corner of New Jersey and K Streets, was transformed in 2010 into an oasis of urban agriculture.

Between the green roof on the school and the farm on the ground, the farm produces over 3,000 pounds of food annually that for local neighborhood residents, students, and DC Central Kitchen. Eight beehives also occupy the farm and the green roof on the educational centers. DC HoneyBees, a local nonprofit, set up and maintains the hives.

Nineteen DC Ecowomen shared the farm space with several other volunteers during a Servathon. The main task of the day was weeding the herb and tea garden and open space that will eventually become home for more food grown at the farm. Working together in the perfect spring weather of DC provided plenty of opportunities for networking, and good conversation to pass the time.

Tea Tree Bud

The tea garden might have been the most surprising section of the farm. Tea trees are an unusual sight, even on an urban farm. Their leaves will be ready for harvest next year by students and they will make their own varieties of green and black tea using ingredients grown only on the farm.

During lunch, volunteers had a mini book club discussing six articles that focused on eating and growing local food versus the more typical supermarket diet. This led to an interesting and educational discussion about alternatives for growing food in the often tight living quarters of the city.

David Hilmy, the Farm Lead Teacher, gave volunteers plenty of clear instruction and spent time during lunch explaining the many functions of the agricultural activity at Walker Jones Educational Campus. He’s the physical education teacher at Walker Jones, but also a trained botanist, and has taken on the agriculture activities at his school as part of his curriculum. His enthusiasm for his students, teaching, and the farm was evident, and it is clear how much the farm could benefit from his management.

If you are interested in volunteering with the Farm at Walker Jones, contact him at [email protected]

Volunteers gathered for a lunchtime Q&A

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By DC EcoWomen Board Member Lisa Ramirez

World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, or better known as its acronym WWOOF, is a service work exchange program on organic farms with host farms crossing the globe.

Here’s how it works: WWOOFers purchase a membership to the country of interest and in return receive lists of host farms that have been pre-approved by WWOOF to host workers. The approved WWOOF farms provide meals and accommodations in exchange for hours worked. WWOOFers contact the farms of interest, work out arrangement details with the farms and once the farm agrees to host the WWOOFer, all the WWOOFer has to do is prepare travel arrangements and be ready for work. For more information, check out the official WWOOF website: www.wwoof.org

Not Just Travel

WWOOFing is truly a great travel experience, not as a tourist, but as a genuine immersion into local life and culture. Non-working hours are allotted to personal free time – allowing for opportunities to pick up a new language, catch-up on overdue reading lists, learn to cook ethnic dishes, and explore the world off  its beaten path. Loving organically grown food, the great outdoors, travel and culture, I knew as soon as I read the article about WWOOFing in my local co-op’s newsletter, that WWOOF was destine to make its way to the top of my bucket list.

In September 2010, with my hiking pack filled with rugged wear, cameras, journals and travel books, I commenced my three month journey in the rolling hills of the Chianti region of Tuscany to try my hand at Italian homesteading. My first farm experience led to daily work duties such as: harvesting and pruning grape vines, watering herbs and flowers around the house, ironing linens for the agrotourism on rainy days, raking almonds off their branches, and harvesting wild Macrelepiota Procera (HUGE parasol mushrooms) from the woods. Daily duties were always broken up into morning and afternoon shifts. Morning duties were halted by a grand family-style, outdoor lunch consisting of multi-courses of delicacies harvested straight from the garden, prepared by all family members, served on lots of plates, washed down with red wine and completed with espresso and a siesta. Dusk brought closure to the afternoon work upon which it was back to the house to water the vegetable garden, harvest more from the garden’s bounty, and to once again cook together and enjoy a family-style, multi-course dinner that concluded with dunking biscotti in red wine.

My first farm introduced me to Sangiovese vines, the harvest festival (festa vendemmia), the cellar and the wine making process as well as Tuscan cooking and family traditions. There is nothing more amazing than picking food from its source and eating it! Not to mention, eating it when it is ready to be eaten – not picked weeks in advance, shipped on trucks and ripened on kitchen counters.

