Young Women Farmers for Change: Three Fresh Ideas to Stir Up Our Food System

Fresh ingredients go a long way in adding flavor to any dish.  The same culinary theory holds outside of the kitchen in other contexts as well, as evidenced at the 13th annual Community Food Security Coalition Conference this past week in Des Moines, Iowa.  Over 500 activists from around the country gathered to connect, collaborate and challenge each other on ways to transform and improve our food system, including representation from young women dedicated to a farming career in sustainable agriculture.

As a female farmer myself, running Inn Serendipity farm and B&B with my husband, John Ivanko, in Wisconsin, this increasing blending and crossover between new women farmers with a passion for raising both cabbage and change cultivates a hefty serving of inspiration. These new women farmers grow more than food for our table; they rethink the status quo approach to our food system and provide keen insights into what needs to change.

“As one of the fastest growing groups of new farmers, women can be the change makers that transform our agricultural system into one that provides organic, healthy and fair food to us all,” explains Faye Jones, Executive Director of the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES), a Community Food Security Coalition (CFSC) member organization that sponsored two women farmers to attend this conference. Wisconsin women farmers Jai Kellum of King’s Hill Farm and Erin Schneider of Hilltop Community Farm attended the CFSC Conference on behalf of MOSES.“It is important to keep the voice of farmers represented in the national discussion on food and agricultural policy and priorities,” sums up Jones.

Here are four of their tips for politicians to policy makers from Kellum and Schneider to improve our agriculture and food system:

1.  Work on a Farm
“I think every person involved with creating food policy should work on a farm for a week,” suggests Jai Kellum, co-manager with her husband, Joel, of King’s Hill Farm, a certified organic farm outside Mineral Point in southwest Wisconsin.  A dedicated and knowledgeable organic grower, Kellum runs a diversified farm operation including a CSA (community supported agriculture) and selling at the Green City Market in Chicago.  “A reality check in the amount of labor and hard work that goes into local, sustainable agriculture would go a long way in understanding the full cycle of what goes into bringing healthy food to everyone’s table.”

2.  Honor Manual Labor
“Related to understanding the amount of labor that goes into farming, we need to rethink and redraft our perspective on manual labor,” further explains Kellum.  “As a society we need a change in mindset to view manual labor as something positive, a respected career choice.  Younger people today unfortunately have no experience with physical work, which unfortunately results in a low work ethic.  It is an extreme, ongoing challenge for us to find dedicated and capable farm staff.”

3.  Increase Cross-Pollination

“Just as a farm needs an abundant, diverse ecosystem on the land, we also need such a cross-pollination perspective when it comes to formulating farm and agricultural policy,” adds Erin Schneider.  Schneider and her partner are in the upstart phase of a new CSA west of Madison in Sauk County, featuring a variety of hardy perennial fruits such as kiwi and currants.  “By bringing a variety of voices to venues such as this CFSC conference, particularly the growers themselves, we can collaborate and draw from each other in a way that will strengthen the end result.”

The CFSC website offers a variety of resources and information on opportunities for anyone to take action to support a healthy, just and affordable food system, including timely alerts to contact your federal representatives when timely bills and issues are before Congress.

Photo Credit: John Ivanko

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