Women on the farm

By on Apr 10, 2016 in Uncategorized |

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That women are an integral part of New Hampshire agriculture is a no-brainer for Diane Souther.

“They were always doing the work,” she said during a recent interview at Apple Hill Farm in Concord. “There’s not many farms where they’re not involved.”

Souther, for instance, co-founded and co-runs her fruit and vegetable farm with her husband, Chuck. While she tends to focus on the business side of things, they are very much partners.

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“I can drive a tractor just like Chuck can throw on an apron if we need help in the kitchen,” she said.

Whether people have always recognized the role women play, however, is a different story. “You don’t always see the importance of what they’re doing,” Souther said.

In a new book by Lebanon author Helen Brody and New England-based photographer Leslie Tuttle, women’s part in the local farming scene is impossible to miss. New Hampshire Women Farmers illustrates the different tasks female farmers do, which include marketing, growing, processing, education, land preservation, activism and administration.

An event to discuss this book and women farmers in general will be held today at 2 p.m. at the Wilmot Community Association Red Barn.

USDA Agricultural Census numbers show more and more women becoming involved in New Hampshire agriculture. While there were just 800 female farm principal operators in 1997, there were 1,358 in 2012, the most recent year data is available.

“I’ve just noticed that women seem to have . . . a strong affection for their farm and farming,” Broday said.

Brody said women were always involved in the past, just in more traditional roles.

“Women used to be really at home – that was their job,” Brody said. “It was very much a home-based business for them.”

Now with the advancements of technology, gender equality and agriculture, she added, “Most of this has evolved.”

Women seem to be particularly essential as the local food movement grows and farmers markets, online advertising and small-scale specialty products become more of a trend, she said.

“The whole business side of this is evolving,” Brody said. It favors those more outgoing farmers who are better at interacting with the public.

“It seems like (women are) more comfortable and accustomed to speaking to people,” she said.

Souther is one of several dozen women the book features. In the section under “Educating Children, Adults and Politicans,” Brody talks about Souther’s efforts to teach people not only about how the apples in her orchard are grown, but how to best prepare them. Souther has been featured numerous times on WMUR’s Cooks Corner in the past.

Tuttle said neither of them didn’t set out to write a book about women, but couldn’t help it as they began to investigate how New Hampshire farms are continuing to survive.

“We quickly discovered that the most interesting innovations were being initiated by women,” Tuttle wrote in an email recently. The women tended to be more willing to talk and be photographed, she added. “We followed the farm women and found that they are the true pioneers of the local food movement.”

Why Brody was so interested in writing her book in the first place, she said, was to underline the farm’s role in New Hampshire.

“Agriculture is a very important part of our economy,” Brody said. The state, she added, “Has not been able to do a good job marketing itself.” While farmers tend to be private and want to stick to their farm, Brody added, “As we get bigger, you need to work together a little bit.”

And in the end, Brody said, it’s more about interest than gender when it comes to willingness to pitch in.

“It has nothing to do with whether you’re female or male, it’s what you like to do,” Brody said.

Souther echoed this sentiment. “It’s part of my lifestyle. I’ve never thought of myself as a ‘woman farmer’ because I’m part of the team.”

(Elodie Reed can be reached at 369-3306, ereed@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @elodie_reed.)