Farm Girls

“Here’s to the ones who came before us.” Jenna Woginrich, One-Woman Farm

From making baskets at Farm Women’s camps in the early 1900s to learning about diversified farm management via Google Hangout live streaming during this year’s Women in Agriculture Conference, WSU Extension has been creating opportunities for women in the Pacific Northwest to gather and share their farm life experiences since the beginning of the organization itself.

Margaret Viebrock knows change is a big part of farming and that women today often face unique challenges as growers and ranchers—whether in seeking loans or insurance, managing risk, leaving current jobs to pursue farming full-time, or balancing work and family.

A group of women around tables making baskets.
Making baskets at one of the early Farm Women’s camps held at the State College in Pullman.
Photo courtesy of WSU Libraries, MASC.

“The farm-family role of raising a family and managing a farm at the same time is ever-present,” said Viebrock, Douglas County Extension director and conference coordinator. “Women have to be very, very resourceful, and that includes making connections in the agriculture community.” Fortunately, programs that recognize these demands are now available, because networking with fellow producers and government agents helps provide important support, said Viebrock. Offering the conference at 28 locations in three states, as well as live streaming on YouTube with options for comments and questions using Google Hangouts, were all big parts of meeting the needs of this audience.

A significant force

Of principal farm operators in the United States, 306,000 are women, according to the most recent data available from the Census of Agriculture. Most women farmers in Washington State have established themselves in small-scale production of animals or produce with Community-Supported Agriculture share programs, but large-scale production with fruit, wheat, and cattle is also apparent.

Three photos of women in agriculture type settings.
More than 500 women from around the Pacific Northwest took part in the 2014 Women in Agriculture Conference to focus on change.

This year marks the third annual WSU Women in Agriculture Conference. The theme for the March 15 event was Change Happens: Make It an Opportunity. What started out as an experimental project made possible by small grants from Wenatchee-area agricultural groups has transformed into a growing gathering of women funded by the Western Center for Risk Management and businesses such as Northwest Farm Credit Services and Cenex Harvest States.

Heather Darby
Heather Darby, 2014 Women in Ag Conf. keynote speaker, Univ. of Vermont Extension agronomist and seventh-generation owner of the Darby Farm in Alburgh, VT.
Photo by Amanda Gervais, UVM Extension.

The daylong spotlight on women in agriculture pointed out that the contributions to our region are ongoing. Participants left with a copy of the book One-Woman Farm as a reminder to take home what they learned and pass it on. Women like Anne Schwartz, Clea Rome, and Helen Appel also nurture the many people their work touches every day through their devotion to food, farming, and science.

To read more stories about women—and men—leading and learning through Extension, visit WSU’s anniversary site. If you have an inspiring story to share, please tell us about it here.

By Rachel Webber