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Women have been involved in agriculture for centuries; however, now more than ever we are seeing an increased need for more women to become involved in the agriculture industry. You have probably heard about Rosie the Riveter, but what about the “Farmettes”?

History

One of the biggest turning points in not only American history, but agriculture history as well occurred in the early 1900s at the start of World War I (WWI). The United States entered the war on April 2, 1917. America’s first-ever draft meant that there were many young men pulled away from farms, leaving a lack of labor resources. Agriculture soon came to the forefront of the news because citizens began to worry about their food sources. There were different efforts to mobilize agricultural production that started to pop up around the United States such as The National League for Women’s Service (NLWS) and the Women’s National Farm and Garden Association (WNFGA). Hilda Loines and Mary Hamilton established the Women’s Land Service League (Reft, 2015). During a Christmas time conference in Times Square Manhattan, the Women’s Land Army of America (WLA) was born. The WLA employed women, also known as “Farmettes” across the country to work on local farms. Between 15,000 and 20,000 women worked for the WLA from 1918 through 1919 (Reft, 2015). During the 1940s, the number of women farmers surged again due to men going off to fight in World War II. This period brought food rationing, pushing the government to begin growing more food. From 1943 to 1945 the WLA reconvened from their first stent during WWI. These women were supported by the Cooperative Extension Service, a partnership between the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and land-grant universities to provide research-based knowledge and support to local communities. “Farmettes” were also supported by state and local authorities. It is estimated that 2.5 million women participated in the program to help feed the nation and our Allies (Spring, 2017). Victory gardens were grown by citizens in their backyards, parks, and other public spaces to provide extra food during that time. The USDA estimated that by 1943, 20 million gardens had been planted across the United States where they produced 10 billion pounds of food (Spring, 2017). Women played a vital role in supplying food to our nation during a hard time, and they will continue as we move forward, figuring out how to feed our growing population on the current amount of land and available resources.

Current

According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, nearly two out of every five American farmers and ranchers are women. There are 798,500 female principle producers and 766,474 farms for a total of 238,157,861 with a female principle producer (USDA NASS, 2017). Texas is the leading state with the most women involved on the farm. There have been many women involved with agriculture across history that is known as “Wonder Women of Agriculture” (Aller, 2018). When thinking about who some of those individuals are today, a few come to mind. Dr. Temple Grandin is known for her trailblazing work as a spokesperson for people with autism and her work with animal behavior. Dr. Grandin is a current professor at Colorado State University and has been for over 25 years (Grandin, 2012). She is often referred to as one of the most influential college professors in the country. Dr. Grandin has dedicated her life to sharing her knowledge about autism through her own eyes. Understanding the human mind has helped in her work with animal behavior. Dr. Grandin worked to develop curved corrals used to reduce animal stress among other designs and best practices, such as processing facilities. She also helped to develop the Double Rail Restrainer Conveyor for Livestock Handling, a scoring system to assess animal welfare (Grandin, 2012). Dr. Grandin is also a well-established author and co-author for many of her books, as well as scientific studies. Marji Guyler-Alaniz is the founder and President of FarmHer, a business dedicated to sharing about women in agriculture. FarmHer first started as a photo project after Marji left corporate agriculture to showcase women working on the farm. It grew from there and is now space where women share their stories and promote the agriculture industry (Guyler-Alaniz, 2020). Countless other women across the nation have dedicated their lives to agriculture and advocating for it.

Future

As we move towards 2050 and the need for 60-70% more food production than the current on the same amount of land, we will need everyone to come together to provide for the growing world. Since 2012 the number of women in agriculture has increased by 26.6% from 0.97 million to 1.23 million (USDA NASS, 2017). If we continue this trend, in 2022 we should see approximately 1.56 million women involved with agriculture. A recent survey completed by Farm Bureau across the United States revealed that 91% agree or strongly agree that there should be more women in leadership roles within the agriculture industry (Farm Bureau, 2019). The results from this survey show we can expect more women to become involved within the agriculture industry, something that our world’s food supply and essential resources rely on.

Women have been a crucial part of the agriculture industry for many generations and will continue this trend for many years to come. The next time you sit down at your dinner table, think about the farmer that made it possible. It could have even been a FarmHer. Is there an “Agriculture Wonder Woman” in your life?

References

Aller, L. (2018). Wonder Women of Agriculture. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Retrieved from https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2018/03/27/wonder-women-agriculture

Farm Bureau. (2019). Empowering Women to Become Powerful Advocates for Agriculture. Farm Bureau. Retrieved from https://www.fb.org/programs/womens-leadership-program

Grandin, T. (2012). Temple Grandin, Ph.D. https://www.templegrandin.com/

Guyler-Alaniz, M. (2020, May 16). FarmHer. https://farmher.com/

Reft, R. (2015). The Women’s Land Army “Farmettes” for Suffrage During World War. KCET. Retrieved from https://www.kcet.org/history-society/the-womens-land-army-farmettes-for-suffrage-during-world-war-i

Spring, K. A. (2017). On the Farm During World War II. National Women’s History Museum. Retrieved from https://www.womenshistory.org/resources/general/farm

USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service. (2017). Census of Agriculture. Retrieved from www.nass.usda.gov/AgCensus.

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