This blog post is an appeal to all young and beginning farmers to help out by taking this quick survey.
Between 2007 and 2008 I had the opportunity to live in Norway. I spent some of my time planting potatoes and some of it visiting the Centre for Rural Research in Trondheim. Wherever I went people were saying something that we hear in the U.S. too— that it’s hard to keep young people in rural areas. In Norway they have a gendered perspective on the problem. They say it’s hard to keep young women in rural areas because most of the jobs are in the primary sector (like farming, fishing, and forestry), which tends to be male dominated. They say that as young women leave rural areas to find work in the city, young men leave too and the problem becomes self-reinforcing.
Norwegian policy makers are pretty nice folks and they think it’s too bad that women should feel unwelcome in the countryside. One of the ways that they are trying to fix this is by creating more rural employment opportunities that are “suitable for women,” which generally means not in the primary sector. When I hear this I want to tell them about the sustainable agriculture movement in the U.S., which seems to be pretty well populated with women. I say “seems to be” because it’s hard to tell from the available data, which is one reason for this survey. If it’s true, then we can say that rural policy makers shouldn’t be ignoring agriculture, but rather should be concerned with what kind of agriculture.
Is there a special connection between women and sustainable agriculture? People sometimes talk about the masculinization of agriculture since WWII or about women being more nurturing and less inclined toward machines and chemicals. But the fact is that the overall number of people involved in agriculture has declined dramatically in the past 60 years. My supposition is that small-scale, sustainable agriculture is more appealing and accessible to everybody, men and women, and especially
to people with no background in agriculture—which, as the National Young Farmers’ Coalition survey last year demonstrated, is most new farmers.
The exploratory survey that my friend Piper and I are circulating is for all farmers—men and women, conventional and organic, but especially for young and beginning farmers. We’re trying to learn what makes different kinds of agriculture more or less attractive and accessible, about the different pathways that lead young people into agriculture, and whether there really are any gendered differences with these things amongst the new generation of farmers. Knowing this will help us to advocate for rural policy that doesn’t ignore agriculture, but rather which makes it more appealing and accessible to
It’s actually a pretty quick survey and your participation is really valuable. Thanks for taking the time to fill it out!