Originally published at Ecocentric.
Let's try something. Picture for a moment, dear reader, a farmer. It doesn't have to be a farmer you know, assuming you are lucky enough to know a farmer. It could be a farmer you've seen on television, in a movie or read about in a book. It could even be an imaginary farmer, a composite created from the pop culture images you've ingested over the years.
Ok. Got your farmer in your head? What does he look like?
Just kidding -- surely, the title of this post gave away my intention here and skewed the results of this little exercise. But really, most of us probably picture a typical farmer as an aging white man in overalls, when in reality, there are many people of color who tend land, though not without even more difficulties than the white male farmers who're struggling to stay afloat (the Latinos we call "farmworkers" -- who've come to the US in droves, mostly as a result of US policies that pushed them, however indirectly, off of their land -- have a rich agricultural tradition, as do black farmers, many of whom have lost their land as well, in part because of discriminatory practices in USDA lending).
And of course, women of all races, in the US and abroad, are farmers, too. In fact, women grow the vast majority of the food supply in the Global South (PDF). Stateside, they make up the largest group of new farmers (see the 2007 USDA Census of Agriculture -- PDF).
And yet, even within the "sustainable agriculture" movement, or the "good food" movement, whatever you want to call it, there is a lack of attention paid to these female agrarians. Of the talking heads that filled the screens of Food, Inc and Fresh, fantastic movies both, most were male. Both featured the well-spoken Joel Salatin, perhaps the most famous livestock farmer of our time, who, rumor has it, refuses to take on female interns at his farm (I heard this through a friend whose friend applied, an online search will find many articles making the same claim). To be honest, as a writer who considers herself a feminist, I've probably been guilty of writing more about men than women, too, and have probably hopped on the usual suspect bandwagon a few too many times .
Enter Temra Costa's new book, Farmer Jane. A compilation of profiles of farmers and food activists, the book groups the women it profiles by what they do -- though most likely do several, if not all, of these things -- into six chapters (Building new Farm-to-Eater Relationships, Advocates for Social Change, Promoting Local and Seasonal Food, Networks for Sustainable Food, Urban Farm Women and The Next Generation of Sustainable Farmers), each with a "recipe for action," and ends with a handy appendix full of resources and essays on topics like genetic engineering the upcoming Farm Bill.
With all due respect to the "farm moms" featured in Monsanto's Mom of the Year contest, Farmer Jane paints a more dynamic picture of women farmers, many of whom don't adhere to the "typical" farm stereotype, who instead focus on their creative approaches to food production and marketing, as well as the politics that influence their work (otherwise known as our meals). Many of them are indeed mothers and wives, but if Costa doesn't focus on that, it's because she's busy telling us about their work, just the way that most reporters or filmmakers don't concentrate on the offspring of their male subjects.
A few of the dynamic women farmers profiled in Farmer Jane:
"The women Costa talks to have already got plenty of press. There are others, no doubt, who need it."
Follow Leslie Hatfield on Twitter: www.twitter.com/lesliehatfield