New York Agri-Women member Erica Leubner, co-owner of Tim’s Pumpkin Patch inspired Japanese women of all ages to find themselves and their success in agriculture, during her November presentation to The Rural Women Empowerment and Life Improvement (“WELI”) Association in Tokyo, Japan. In addition to words of inspiration, Leubner served as an ambassador for American agriculture, the American family farm, and all women involved in agriculture.
Leubner was selected to represent New York Agri-Women because of her success as a female agricultural business owner. The title of her presentation was: Developing a Successful Agri-Business Using Your Strengths and Simplicity. Leubner shared with the group her decisions and successes at achieving a higher education, marrying a dairy farmer, and raising three daughters all while growing Tim’s Pumpkins Patch, a full service agri-tourism operation attracting thousands of visitors annually. The heart of Leubner’s presentation focused on growing a business slowly, giving consumers what they ask for, keeping the farm authentic, and most importantly, how she created a niche for herself within the family business in which she married. Erica’s presentation was received with head nods, smiles, picture taking and insightful questions about her lifestyle and agri-business.
Setting the smiles and head nodding aside, Erica’s presentation took her beyond her own farm, as she found herself playing the role of an ambassador for U.S. agriculture. The inquisitive audience questioned the international focus of U.S. agricultural labor, farm subsidies, the U.S. debt, corporate agriculture, and President’s Obama’s plans for further expansion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (“TPP”) for agricultural products. Setting emotion aside, and with great sincerity, Erica proudly defended the misconceptions of America. Leuber proudly told the audience that she “like many other farm women around the world rise at 5:00am every morning to do my share to feed the world, and support the family unit.” She also communicated that 98 percent of US farms are family farms. Leuber noted that “the conference attendees soon realized that although, we lived on different continents, our roles and responsibilities as farm women were similar.”
The Japanese women also inspired Leubner herself. In Japan, the women have traditionally been the major players in agriculture. Although, this may come as a surprise, Japanese women are oftentimes left to manage the farm while the men sought higher paying jobs off the farm. For decades Japanese farm women have thrived as farm business owners. They have created markets for their products in Tokyo grocery stores, established full service restaurants on their farms, and partnered with tourism agencies to develop agricultural tourism in Japan.
The success of Japanese women as farm business owners has caught the attention of the Japanese government. The Japan Center for Regional Development (“JCRD”) was established in 1985 to assist in the regional revitalization by supporting town development and regional promotion. The major effort of the JCRD is the creation and support of “antenna shops.” These are facilities established on the initiative of local governments to increase interest and awareness about agricultural products and tourism in rural Japan. In many cases, the management of the facilities is entrusted to the private sector. Operations include selling local products, operating restaurants, holding events, providing tourism information and holding consultations with people who want to move to the region.
Leabner was amazed to see the bustling shops and restaurants located in busy shopping areas in Tokyo that were filled with local agricultural products made by Japanese woman. Erica dined at one of the antenna restaurants, where everything from the place mats (artwork received from an artist) to the food, to the beautifully handcrafted shot glass were all produced by Japanese women. The trip to Japan was truly a life changing experience stated Erica, “I was sent to Japan to share my knowledge with Japanese women. However, it was I, who was inspired and educated,” said Leubner. The conference truly succeeded at bringing together and empowering women.
The WELI Association was established in 1957 for the purpose of improving the life and status of rural women. Conference attendees included: Japanese farm women from all different areas of agriculture including dairy, apple, tomato, orange and tea farms to name just a few as well as Japanese government leaders, rural community workers, agri-business entrepreneurs owning farm restaurants, agri-tourism operations and processing facilities for value added products, representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (“MAFF”), and professors from various Universities of Agriculture and Life Sciences. New York Agri-Women began its relationship with WELI at the First Annual Meeting held at Morrisville State College. Two members of WELI who were participating in the United Nations Commission on Women activities in New York, New York attended the conference.
Leubner will be making a presentation about her trip to Tokyo at the second annual New York Agri-Women meeting to be held in Riverhead, New York on March 3, 2012. New York Agri-Women will have two panelists next spring at the United Nations Commission on Women discussing food security.