In the past three decades, the number of women-operated farms has increased substantially in the nation. Between 1978 and 2007, according to the agency’s Economic Research Service, the number of women-operated farms in the U.S. grew from 306,200 to nearly a million.
My interest was instantly piqued: Who are these women? I wondered.
My mind’s eye filled with sepia images. They were of Willa Cather’s lonely and moody heroines on the endless Nebraska plains. There was the iconic Isak Dinesen, my own heroine: betrayed and bankrupt and yet silently, painstakingly detailing the crucible and hope of her Kenyan coffee plantation, alone. I thought about what would motivate a woman to take on an enterprise like a farm today, in America, knowing full well the financial risk and unavoidable, back-breaking work.
My first port-of-call was the USDA’s Economic Research Service, and after some twists and turns, I found my way to James Williamson, one of the lead economists/statisticians who had authored the report. After he explained to me how the numbers were derived and interpreted, I pressed for more detail, again: Who are these women?
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