By guest blogger Annie Spiegelman, a.k.a. the Dirt Diva.
Unfortunately, like many urbanites, I grew up thinking that food came from the supermarket below my New York apartment building, and flowers came from the florist at 84th and Lexington Avenue. It took a PS 6 fifth-grade field trip to the Metropolitan Museum to view a photo exhibit of American farmers, to prove to me that “real live people” actually grow the food we eat, and the flowers we cherish, from SEED. Say what!? That blew my 9-year-old, Barbie-consumed mind. But today, thanks to the new book Farmer Jane (Gibbs Smith, 2010), edited by Temra Costa, we all don’t have to be so clueless. Twenty-six outspoken and visionary women in Costa’s book want us to come visit the farm and learn to love and appreciate it!
In Farmer Jane: Women Changing the Way We Eat, Costa shares her knowledge of sustainable food issues after working for many years with the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF), various farmer’s markets, and the California chapter of the “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” food program. “We have become disconnected from the very people and the land that we are dependent on to provide our very sustenance. We have lost sight of the fact that the fertility of the soil determines our vitality,” says Costa. All of the courageous and determined women profiled in Farmer Jane have taken on leadership roles in the sustainable-food industry and in agriculture. You’ll recognize some of the heroines, while some others are less well-known but just as astonishing and benevolent.
Farmer Nancy Vail of Pie Ranch entices schoolchildren to her Pescadero, California, farm with an “EAT PIE” road sign. Farmer Emily Oakley of Three Springs Farm in Oaks, Oklahoma runs an organic farm in a state that has more cattle and meat animals than humans. Marin Kalb, codirector of National Farm to School Network, advocates for progressive food-policy change so that schoolchildren can eat nutrients from “real” food. Filmmaker Deborah Koons Garcia, director of 2004’s The Future of Food and the upcoming Symphony of Soil, discusses agrochemical corporations and the importance of the media as a tool for outreach. And there are many, many more. You’ll cheer them on, take their pledges, write letters to the editor of your newspaper, save seed, and demand a farm bill that keeps family farmers healthy and employed instead of making chemical companies rich. Each chapter ends with “recipes for action”—ideas for how the reader can join in.
“Our food system hasn’t always required such advocacy or noise. After all, it’s only been in the last century that our food and rural places have experienced the industrialization that is making us, and the land, sick,” writes Costa. Of the top 15 national nonprofits focusing on sustainable-agricultural issues, 61.5 percent of the employees and 60 percent of the executive directors are women. Eight-five percent of household budgets are run by women, and women have the largest impact on what they feed themselves and their families. Costa writes: “This book celebrates the results that we are starting to see due to women’s efforts to change how our country eats and farms.”
Why aren’t men written about in the book? “It’s not that men aren’t changing how we eat. Men are definitely involved. It’s just that they’re used to getting all the press,” claims Costa. “Women, on the other hand, have long been underrepresented in the public sphere about the sheer amount of work they do, at home and outside of the home, in food planning and preparation, while advocating for a healthier food system and environment.”
Read the book. Visit www.farmerjane.org. Be informed and opinionated. Apply lipstick. Speak out!