Women in Agriculture
In the Berkshires and Beyond
By Martha Jackson Suquet

As part of Women’s History Month, Berkshire Grown wants to highlight women in agriculture, especially the many women who operate our Berkshire Grown member farms. Women have a rich history in farming, despite facing unique challenges, barriers, and erasure. Across our nation and the world, women perform skilled farm labor and are often the backbone of local farm and food economies, whether or not they’re recognized as official “farmers." It’s important not to overlook the contributions of farmers across the gender spectrum, and to acknowledge the specific challenges to and accomplishments by BIPOC women farmers. Those are stories we hope to highlight in future articles.

Women make up a large portion of Berkshire Grown member farmers. Currently, almost 70 percent of our member farms are at least partly owned or operated by women. Some of our member farmers took over longstanding family farms, bringing innovation and sustainability to the business. Others came to farming later in life, following a variety of paths toward a career in agriculture. Some farm alone, others with a team, and others with family.
For Sarah Chase of Chaseholm Farm in Pine Plains, NY, growing up on her family's dairy farm gave her “a deep love of the animals, of having some freedom surrounded by nature, and of being a part of the daily rhythm [of the farm].” She didn’t expect to take over the operation, but looking back, she sees that the love she grew up with turned into a sense of responsibility for the farm. Today, she manages the grass-fed dairy herd using holistic practices, keeping it at a small scale even when many producers feel they have to “get big or get out”. (Image courtesy of Chaseholm Farm.)

While many women farmers throughout history are unrecognized, women have always been a part of the agricultural industry as farmers, pioneers of innovative farm methods, and savvy business operators. They’ve developed new practices, invented new technology, conducted important research, stewarded farm and ranch land, stood up for marginalized groups, and have done the day-in-day-out hard work of farming. But the agricultural landscape isn’t just shaped by farmers. Women working at government agencies, from the USDA to the state agricultural departments, along with local organizations and financial institutions, help determine who has access to land, capital, and markets, as well as determining some of the ways to farmers support farmers throughout their careers. They also play a large role in developing educational programs and beginning farmer resources.

Starting in the 20th century, women were able to expand their role in agriculture. More women gained access to agricultural schools and research institutions. When World War II created a lack of critically important farm labor, women jumped in and filled farm jobs previously held by men as part of the Women's Land Army. After the war, men reclaimed those positions, but the percentage of women in farming steadily increased from then to the present day. Currently, women make up around 30 percent of farmers in the US. In Berkshire County, as of the 2017 agricultural census, that number is even higher – 44 percent of farm producers are women.
At Justamere Tree Farm, three women from different backgrounds have taken over a sustainable maple syrup operation from retiring owners. Deb Rocque, Kelly Auer and Kim Trust are passionate nature and conservation enthusiasts who met in Alaska in 2004. After dreaming about farm life for several years, they found the opportunity to purchase Justamere and began their new careers as maple farmers. “We received so much support and encouragement when we started this endeavor,” says Kim. “That said, we are a minority in a male-dominated field, and we have encountered some individuals who don’t take us seriously...luckily we don’t take THEM seriously.” (Pictured left-right: Deb Rocque, Kim Trust and Kelly Auer. Image courtesy Justamere Tree Farm.)
These two stories represent just a tiny fraction of the women who farm in and around the Berkshires. For more information on our farm members, check out our Guide to Local Food & Farms.
What We Are Reading:
Black Farmers May Finally Get the Help They Deserve
By Mark Bittman for the New York Times

March 4, 2021

Many white people have become aware in the last year of the discrimination that Black Americans face in policing, voting, health care and more. Few, however, may recognize that systemic racism led to another grave injustice, one that underpins many other forms of exploitation: More than a century of land theft and the exclusion of Black people from government agricultural programs have denied many descendants of enslaved people livelihoods as independent, landowning farmers.

African-American labor built much of this country’s agriculture, a prime source of the nation’s early wealth. In the years since the end of slavery, Black Americans have been largely left out of federal land giveaways, loans and farm improvement programs. They have been driven off their farms through a combination of terror and mistreatment by the federal government, resulting in debt, foreclosures and impoverishment.

So a program that would pay off United States Department of Agriculture-guaranteed and direct farm loans and associated tax liabilities of Black, Indigenous, Hispanic and other farmers of color would not only be surprising, it would be historic. And yet it looks as though that may happen: Such a measure is included in the pandemic relief package wending its way through Congress.