WWOOFing,  then Hoofing It

Between farms, I headed to the west coast to hike Cinque Terre, The Five Lands, which are composed of five villages (Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore) all built into the rugged cliffs overlooking the sea. Alone, with only the wall of vineyards and cliffs to my left and the beautiful panoramic view of the sea to my right, every step I took brought another awe to my senses. I had no idea what time it was, how long I had been hiking or even how much further I had to go. There were no plans, no commitments. Just to be in the moment.The towns’ delis provided the pesto, tomatoes, mozzarella and wood-fired bread for the finest picnic sandwiches in all of Cinque Terre that I devoured on rocky overhangs all while listening to the sea crash below me.
From the seaside villages, I made my way south to the coastal region of San Vincenzo to pass my days climbing all over olive trees combing the branches of their plump olives, which pop off like popcorn and bounce to the ground below lined with netting. It was here that I learned the brining and preparation process for the perfect table olives as well as experienced the vivid green glow and the sweetness of just pressed organic extra virgin olive oil, which we sampled drizzled over fresh egg pasta. My neighborhood was lined with pomegranate, persimmon, lime, orange, and fig trees and bountiful backyard gardens cared for by tiny elderly Italian ladies wrapped in shawls and little old Italian men in trousers puttering about the yard or chatting with their fellow little old Italian gents. Our interactions led to me smiling and nodding, them smiling and nodding making our broken languages one big friendly encounter. It was incredibly endearing.

I finished out my last remaining days in Tuscany visiting medieval hill-top towns bearing spirits of times long past, and ancient Roman baths with steam rising up to meet the falling cold rains. I was given tours of underground cellars smelling of musk and wood barrels and was invited into homes and embraced like famiglia, sharing stories of life and laughter. The experience truly was life changing and has cemented the building blocks of which my family traditions will be based.

posted by | on , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on April EcoHour Recap: Sustainable Farms!

By Vesper Hubbard

Devora kimelman-Block, Jess, Tonya Tolchin, Meredith Sheperd_2

In April, DC EcoWomen hosted a panel discussion for EcoHour on local farming. We heard about kosher meat production from Devora Kimelman-Block (KOL Foods), about private DC gardens from Meredith Sheperd (Love and Carrots), and small-scale produce farming from Tanya Tolchin (Jug Bay Market Garden). These women have all made admirable commitments to sustainable practices that promote the health and well-being of their friends, families, and communities.

Devora started off the talk with her story. Over a year ago she found herself trucking cattle to a kosher slaughterhouse in Baltimore in order to get the food she needed prepared according to her family’s diet. As she was taking these time intensive and costly trips she thought about how the task fit into her own spiritual journey and how the process could be made better. Prior to 2007, when she decided to found her own slaughterhouse, people had to choose between kosher and sustainability. What started as a hobby quickly turned busy and she found investors to help her turn the venture into a full time job. She also commented that people before WWII considered meat to be a treat rather than a daily diet staple. Her company encourages meat minimalism.

Tonya grows veggies, flowers and herbs on an organic farm in Prince Georges County in Maryland. As a child she grew up in a town with one of the best agricultural programs in the country but did not find a lot of personal interest in it. Farming was not considered “cool.” Once in college however she became interested in the subject of food shortages and took a course linking farm ownership with poverty issues. She quickly found her way onto a local farm and food bank and started volunteering her time. After college she came to DC to work with Sierra Club. Once married, she found that she and her husband had an enjoyment for farming and decided to start a farm, an idea that seemed absurd at the time. However after some serious business planning their farm was underway. Tonya remarked that the times of have changed and people are beginning to see the value in local farms and personal agriculture again.

Meredith runs Love and Carrots a local company that starts gardens for people in urban areas. It all started when she moved into a house in the DC area with a great yard but the soil was no good. Her closest community garden had a 2 year waiting list to join. After observing the yard space of her neighbors, she decided to start a business creating gardens in these underused green spaces. She deals with people who have been separated from gardening but want to learn. She commented that people have been culturally removed from the action and concept of personal and local agriculture. Now local farming has become a new and large trend.

There were lots of questions from the audience and some of the tips/answers the ladies offered were to really vet farmers. Ask lots of questions to get to know them especially if you are looking for certain qualities in your food, whether it is organic, sustainability or other standards. Tonya offered that her company/farm offers internships to professionals and students who want a chance to “try on” farming. Devora spoke to being a woman in the Kosher food business and said her gender has not been a sticking point. She is the main point person for her organization so most people know her gender immediately. She also offered that people should start cutting down their diet to eating meat twice a week rather than every day. Such is a more sustainable practice.

Farm resources:
Realtimefarms.com – A crowd-sourced nationwide food guide. We enable you to trace your food back to the farm it came from, whether staying in or dining out, so you can find food you feel good about eating.