SPRINGFIELD, Mo.– The last agriculture census was conducted in 2017 and it showed the average American farmer was white, male, and nearing his sixties.
But it also showed something else.
From 2012 to 2017, the number of male farmers fell and females made up 36% of farmers, a 27% increase in just five years.
“Well, we’ve seen a rise in the number of women farmers over the last several years for a variety of different reasons,” Kelly McGowan of the University of Missouri Extension said. “A lot of women have been raised on farms and as they pursued a higher education, we have seen women pursue careers in agriculture.”
“Actually, strangely enough I grew up in Kansas surrounded by really big agriculture and I joked that I would never date any of the farm boys because I didn’t want to become a farmer’s wife and stuck on a farm,” Urban Roots Farm manager Alyssa Hughes said.
“And it’s in a variety of different sizes of farms,” McGowan said. “We see the big rural farms with several hundred acres all the way down to small urban farms right here in the middle of Springfield so the sizes are certainly all across the board.”
“No, I had no idea,” Kaitlin Hewitt, an assistant at the Springfield Community Gardens, said. “I went to school for, I thought I was going to be a doctor, I thought I was going to be a pediatrician. I started taking classes at Mizzou and I did pretty bad. I studied, I had a tutor, and I still did so poorly and so I tried and tried and after two years I transferred to Missouri State and maybe I should switch to nursing. I did that for a year and I still did bad and so I dropped out and went to OTC and thought, you know, I am going to do something that sounds fun. I’m just going to be different so I took some plant science classes and straight A’s from there and I knew. I knew after that, that was what I wanted.”
“Well, we have certainly seen a lot of women in particular that had typical nine to five jobs,” McGowan said. “They worked in an office and they just thought something was missing.”
“Life quality in an office, nine to five, stuck at a computer, staring at a screen. Going home and just feeling very fulfilled,” Linae Wright of Elder Farms said. “I would say my life quality was a five and then when I moved to the farm two years ago and I am able to work outside and work with plants and learn how to farm. I just feel so much happier.”
“Over here we’ve got some kale and green onions. I went to school for social work. I got my masters in social work from Missouri State and was working with Springfield Community Gardens and was working to address food insecurity, that was my main focus when I was in school,” Jessica Allen, an assistant at Springfield Community Farms, said. “I got into farming because it goes so well together and working with Springfield Community Gardens I got to assess our community as a whole and what our food system looks like and how fragile it really is.”
“Certainly there is an increase of people wanting to know where their food comes from,” McGowan said. “We have seen a demand for farmer’s markets and fresh locally grown produce and women are a huge part of that. They feel a close connection to the land, they want to produce that food for communities as well as their own families.”
“I think women are just naturally, I mean, I don’t want to stereotype too much, but it seems that a lot women that I know are just naturally nurturers and maybe that’s just the culture that we’ve been brought up in but it’s just intuitive for us to pay attention the things that we care about and love and notice small details, a plants health, and how they are doing,” Hughes said.
“So I think a lot of it is, especially millennials wanting to grow our own food and be more health conscience, and women have always been in farming, they’ve always been in the shadows and it’s the men who were highlighted in the farming game so I think that I’m just inspired and want to change that,” Wright said.
While the number of female farmers has been on the rise, the 2017 agriculture census also found various forms of gender discrimination even twenty years after the US Department of Agriculture was sued by women for discrimination in its farm loan program.