It's been awhile since I posted a reflection here... between working on my doctoral dissertation and the summer farm season (which starts in March), there hasn't been time! In mid-August I hosted an art reception featuring the work of the women farmers who are participating in my dissertation research. It received a very warm reception and about a hundred and fifty people wandered through to experience the women's images, writing, and some of their voices from interviews I did over the previous winter. Watch this website in the coming weeks for a link to a new website sharing their stories. Women farmers seems to be a hot topic right now with an article about a handful of women in the latest issue of Modern Farmer magazine.
As I've sat with everything the women farmers in my project have given me, I keep coming back to the strength and wisdom that they've gained from their land, that has kept them going through personal illness, family tragedy, economic challenges, and the very real awareness from all of them that what they are doing is utterly different than the direction the dominant food system is headed. It is so different, in fact, that a number of them described being treated like a threat by their conventional neighbors or professional associations. (Gandhi said once, "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.") While there wasn't a common set of skills that made up the essential successful woman farmer, the attitudes, values, and beliefs of these women made them considerate partners in their farm ecosystems, leaders in their own communities, and successful businesspeople. We need many more farmers like this. Despite the industrial agriculture hegemony, these women have proven that size is not a predictor of success, and certainly not a predictor of long-term sustainability. Maybe that's why these farmers are so scary to the people that want us to believe we have no choices in our food, that we need their products to farm, or that we should sacrifice our rural landscapes and communities for the Trojan horse of "feeding the world." I have to share with you one of the farmer's comments that to me sums up our pragmatic hope for the future. I asked her where she thought agriculture was headed, and where she thought it should head:
" I think it is disastrous, and I do not want to be on that train. There was a time when I guess I thought I wanted to be part of the solution. I don't think there is one, not for conventional agriculture. There is no way on that scale that it is sustainable. And because of where I live I have enough neighbors on for whom they are completely economically and socially dependent on that train wreck, and I don't have the heart to tell them what it is. They can't see it, because they can't. What I want to do is start to create a parallel universe where those of us who are learning these skills can step in when the time comes to teach the ones who will carry it forward. My husband Chuck had a really good analogy that stuck with me ever since we talked about it of the $50 table. Because he said, if you come into a room where they are playing poker, and everybody is laying down $100 bills on their bets, and you have $500 in your pocket, don't sit at that table because you'll never win. Go find the $50 table. And so that's what we are trying to build is the $50 table."
In a world where a handful of multi-billion dollar companies control most of the global food supply, it's worth asking why the $50 dollar table is so attractive to an increasing number of new farmers (lots of them women) and why that table is so threatening to neo-colonial forces. Why are seed libraries so scary that two states have tried to ban them? Why is labeling food that has GMO ingredients too much information in this land of the free? Why is the Farm Bill one of our biggest federal expenditures and why does it keep creating incentives for all the "food" that is making us sick?
Dr. Clare Hintz has a B.S. Degree in Biology and Writing, a M.S. in Sustainable Systems with an emphasis in Agroecology, and a Ph.D. in Sustainability Education with a focus on Regenerative Agriculture. She currently teaches permaculture design and regenerative agriculture from her production permaculture farm in northern Wisconsin. She is the editor in chief of the Journal of Sustainability Education. In her spare time she knits, reads feminist science fiction and cooks really good food for friends.