women, food & agriculture

It seems to make sense, right? So why are men still dominant in the world of haute cuisine (for more on that topic, check out this book), still preferred to women as servers in fine restaurants & still seen as the face of agriculture when women own more than 50 percent of the land in many U.S. states–and are recognized as the driving force of farms in many developing countries?

It’s a lonely world for many women in the fields of farm & agriculture. That is, it used to be. Fifteen years ago, Women, Food & Agriculture Network started in Iowa. This past weekend, I was able to join them for their annual conference. I spent Friday evening & Saturday learning about food preservation, organic agriculture & a food-secure future–not in developing nations or nations around the globe, but right here in the States, where the food system has bent so far from its origins that food deserts seemed to be increasing in recent decades.

I walked away with two strong messages that I wanted to share with you.

I challenge you to feed yourself, then feed the world. I’m challenging every American to grow 100 pounds of food in 2012.

When I arrived at Friday’s event at Jasper Winery, I joined a table of four–two mothers who grew up canning & gardening, two daughters with a strong interest in agriculture. One woman, the mother of the two great girls, was kind enough to share family recipes & advice over the weekend, making me feel truly at home with them. The other began our conversation with this bold statement. It’s not hard, she insisted. 100 pounds isn’t that much.

She’s right. This kid-friendly infographic shows that the average American eats 1996 pounds of food a year. I’m joining in this challenge: I’m asking you to grow five percent of your own food. It could be a row of turnips & several tomato plants. It could be a trashcan of potatoes & a squash patch. This is easy stuff, people. Especially now that container gardening is all over the Internet. You. can. do. this.

What was most inspiring to me was the number of families present who had felt the call back to the farm, including my largest inspiration, Deb Eschmeyer of Harvest Sun Farm, the co-founder of FoodCorps. I went to the conference to hear Deb speak, & I was shocked by how many women in the audience were really making it on organic farms–not just feeding their own families, but getting goods to a market.

The most common argument against a change to what has become “conventional” agriculture is that it’s can’t feed everyone. That it can’t work without chemicals. I think this is a fallacy–an unsound argument relying at us looking at the wrong solution. Large farms with fewer crops are not what we need. They’re not feeding us in many cases, but rather feeding cars & cows.

As smaller farms–which increase livelihoods & are continuing to create jobs in the U.S.–appear in more & more communities, I think it will again become “normal” to grow your own food rather than rely on supermarket conveniences. We’re at the beginning of something. This is not a trend, it is not a hippie extreme. It is the beginning of a push toward new agriculture, & it’s in our blood. It’s where we came from.

People keep marking the “do-it-yourself” phenomenon & the resurgence of homemaking & homesteading (both of which can take place by either gender while having a job outside the home) as a trend. A latest fad. A mark of the hipster generation.

I’m going to disagree.

Sitting in a room with at least 50 other women across at least three generations & spanning all walks of life, I developed this opinion more firmly. As a child, I wondered what the world would look like when we grew up. Friends’ parents didn’t cook for them; they didn’t garden; kids were gone more than they were home; we didn’t hang out with our grandparents. There seemed to be a lapse in knowledge traditionally passed from generation to generation. My friends couldn’t change their own oil or cook something that hadn’t come in a box.

I wasn’t passing judgment on our generation. I just didn’t understand how it would happen, how we would come to know these things that our parents & grandparents seemed to be born knowing. With our generation came an increased importance of extracurriculars, leadership opportunities, sports–we needed scholarships & resumes to get into good schools.

Now that we’re older, with jobs or degrees in progress or budding families, we’re realizing that we’re a bit behind in the survival skills. So forgive us while we make crafts on Pinterest & show you pictures of everything we bake or sew, or every new part we put on our car. This is new to us, but we’re getting there. We’re surviving, so that the skills can survive another generation & move into our children.

I’m relieved to see this happening. (Okay, less the do-it-yourself crafting side, more the figure-out-how-to-run-a-cost-effective-home side.) I’m hoping my peers will pick up on this message. I hope they’ll try to grow one thing for themselves this year, between making wreaths out of book pages & scarves out of organic, fair-trade, hypo-allergic alpaca yarn.

We’re learning. Along with the rest of the country. We’re taking back our lives, so that we can touch them & fix them & knead them with our own hands. We don’t need all the extras. Sometimes, it just takes us a while to realize what we’re all missing.

The second thing that struck me? Women hold 80 percent of the power of purchase decisions in the average American home. I’ll hold that for Friday’s post. See you then.


About meganbetz

human geography PhD Student at Indiana University; wife, reader, writer, baker, gardener
This entry was posted in being conscious and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to women, food & agriculture

  1. thebakeandbrew says:

    Really quality post Megan. The first time I realized not everyone grew up with the same homemade dinners and gardens was when a friend asked, “You can really MAKE waffles?” I feel as if our generation is in a very fortunate position: we have grown up in an increasingly globalized world, with homogenized foods, quick, fast, easy, etc – for good and for bad. But now, so many of us want to try something different, and we still have access to the knowledge that our parents and grandparents retain! We see the options and choices before us, and decide what we value and what we want our world to look like.

  2. Pingback: the day-late & dollar-short Friday post | francofile

  3. Pingback: the day-late & dollar-short Friday post | francofile

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