Across the world, farming has traditionally been a family endeavor, with all members participating in chores, feeding the animals and harvesting the produce. However, in most societies, farm labor is divided by gender, with men running the farm and driving the machinery and women tending to the plants and maintaining the household. As a result, women’s labor tends to be overlooked while men retain their status as breadwinner, thanks to the land they own and control. Fortunately, this gender gap has begun to close, and there has been a rise in the female farmer, both in the United States with the small sustainable farmer and in other parts of the world, as seen with seaweed farming.
If you shop local and organic, chances are you are unknowingly supporting women in agriculture. This is because women now account for 30 percent of farm operators, making for the fastest-growing segment in U.S. agriculture. And these women tend to farm on smaller pieces of land, opting for sustainable practices over big industry crops. The reason for this is that women usually have less access to the money and labor needed for large-scale farming operations, so they opt for alternatives like organic farming and homemade products, which require less equipment and land. In addition, these women “farmHers” often incorporate educational and communal networks into their farming practices, teaching others how to get their hands dirty in a sustainable way.
In other parts of the world, women are rising up in the farming business, with 43 percent of the female workforce working in agriculture, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN. One such area is seaweed farming, where women are among the frontrunners of the seaweed business.
In India, women can maintain an income within a safe environment (since they were some of the first to adopt seaweed farming), while training and financing fellow women. And in Tanzania, women are seaweed leaders in both the cultivation of seaweed and production of new seaweed products, such as seaweed flour, which has doubled their profits. Seaweed farming is relatively flexible work, meaning these women can balance their traditional housework with their work, thereby gaining socioeconomic independence and increased equality. For instance, in the Philippines, women seaweed farmers actually share more equal power with their husbands when it comes to decision-making on household matters.
However, progress still needs to be made in order to decrease the gender gap within the farming industry. While women take on a great percentage of maintenance and harvesting-related work, they still have little to no control over farming finances in developing parts of the world. And closer to home, small-scale organic farming is an economically challenging endeavor. All the more reason to continue eating organic while supporting your local sustainable farmHer and global female-led agriculture.