By Tressie Kamp, WWN Public Policy Committee Member
Whether we do so knowingly or as a happy coincidence, many of us celebrate June by sharing ice cream or a cheese plate with friends and neighbors. It’s fitting that June is National Dairy Month, which WWN celebrated on June 1st by convening a panel on “Wisconsin Women in the Dairy Industry.” The panel featured five women who contribute their research, marketing, economic and legal expertise to our state’s dairy industry. Jenifer Cole, WWN’s Vice Chair/Chair-Elect, organized and led the panel, which was co-sponsored by the Cornell Club of Wisconsin-Madison. She noted that while women’s participation in the dairy industry has increased, promoting the advancement of women working in dairy and agriculture in Wisconsin aligns with the WWN’s mission. Jen also stated that The WWN’s brown bag “Women on Topic” was “an excellent forum to connect women in one of Wisconsin’s leading industries and to hear about the challenges and triumphs these women experience in a field traditionally dominated by men.”
Even for WWN members and blog readers, women may not be the first demographic group to come to mind when we think about Wisconsin’s dairy industry. But when I called Lisa Kivirist, Coordinator of the MOSES Rural Women’s Project, our conversation quickly shifted toward the boom of women in the field of sustainable agriculture. Here’s a quote from the Project’s website:
“According to the 2012 USDA [United States Department of Agriculture] Agriculture Census, 30% of farmers in the U.S. are women, the majority launching organic and sustainable operations for raising fresh, healthy food for local communities.”
USDA statistics also demonstrate the aforementioned rapid expansion of the community of women that work in sustainable agriculture. This growth is reflected by media coverage. Subscribe to a general Google alert on Wisconsin agriculture and you’ll receive frequent articles discussing women in agriculture. For example, I was recently notified that a national group, the American Farm Bureau Federation, is holding a “boot camp” for women in the agriculture industry to sharpen skills such as public speaking and media relations. On an international scale, I also enjoyed reading this article from BBC News back in April about a female choir in Norway singing to support the future of farming in their country.
Here’s the less happy news. As far as Lisa and I are aware, there is no federal or state-level funding source specifically for—or even geared toward—supporting women in agriculture. Instead, women are grouped by the United States Department of Agriculture into a “historically underserved” category. Folks like Lisa are encouraged by the expanding, local organizing efforts that support women in agriculture, although Lisa was quick to stress the need for more national policy efforts for the same purpose.
For more on this topic, visit the MOSES Rural Women’s Project website and for a broader policy perspective check out the website for REAP Food Group. If you’re a female farmer that finds yourself in what Lisa calls “beginning farmer boots,” don’t think twice about reaching out to your peers and to groups like the Rural Women’s Project. Finally, for those of us who aren’t farmers, don’t forget that we can exercise our spending and political powers to support women in our state’s agricultural industry. Here’s hoping you all find a way to celebrate women in agriculture during the rest of National Dairy Month!
Member, WWN Public Policy Committee