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Empowered Women Through The Food System – The UN Speech

March 7th, 2012 @ 11:05 am by Sheila Marshman

Thank you all for your support here is the final speech.

My name is Sheila Marshman. I am a Professor of Agricultural Business and Chair of the Department of Agricultural Science at Morrisville State College. I was born with my passion for agriculture, as I share common bond with my Mother, and each previous generation to her, we all married farmers. I am hopeful, that my daughter will be the farmer, that someday is married. She will have this opportunity, because of the advances that women like you have made and continue to make in agriculture.

Thirty years ago women were not welcome on many “farms or in agribusiness.” Today,
women in agriculture are now such a familiar sight on farms that they can’t be
turned away at the farm gate.

Jan Bitter,
Vice President Farm Credit East. A female
executive with the Farm Credit System who has been successful at breaking
through the glass ceiling.

Certainly,  we could attribute much of our success to the feminist movement, as men and women in the US have equal rights.  However, attention must be focused on the global food system.  The US imports 25% of the food consumed by its citizens, and less than 1% of the imported food is inspected. This leaves many consumers wanting to know more about their food, the origin of their food, and the farmers who grow their food.

 

Sheila Marshman at a Farmer's Market in China

Women in the US are rising to the occasion of providing answers to questions about the food system.  The responsibilities we accept in agriculture are as diverse as the industry itself.  We are educators, entrepreneurs, executives, board members, and stewards of the land.  We are united by our ability to nurture, preserve our agricultural heritage, protect the environment, educate consumers, and ensure a safe and prosperous food supply.

There is an increase in the number of women farmers in the US. According to the 2007 US agricultural census, fourteen percent of the 2.2 million farms in the US are owned by women.  This is an increase of 5% from the 2002 census.  Thirty percent of U.S. farm operators are women; this is an increase of 19% from the 2002 Census. We will have a 2012 agricultural census and expect to see double digit increases in women farmers.

Woman as food consumers and woman as farmers are a winning combination for the US food system. In the US, women account for 85% of the food purchasing decisions. The result is an increased demand for farmers’ markets, local and regional foods.  The US now has well over 5,274 farmers markets.

 

 

Long Island CSA

 

The GreenMarket farmer’s markets, here in NYC are the best examples of successful farmer and consumer relationships. With what started 30 years ago with 12 farmers, has grown into 54 markets, 230 farm families and 30,000 acres of farmland protected from development.  The Greenmarkets have changed regional agriculture and the regional food system.   Farmers are now directly connected to wholesalers, retailers, and chefs.  These relations have helped NYC evolve into the culinary capital of the world.

Community supported agriculture (CSA) has also experienced rapid growth.  In 2005, there were 1,144 community-supported agriculture organizations (CSAs) in operation, up from just 2 1986.  CSA’s have proven to be an excellent way of bringing communities together, educating children, promoting healthier lifestyles and a healthier environment. Through USDA food programs such as the WIC, for women, infant and children and the food stamp program,  CSA’s and Farmers Markets serve all citizens including those most in need.

We also have a strong rural infrastructure. The Farm Credit system is a farmer owned agricultural cooperative, established by Congress  in 1916 to provide a reliable source of credit for the nation’s farmers and ranchers. Today, the system provides more than one-third of the credit needed  by those who live and work in rural America. Farm Credit is governed by farmers in the form of regional boards of directors, many of whom are women.

Farm Credit recently initiated FarmStart, a program to support talented, hardworking individuals entering agriculture. FarmStart assists beginning farmers and new cooperatives through their start-up years by providing working capital investments of up to $50,000 to get their business off the ground. Farm credit is an equal opportunity lender. Men and women who qualify have equal access to credits.

 

 

Farm Credit's FarmStart program

 

American farm women are also stepping forward in many leadership capacities, in administration, public affairs, public relations and education, just to name a few areas. Our current New York Agri-women President and founder Cari Rincker is a farm owner, NYC Food and Agriculture attorney, as well as a leadership board member for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s Young Producers’ Council.  Member Judi Whittaker, a farm owner from Whitney Point, NY spends countless hours advocating for food and agriculture both at the local and national levels through her work with the American Farm Bureau. Judi is also a graduate of LEAD NY, a two-year program of seminars, workshops and field travel, for committed individuals who wish to step up and make a difference in our state’s food, agricultural, and natural resource industries.

We recognize that our children are our future and we support youth education. The FFA, Future Farmers of America was founded by a group of young farmers back in 1928. Their mission was to prepare future generations for the challenges of feeding a growing population. This high school educational program teaches that agriculture is more than planting and harvesting– it’s a science, it’s a business and it’s an art.  More women are rising to the occasion to serve as FFA teachers.

We are united by our passion to educate the consumer. We bring consumers together at our farms; we promote healthy eating and exercise. Many women, including Chris Fesko have turned these initiatives into profitable business entitles.  . NY Agri-woman member Chris Fesko created an On the Farm Discovery Center. Annually, she hosts thousands of visitors to her farm to learn about food and agriculture while also learning math science  and language arts. This is in addition to the numerous award winning on farm educational videos that she produces and markets around the world.

Chris Fesko educating children

Down the road from Chris Fesko is Erica Leubner, the owner of Tim’s Pumpkin Patch. Leubner welcomes over 130,000 visitors to her  farm annually for agricultural enjoyment and entertainment.

The US also has a strong academic system of Higher Education.  In 1862, through the Morrill Act, congress created the Land Grant System for the purpose of conducting agricultural research and outreach. New York State is the home of Cornell University which is world renowned for its research in food  science.

We are also blessed with several applied colleges of agriculture including my place of employment Morrisville State College, where we prepare young people to not just get a job, but to create a job in the agricultural industry. Most recently, agricultural business development student Jenn Masters worked with Nelson Farms, the college’s small scale food processing facility, to create Country Crunch using a recipe developed by her grandmother. Jenn will graduate in May with both a degree and an agricultural business in hand.

Our combined efforts have helped US agriculture become the most developed in the world. Through our production efforts we provide food and fiber for the growing domestic and international markets. Thanks to the growing number of women involved in agriculture we are doing so with a renewed interest in social responsibility, food safety, and environmental stewardship.

 

Laura Hanehan a future farm owner and manager

 

Although, our success as entrepreneurs and leaders in the local food system is noteworthy, large scale corporate agricultural business in the US still largely  dominated by a white male workforce.  A nineteen percent wage gap still exists between men and women and there are more men found in upper management then women.   We have great hopes that NY Agri-women members like Molly Zorn, a National Account Manager for Genex  Cooperative, Rebecca Snyder, our incoming New York Agri-Women President and Animal Nutritionist for the global powerhouse Cargill, as well as  Julie Patterson an owner of Patterson Farms, Inc. will be successful at making positive strides to break through the glass ceiling, paving the way for future generations of women to make decisions about agriculture and the global food system.

We need more women to reach their fullest potential in agriculture, as there is still much to be done. We lack the infrastructure related to the distribution of  local and regional food. We are not able to move local food into mainstream markets in a cost-effective manner. Finally, because most small farmers must  combine their products with other farmers’ products to make processing and shipping more economical, challenges are posed for product quality,  consistency, and traceability. Without traceability in place, wholesale buyers must assume higher levels of risk and liability in cases of foodborne illness.

What do we want our daughters to say about us in 30 years from now?  How about this: we worked to collectively develop a safe, secure and economically viable local food model that was applied to all regions of the world.

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