Farming mystique

Census shows the number of female farm operators
nearly doubled since the late 1970s
Wednesday, October 20, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:11 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Angela Hemwall always wanted a little place in the country to grow food for her family.

In 2003, she and her husband, Rob, bought a house on 33 acres of land. Rather than returning to work and forfeiting time spent with her two daughters, Hemwall, 37, decided to start her own at-home business last spring.

“I hope to turn this into a mini-farm, or possibly even a you-pick,” Hemwall said. “We’re even looking to add a commercial kitchen to do some value-added things like make salsa.”

Hemwall’s story illustrates a widespread trend in agricultural production that began in the 1970s.

According to the 2002 Census of Agriculture, the number of female principle farm operators in the United States nearly doubled from 128,170 in 1978 to 237,819 in 2002, though the total number of farms decreased by 349,416.

In Boone County, the number of women who run farms grew from 165 in 1997 to 226 in 2002, an increase of 37 percent.

Gene Danekas, director of the Columbia-based Missouri Agricultural Statistical Service, which tallied statistics for all 114 counties, said the numbers highlight a trend of people moving to rural areas more than a female takeover of farming.

Many people’s primary jobs are off the farm. So rather than attempting extensive row-cropping, they graze or work small portions of the land to supplement their income, Danekas said.

More women have taken responsibility for the farm’s daily chores because they are more likely to work from home, raise children or outlive their spouses.

Others just like to farm.

The census calculated the 648 women in Boone County make decisions for the farm but don’t consider themselves the main operator, one of many new minority breakdowns in the census.

Farm manager Liz Graznak, 28, falls into that category.

In January, she joined Dan Kuebler’s farm in Ashland, The Salad Garden, where she runs one of the larger organic operations in Boone County.

Graznak and Kuebler sell their produce at the Columbia Farmers’ Market, as does Hemwall, and to restaurants in town such as Trattoria Strada Nova and Main Squeeze.

“My goal is to own my farm,” Graznak said. “This is what I love to do.”

Other women have similar ambitions.

Mary Sobba, an agricultural business specialist at MU Extension, will teach a class of female farmers in Mexico next month on how to better manage, market and finance their farms.

Annie’s Project, as the class is known, got its name from a northern Illinois woman who helped her husband with the business side of their farm.

Sobba said the $50, six-session class is designed to share Annie’s business experiences with today’s farm women. Although designed with women in mind, Sobba said the class also welcomes men.

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