More Michigan women turning to agriculture

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Woman farmerBy Sierra Resovsky

LANSING — With Michigan’s food and agriculture system supporting more than 920,000 jobs, 24,795 of those workers operate farms as their primary occupation.

Now things are taking a turn in this predominantly and traditionally male field.

There are almost one million female farmers in the U.S., and Michigan alone saw a 17.6 percent increase in women in agriculture between 2007 and 2014 according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Shakara Tyler, an undeserved farmer development specialist at Michigan State University, said that although women have always been key players on family farms, now they are the fastest-growing farming population in the country. And they’re finally receiving recognition for their work.

Small-scale farms account for most of the numbers in Michigan, but the range in their products and livestock is anything but small, said Tyler.

From a sociologist making homemade artisan salsas to a Google worker raising free-range chickens, the opportunities are endless, she said.

Michigan has an active, growing urban-farming community that provides new farmers unique opportunities, according to Michelle Napier-Dunnings, executive director of Michigan Food and Farming Systems based in Genesee County. Napier-Dunnings said that areas such as Detroit and its suburbs are among the best places to get started, thanks to a large community of customers and high population density.

Some women farmers in the Flint area said they enjoy the skill development and self- sufficiency, but they are still dealing with gender bias and are not being taken seriously when it comes to acting as both homemakers and farmers, according to Napier-Dunnings.

The MSU Center for Regional Farm Systems is working with Napier-Dunning’s group to assist Women in Agriculture. The network aims to help women work together to encourage each other and develop solutions to problems they face.

“The network is a social system that supports all the roles that these women play. They are businesswomen, workers, moms, wives and community members, and this is a network that supports the whole spectrum of who they are,” said Napier-Dunnings.

According to the USDA, acreage managed by female principal operators in Michigan doubled in the last 30 years and that number is continuing to increase, despite the decline in principal male farmers as of 2012.

MSU Tyler’s said, “The change is attributed partly to a shift in societal ideologies and is a result of vocational vicissitudes — some current female farmers were former autoworkers that got laid off or needed to find work to help support their families. You never know how they got into this line of work, so it’s important that we advocate their work.”

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