Women Farmers in Sustainable Agriculture Share Words of Wisdom

March 11, 2022

 

For Women’s History Month, we’re spotlighting women who are pursuing a more connected, innovative, and sustainable future and recognizing their integral role in our food production. According to findings from the United States Department of Agriculture, women are operators on 51% of farms in the United States. This week, we talked with a few of the hardworking and successful women of the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market about how they started farming, why they have continued, and what they have learned along the way.

Growing a Supportive Network, Marsha Habib 

Marsha Habib (pictured above) started Oya Organics as a one-woman operation in Hollister. It has grown since then, and today the fully diversified organic farm rotates 50 annual crops, including tomatoes, brassicas, and beans. As a mother of two, Marsha has taken on much of the business’ administrative responsibilities, making deliveries and working in the fields when she can. 

How did you get started farming?

I was farming for a nonprofit and managing a very small microfarm in Hollister. The nonprofit decided to cut that program at the same time that my term ended with them. So I didn’t have a job, and I had this microfarm that I had been taking care of for a couple years. I continued to farm that plot, then I started to make connections and moved on to another piece of land.

What do you find challenging about farming?

The production is really complex, because you start from soil and seeds to bring your project all the way to harvest and market. There are so many different things to take care of, from planting, weeding, and irrigation mechanics to marketing, accounting, and certification. There are so many different hats to wear.

What do you love?

I love so many things. I love working with the soil and the plants, and also, meeting other people. Learning from them and their experiences is really rewarding. Farming is a language that is universal across the entire world. Anyone, anywhere, has a connection to food and growing plants and varieties that remind them of home. I also like always being surrounded by the organic produce that we grow in the field. Being able to pick some pea shoots and munch on them in the field, and not worry about there being pesticides on them, is a really great benefit.

What advice do you have for women who are aspiring farmers?

I think it’s a really great career or life to get into, especially as a woman. What’s really important is to surround yourself with people who share that passion, and to have good neighborly relations with fellow farmers and encourage one another. Do things, as much as you can, to support one another as small farmers. It’s a difficult world, especially in California where there are a lot of large players who might have really strong profit motives. So, small farmers have to stick together. Build your network, and seek out those relationships within the farming community.

Thinking Outside the Box, Corie Brooks

A former scientist, Corie Brooks is the owner of Brooks & Daughters, a microfarm in Forestville, where she grows over 30 different sprouts and microgreens at any time. Corie, along with 2 part-time employees, grow everything they sell at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.

How did you get started farming? 

I started experimenting with sprouts because I’d always liked growing things, and it took off. I had been a food scientist for 20 years and as the business grew, I got more and more into it. 

What do you find challenging about farming? What do you love?

It’s probably the same thing. The challenge is, little plants are so delicate and so many things can go wrong, but that’s also the part that I enjoy. We’re always problem solving. So, it’s both the fun and the horror of farming—that there’s always something going wrong, but it’s never boring. It’s not like you’re doing the same thing all the time here. Other things I enjoy are the farmers market customers and the chefs, who are a joy to work with. The markets are just a lot of fun. Now, we’re in our 28th year, and starting in January through early March, we had three record sales at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.

What advice do you have for women who are aspiring farmers?

Think outside of the box. I remember having a man tell me that his brother was in big trouble because the price of whatever they were growing in the region was not good enough to support them. I thought, Why does he have to grow what everybody else is growing? I wouldn’t try to do what every other person is doing at the farmers market, or as a farmer. Try to find something that fits your own talents and circumstances and is something that nobody else is doing. 

Pursuing a Sustainable Future, Jill Kayne

Jill’s parents, Robin and Nancy Gammons, started Four Sisters Farm in 1978. All four of their daughters, who the farm is named after, play some role in the family farm, but Jill is the farm manager. Based in Aromas, the family’s farm brings diverse offerings to the farmers market, from kiwi to purslane, but it is especially known for its flowers.

How did you get started farming? 

I’m passionate about food, food sustainability, and agricultural sustainability. I grew up on my family’s organic farm, and I always loved being outside. I started doing farmers markets when I was 13, and at 16, I started helping my mom with the flower production on our farm. I went away to college, came back, got married and had kids, and then I started taking a bigger role in the operations of the farm. 

What do you find challenging about farming?

Well, there are many challenges. The main one at this point would probably be the unpredictability of climate change and water, definitely a big factor in California. Our well is pumping less water than it did 30 years ago, so that would probably be the main challenge. 

What do you love?

I love being in synchronicity with the rhythms of the natural world. You feel it when you’re out there, working in the dirt and with the soil, the plants, and the pollinators. Being a part of that and watching things grow is really fun. Seeing a little sprout come up from the soil and then watching it grow into either a beautiful vegetable or a blossom, becoming a kiwi fruit or an avocado, and then taking it to the farmers market and selling directly to our customers.

What advice do you have for women who are aspiring farmers?

I would encourage anybody who’s interested to start shopping at the farmers market, because then you get a little bit closer to the rhythms of the season, and you get to know your local farmers and gather information. It’s a beautiful livelihood, and I think more younger women getting into farming could change the trajectory of the agricultural business because how it is now, with factory farming, is not sustainable in our world. I think that not just women, but any marginalized or diverse groups of people will be the change makers for our food system and all of our systems. 

Support Oya Organics, Brooks & Daughters, and Four Sisters Farm at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Saturdays.

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