New Jersey Ag News
A woman’s touch (Editorial)
Have you noticed the rise of women in the agricultural industry, at all levels of government?
Look around. Kathleen Merrigan, deputy USDA secretary; Lucie Snodgrass, just named Maryland FSA executive director; Mary Powers Nikola, director of the Office of Leadership and Development at Rutgers University; Karyn Malinowski, director of the New Jersey Equine Center; Judee DeFiccio, president if the Atlantic County Board of Agriculture; Mary Jo Herbert, former president of the New Jersey State Board of Agriculture; Susan Payne, director of the State Agriculture Development Committee, and at Mid-Atlantic universities and throughout Extension, more and more women at elevated administrative posts.
According to Maurice Hladik, author of Demystifying Food from Farm to Fork, between the 2002 and 2007 U.S. Census on Agriculture, the number of farms owned and operated by females increased by 29 percent to reach a total of 14 percent of all farms.
For the 10-year period from 1997 to 2007, the increase was an astounding 46 percent.
Arguably, contends Hladik, there is no other traditionally male-dominated vocation that is experiencing such a rapid increase in participation by women.
“In absolute terms,” Hladik writes, “the number of female principal farm operators stood at 305,000 in 2007. Interestingly, over these 10 years the number of male farm operators actually fell by 5 percent, meaning that a woman now manages one of every seven farms.”
In its “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” project, the USDA is attempting to close the growing cultural gap of understanding and appreciation between farmers and consumers. How best to do that? Through women talking to women, of course. Thus, the CommonGround program.” (By the way, both Schmidt and Burrier — see above — are voices in that program.).
Yes, Hladik reminds us, there is a “glass ceiling.”
“Like grass that is mowed and thus unable to reach its growth potential, females in agriculture are handicapped compared to their male counterparts when it comes to accessing government support programs and loans through financial institutions,” he writes.
The USDA recognizes this inequality and has launched women’s outreach programs.
More importantly, farm women more and more are taking matters into their own hands, often expanding their attentions to such factors as conservation, sustainability and the impotance of community.
Bottom line, and notably without much fanfare, women are making an increasingly significant impact on U.S agriculture.