The story of Black farmers is tragic. The Homestead Act of 1862 initiated the biggest land giveaway in U.S. history, and the beneficiaries were almost exclusively white men. Paired with slavery, the act formed a foundation for wealth-building that overwhelmingly benefited white farmers — and still does. Read the full article here.
John Boyd Jr., a Virginia farmer, has lobbied the White House and Congress for decades on behalf of black farmers.
Credit...Jeremy M. Lange for The New York Times
From Farms to Incubators
From Farms to Incubators
by Amy Wu

The feminine touch is changing the landscape of agriculture worldwide. Women in agtech are helping farmers meet enormous challenges head-on. From water and labor shortages to climate change, barriers to growing food more efficiently and abundantly have never been greater. It is estimated that farmers will need to feed 10 billion people by 2050. So agtech needs all the support it can get. Women, including many women of color, are stepping up to meet that need, with grit, determination, intelligence, and innovation.

Their stories are recorded in “From Farms to Incubators.” It is a collection of visual and written portraits by award-winning journalist Amy Wu. “From Farms to Incubators” will be published in April 2021. The photo-centric book will feature Wu’s profiles of women leading the way in agtech. Order it from you local bookstore today!
Feeding America CEO Claire Babineaux-Fontenot
Has a Plan to End Hunger in America
By Eben Shapiro for TIME Magazine
March 14, 2021

Claire Babineaux-Fontenot believes it is possible to end chronic hunger and food insecurity in America. Babineaux-Fontenot is the CEO of Feeding America, one of the largest charities in the U.S. and the largest devoted to hunger relief. It is one of the great stains on the richest country on earth that as many as 35 million of our neighbors, classmates and fellow citizens are chronically hungry.

And like so many social ills, the pandemic has made things worse. Feeding America’s latest data projects that the number of people that face food insecurity has swollen to 42 million. Over the past year, Feeding America’s nationwide network of 200 food banks provided more than 6 billion meals. “It has taken me a while to have gotten to the point where I can say it and keep talking because it takes my breath away to think about that many people struggling,” says Babineaux-Fontenot. Read the full article here.
Save the date, next Saturday, March 27!
Shop at the next Berkshire Grown
10am - 2pm
Eisner Camp, 53 Brookside Rd, Great Barrington

Make your shopping convenient with these options:
Pre-order from the market on WhatsGood

To help visitors shop the market quickly, shoppers can pre-order from vendors in advance through WhatsGood and pick-up from vendors during the market. Orders will open from Monday, March 22 through Thursday, March 25. Also, get 50% off your WhatsGood farmers market order by entering the code FG93F6.

  • Start shopping from market vendors.**

  • Check out!

  • Pick up your items from vendors at the market on Saturday from 10am-2pm!
Curbside pick-up for online pre-orders
may be arranged in advance. Call Berkshire Grown, Mon-Fri, at 413-528-0041.

Shoppers may schedule their visit
up to 24-hours in advance through EVENTBRITE allowing visitor entrance to the market to move more quickly. Please note a limited number of advance tickets are available (per 30-minute increments) and timed-entry is still dependent on the maximum capacity. Either way, if you schedule a time or just show up to shop at the Market, please be prepared to wait your turn in line.

Click here for more information about our next Winter Market.
Berkshire Grown connects you with local farmers, restaurants, and food producers. DONATE TODAY to celebrate local farms and food, sustain our Berkshire food economy, and Keep Farmers Farming! Support your favorite local eating establishment.
  To pay via check or phone, make payable to Berkshire Grown, mail to:
PO Box 983, Great Barrington, MA 01230 or call (413) 528-0041.
Contributions are tax deductible to the fullest extent of the law.
Now more than ever, connections to local food and farms hold our community together. 

Berkshire Grown's 2020 Guide to Local Food and Farms is the region's best guide to farms, farmers markets, and restaurants offering local foods. Use this Guide to find farm stands, CSA farms, pick-your-own farms and orchards, as well as locally sourced, value-added products like charcuterie, preserves, and fermented foods.

Connect to the Guide here to see descriptions of Berkshire farms, farmers markets, restaurants and local food businesses, with addresses and a detailed map. Pick up a printed copy at your local grocery store or farm stand. Keep it handy and use it frequently!
Stay in Touch
Berkshire Grown's e-newsletter comes out monthly. 
Please send information to  buylocal@berkshiregrown.org.
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Margaret Moulton, Executive Director
Andrea Caluori, Program Manager
Jess Camp, Program Consultant
Kate Burke, Farm to Food Access Project Manager
Sharon Hulett-Shepherd, Membership and Office Manager
Join Berkshire Grown here.