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More Women Managing US Farms


Traditionally in the United States, women played important roles on the family farm helping their father or husband. But a recent Census shows the number of farms run by women is rising. Many of these women were drawn to farming from totally different careers. They now enjoy bringing healthy and flavorful foods to local markets.

Tending chicks is part of Julie Stinar's daily work. She owns Evensong Farm in Sharpsburg, Maryland. Before starting farming five years ago, she worked with fashion stylists in a department store.

"When I had my son, I quit my job at Nordstrom." she said. "That was right around exact the same time that we moved to the farm."

She started growing vegetables in a small garden for her family and sold some extra produce to people at her husband's work. Now her farm operation has expanded to 53 hectares (132 acres). She grows more than 100 varieties of vegetables, and raises chickens, cows and pigs.

Jeanne Dietz-Band also owns a farm. She raises more than 200 goats on her Many Rocks Farm in Keedysville, Maryland. She has a doctorate in molecular biology and genetics, but quit her biotechnology career to spend more time with her teenage sons.

"It was a very, very difficult decision for me to make obviously. But after I actually committed myself to it and we came [to the farm], I have never looked back. I have been so happy here," she said.

She says her background in genetics was handy for her goat-breeding programs and chemistry for the goat-milk soap-making. Dietz-Band and Stinar are among the growing number of woman farmers across the country.

According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, the number of women who were the principal operators of a farm increased by 30 percent over the past five years. Women now head more than 14 percent of the nation's 2.2 million farms.

Stefphanie Gambrell is a domestic policy economist with the American Farm Bureau.

"We have seen the number of women principal operators increase very similar to the way we have seen women have increased in the general workforce," she noted. "So it follows with the normal trends. I think that woman [farm] operators are going to continue to increase slightly."

Dietz-Band points out one of the reasons.

"I do think that farming fits as women's job because I think as women we often have more nurturing side of ourselves," she added. "So, seeing things grow, taking care of things, nurturing life is a real woman trait as far as I am concerned."

Many of the woman entrepreneurs tend to run smaller farms, but they benefit from the growing popularity of farmers markets and eco-conscious consumers' interest in buying locally grown products.

"The fact that farmers markets are really beginning to become trendy is really helping growers such as myself who have specialized crops not commodity crops," Julie Stinar explained. "We are able to get a higher market value for it instead of selling it to a middle man."

The Internet also has made it easier for the small enterprises to run pay-in-advance programs.

"Every week we send out our email newsletter to the people who signed up for our subscription to tell them what they have gotten in their bags," she added. "We give them recipes and we tell them stories from the field, keep them up-to-date on what is going on, on the farm."

The woman entrepreneurs say even though farming is hard work, they enjoy independence, flexibility, and a sense of fulfillment.

"I really find it is the most enjoyable because you do feel that at the end of the day you are providing somebody with very good quality food that is going to nurture their family," she said.

Stinar says she never regretted for one minute switching to farming to make a living.

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