Photo by Black Locust

Women of the Heartland

Everyone sing along: Old McDonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-O.

While we can certainly appreciate the universal nature of the tune, guess what? The original lyrics, as recorded in 1917’s tome Tommy’s Tunes, went like this: Old MacDougal had a farm in Ohio-i-o.

Yep, Ohio baby. We might not know what our signature dish is, but we can lay claim to the foundation for one of the most constant nursery rhymes in the States. We can also lay claim to providing part of the cultural assumption that most farmers are men. Shots of weathered, overall-wearing dudes kneeing down amongst the cultivated rows permeates the national image of growers. Wayward Seed Farms’ Jamie Moore challenges this pervasive picture when she points out that “around the world women make up nearly 80 percent of the agricultural workforce.”

Women can get dirt under their fingernails, smell like fertilizer, and grow lovely and delicious produce as well as any Farmer MacDougal. As for women considering becoming growers themselves, Moore has a seed of advice: Do it. There’s nothing more satisfying than growing your own food and teaching others about what you grow and how to cook and eat it.

In the second of a four-part-series, (614), in conjunction with Stock & Barrel, present a closer look at Columbus women of the food and drink scene—from management to servers to chefs to growers. The project is a partnership with a new local photography company, Black Locust, owned by two stellar women themselves, Catherine Murray and Stephanie McNally. The lens ladies focus on empowering women through portraiture.

Jamie Moore, Co-owner/founder

Wayward Seed Farm

Fremont (in business nine years)

What are your thoughts on the changing relationship between the public and the food they eat/buy? 

While I’d like to say they’re more connected, that’s only true for some. I read an article the other day about the “global diet” that people are consuming today, and it’s true: we want everything we like and desire when we want it. We don’t care about the seasonality or terroir—we just know we want it. As a farm, it’s frustrating that farmers still struggle to make a living raising the food that people say they want, but don’t buy. To hear people and restaurants talk about their “local” food choices, knowing it’s not true. “Local” is by far one of the most lucrative marketing campaigns of the last 10 years because consumers eat it up. They read “local” on a menu … okay, I’ll have it. But what does it even mean anymore?! I recently was in a “Farm-to-Table” restaurant here locally, they have a whole section on their menu, blah, blah, blah, marketing, marketing, publicity. I asked them what farms they were sourcing from. The server didn’t know and was clearly annoyed that I cared so much. She went to seek the answer and came back to report. Produce One, Midwest Fresh, and one more DISTRIBUTOR that I have since forgotten. THOSE AREN’T FARMS! I’m pretty confident that’s not what most people think of when they hear “Farm-to-Table.” They think you’re actually buying it direct from a farm. And why wouldn’t you be?! You have some of the best farmers in the state serving the Central Ohio region! Again, one of the most lucrative marketing campaigns of the last decade. 

What is your favorite part of the job—what gets you out of bed in the morning?

I love sharing food stories with people. I love eating and being creative in the kitchen. I can spend an hour plus in the kitchen every night making dinner, and still want more. Connecting over food can be one of the most honest interactions you have with someone. And when you hear that someone tried something they didn’t think they liked or tried something for the first time, and it turns out they love it … well, that’s what gets me out of bed.

Rebecca Barnes, Owner

Dangling Carrot Farm

Williamsport (in business eight years)

Growing/farming is often perceived as a male-dominated field – what is it like being a woman grower?

When I started farming I lacked confidence that I could succeed and was intimidated by all kinds of things (like calling the tractor shop and asking them to walk me through a repair, etc). I felt that people didn’t hold me in the same regard as they would a male farmer. Over the years I realized that this was my own hang-up. Eventually I proved to myself that I could make it, and found that the stereotypical gender biases I had perceived in others had disappeared.

Any advice for future women growers?

Trust your vision. Don’t be swayed by the opinions of others. For instance, people tell me, “Bigger is better.” Why cap my farm at eight acres when I could expand? But my vision is to always be the one working my field, instead of being a farm manager. My goal is to farm my acreage better, building up the soil year by year. Also, I want to balance my farming with the other parts of my life. For me, fine-tuning my operation is far more important than expansion. Learning to trust oneself is crucial for women and men alike.

What are your thoughts on the changing relationship between the public and the food they eat/buy?

I love the direction we are heading. In the eight years I’ve farmed, I’ve noticed a definite shift. Consumers are much more thoughtful about their food purchases and are dedicated to eating locally grown food. I used to fret if it began raining as I was driving to market with a truckload of food. Now I have confidence that my customers with grab an umbrella and come out. They see the importance of it and I am grateful for their dedication. Our next goal needs to be encouraging mainline groceries to stock even more local produce. Why ship the food in from California or further when it is being produced just outside of Columbus? It is more convenient and cheaper for stores to purchase large lots, but the quality of the food is compromised. I hope that the wholesale market continues to shift toward purchasing local produce. 

Jodi Kushins, Owner

Over the Fence Urban Farm

Columbus (in business two years)

Growing/farming is often perceived as a male-dominated field—what is it like being a woman grower?

We are notorious for nurturing—people and plants—and for maintaining kitchen gardens. My project is an extension of that: a community kitchen garden. The question is, who is the community? How many people can the garden impact?

What are your thoughts on the changing relationship between the public and the food they eat/buy?

It’s interesting to see how the local foods movement has remained consistent but the rationale behind it keeps morphing over the past few decades. Take the drought in California, for instance: Sitting on Lake Erie, Ohio is in a prime location to be on the forefront of changes that will no doubt occur across the country as a result of decreased water supply and increased affiliated costs. The people who support Over the Fence are excited to not only know where their food comes from, but to be a part of its production. I love having them come to help us during our Happy Hour on the Farm every Sunday afternoon because they are not only helping make the project possible, they are learning things about growing food that they can use on their own—now or sometime in the future—to be more self-sufficient. And in the future, I think we’ll all need to do that if we want to eat well.

What is your favorite part of the job—what gets you out of bed in the morning?

It is magical to watch things growing. I love stepping out my backdoor, walking across the yard and through the gate into the farm everyday to see what’s new. That in and of itself is amazing. But perhaps my favorite part of the job, the part that makes me feel the most proud of what we’re doing, is when I fill bags with produce and then pass them out to our CSA members like goody bags at a birthday party, only healthier. We’re feeding people real, hyper-local food.