Women’s Farm Groups, Then and Now

One of the great things of old house living are the gifts that come with it. Ours bequeathed to us an extraordinary collection of scrapbooks compiled by the lovely woman from whom we bought our farm. For nearly five decades, starting in 1941, she devotedly clipped, pasted and immortalized whatever and whoever captured her interest. Just imagine the local history we have treasured away in our walk-up attic.

I was recently browsing the scrapbooks and came across this photo—a women’s homemaker club, circa 1955. Homemaker clubs began in the 1920s as a way of bringing the latest home economic research to rural areas. In the early days of my marriage I joined my mother-in-law’s club (no, not the group in this photo and not in 1955…just saying:-). I was a naive 19-year-old back then but even so, I recognized the importance of these ladies getting together. They were hard-working farm women and their once-a-month sisterhood was as much an emotional necessity as it was social.

Brandi Harris and Emily Harris, Wylymar Farms, Monroe, WI

Last week I was honored to be part of a rural women’s group of a slightly different nature—an In Her Boots workshop on Wylymar Farms. In Her Boots and it’s counterpart Soil Sisters provide support for the growing number of women in farming and food-based businesses. Yes, they cover home economics—the renewed interest in domesticity is huge, after all—but the greater focus is on farming.

Last week’s gathering was a far cry from those I attended decades ago. For starters, In Her Boots met under a tent in the hayfield, which, because of a steady rain, we quickly obliterated. Wind, rain and all, we covered topics ranging from organic dairying, to tractor mechanics, to selling cookies, to marketing. And lunch, don’t let me forget that delicious lunch!

 Mud-slogging brought new meaning to the name In Her Boots.

Women’s farm groups are not the only things that have changed. According to the USDA Census of Agriculture, the number of farms owned and operated by women is on the rise (interestingly, the census didn’t fully count women as farmers until 2002, when it finally allowed entry for more than one family farm operator). This means women are taking on more leadership roles, whether on the farm or on ag-related boards. They’re insisting seed salesman and implement dealers talk to them. They’re in the media everywhere. Yes, farm women have gone from invisible to invincible, as Lisa Kivirist says in “Soil Sisters: A Toolkit for Women Farmers.”

The unveiling of a cottage-food-safe frosting, in celebration of Betty Anderson’s birthday.

In all of this, there’s something special that hasn’t changed. That neighborliness of 1955 is still with us today in more ways than we realize. Women, by nature, recognize the need for camaraderie. They still come to together for sharing and encouragement. They still learn best from one another.

As a woman, and one with her hands in the soil, and a marketing professional, I am so proud to be part of women’s farm groups, both then and now. So very, very proud!

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