[by Denise O’Brien]
Given that March is Women’s History Month and that March 8th was International Women’s Day, I thought I would pay tribute to the incredible women of Iowa’s sustainable agriculture community. Over my years of involvement in Iowa agriculture (which now number 34), I have worked with women all over the state. Not all women in the sustainable ag community are farmers.
To honor the women farmers who provide food for their communities in Iowa is a large task. The list is long and goes back a great number of years. There are women out there that have laid the foundation for the sustainable ag work that continues to move forward.
This tribute is in alphabetical order and not an order of “importance.” The list is incomplete because it is limited to the women with whom I have personally worked. I am including the websites to their farms. Most of the women have a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Many of you may know that a CSA is a membership based farm and that members pay a fee to receive a weekly box or basket of fresh produce during the growing season. My CSA is Rolling Acres Farm and we are just getting the season underway. As I looked through the websites the pictures of green growing things has made me hopeful that spring will soon be here.
Some women don’t have websites but I am mentioning their names to honor their work.
Rebecca Bloom, Council Bluffs
Susan Jutz, Solon, zjfarms.com
Laura Krouse, Mount Vernon, abbehills.com
Jan Libbey, Kanawha, ostgardens.com
Alice McGary, Ames, mustardseedfarm.org
Virginia Moser, Vinton
Angela Tedesco, Johnston, turtle-farm.com
The list would not be complete without mentioning other women in Iowa who have played a role both in the state and nationally. Take for instance, Tanya Meyer-Didericksen. Tanya has been a United States Department of Agriculture employee in the state of Iowa who has worked on outreach and diversity through the Natural Resource and Conservation Service. Tanya worked closely with Women, Food and Agriculture Network (WFAN) starting in the 1990s to reach out to women farmland owners.
In academia there have been a number of women who have moved the sustainable ag agenda forward. Rural sociologist, Betty Wells was a founder of WFAN in 1997. Kathleen Delate became the first organic specialist in horticulture and commodity agriculture at Iowa State University. Cornelia Flora, another rural sociologist, has been actively involved in rural issues since the 80s farm crisis and has been an amazing supporter of women. Jean Eells has worked between government agencies and academia to bring forward the importance of women as farmland owners.
The non-profit sector has contributed immensely to the strength of Iowa’s sustainable agriculture. If you look at the staff of many community based organizations you will notice a substantial number of women. Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) has at it’s helm, Teresa Opheim. Teresa has been in the sustainable ag community for a long while working on both a state and national level. She is supported by staff that are competent and capable. Women, Food and Agriculture Network (WFAN), with Leigh Adcock as Director, works hard every day to help women connect the dots with farming and conservation practices. Of course, as the founder of WFAN, I am partial to this non-profit. Laura Dowd at Local Foods Connection works tirelessly to bring low income people into the good food movement.
There are many rural community women that spend their days working to advance sustainable agriculture in Iowa. Carol Smith of Perry; Mary Swalla-Holmes, of Madrid; Susan Roberts of Ankeny; Angie Tagtow of Elkhart; Penny Brown of Maxwell; Stacey Brown of Ames; Danielle Wirth and Maggie Howe of Woodward, are names that are constantly lifted up as a resource for navigating the maize of sustainable agriculture in Iowa and in the nation.
I have saved the best for the last. No disrespect to the aforementioned women – if it were not for the work that they do, Iowa sustainable agriculture would not have the credibility and respect it has throughout the world.
Iowa sustainable agriculture has strong roots and with the help of Iowa consumers, can make the food landscape in Iowa change from commodity orientation to food self sufficiency
~ Denise O’Brien lives and
works on her farm in southwest Iowa. O’Brien has been a farm activist
for over thirty years. Her work has taken her all over the world working
on agriculture and women in agriculture issues. Check out her website Rolling Acres
CSA or E-mail Denise O’Brien.