Panelists discuss the lives of women in agriculture

On Jan. 13, the women’s and gender studies department and the sustainable food and agriculture program co-sponsored a panel discussion titled “Gender and Food: Production and Consumption.” The six panelists were Karen Washington, Giovanna DiChiro, Shannon Hayes, Elizabeth Smith and Lisa MacDougall.

Katharine Millonzi, the manager of the sustainable food and agriculture program at the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives, presented the speakers. She announced that food studies, much like women’s and gender studies, is an interdisciplinary field that links various aspects of culture and life.

By working with various campus groups, like the Women’s Center and the student garden, the sustainable food and agriculture program hopes to restructure Dining Services by “raising food awareness and promoting food as a mode of discourse.”

The first speaker was Giovanna DiChiro, director of environmental programs at Nuestras Raíces, Inc. and research associate at the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center. She described Nuestras Raíces as a “grassroots organization that promotes economic, human and community development through projects relating to food, agriculture and the environment.” The organization started in Holyoke, Mass. with the goal of developing community gardens in the downtown area. Ninety-eight percent of downtown Holyoke’s population is Puerto Rican.

Nuestras Raíces encourages youth environmental engagement and trains beginning farmers. DiChiro said it “provides food security, income and cultural activities” to the thousands of Latin American immigrants in Holyoke.

The next speaker was Elizabeth Smith, the founder of Caretaker Farm. Smith and her husband moved to an old dairy farm in South Williamstown, Mass. in 1969. She raised her children on the farm in keeping with the belief that children should be brought up in nature and taught manual skills like woodworking in school. “I learned my confidence from my father,” she said. “Women can do everything men can do, except maybe some of the reproduction stuff.”

Lisa MacDougal also owns a farm, Mighty Food Farm. Her main comment on the difference between men and women in agriculture was that she feels women have a tendency to want to improve what they have already created, while men tend toward expansion and growth. Other than that, she said she found that her experience in agriculture as a woman was relatively easy.

Shannon Hayes has written multiple books, including The Farmer and the Grill and The Grassfed Gourmet. She co-owns Sap Bush Hollow Farm, a grassfed meat farm in Warnerville, N.Y., with her husband. She grew up on a farm and, after graduating from college, chose to move back. Hayes said she thinks her quality of life is much better than that of friends who chose more lucrative lifestyles.

Karen Washington, the last speaker, is a community activist in the Bronx. She gave an impassioned speech on the obstacles for women and people of color to be able to work in the agricultural field and to attain healthy food. She said that in order to change food distribution methods and city gardens, one has to change the mindset of the people. Washington said she feels that the most important step in fixing the food system is educating women and people of color so that they can “sit at the table with everyone else.”