Grant Wood’s iconic American Gothic painting portrays an austere farming couple, the man with pitchfork in hand as the woman gazes on. But as current trends in farm ownership reveal, we need a revised painting wherein the wife wields a wheel hoe. A 2013 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows the percentage of farms and ranches where a woman fulfills the role of “principal operator” has nearly tripled over the past three decades — from 5 percent up to nearly 14 percent of all U.S. farms. In 1982, women-operated farms totaled 121,600; by 2007, that number had climbed to 306,200 farms. (Read the full report at the United States Department of Agriculture.)
If you add in the women who are “secondary operators,” the sum of female farmers reaches beyond 1 million. This growth has occurred as the tally of men leading agricultural operations declined by about 220,000.
For women interested in farming, an abundance of new resources are cropping up. Annie’s Project is a series of classes available in 34 U.S. states that teaches women about farm management and product marketing, as well as provides a friendly, open space for questions (many women in agriculture tend to feel ostracized). Sustainable-farming advocate Temra Costa published a collection of stories profiling women in ranching and horticulture in her 2010 book Farmer Jane. The accompanying website, Farmer Jane, has additional resources for female farmers.
Jennifer Kongs is the Managing Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine. When she’s not working at the magazine, she’s likely working in her garden, on the local running trails or in her kitchen instead. You can find Jennifer on Twitter or Google+.