Running a farm takes many skills—from planting seeds and caring for animals, to managing finances, and getting food into the hands of customers each week. Women across the region have stepped up to the challenge and play important roles at farms of all sizes.
Nationally and regionally, according to the USDA Census of Agriculture, most farmers are male with women farmers making up only a small minority of overall farmers. Things appear to be different, though, for local farmers growing and selling food in local markets. Growing food for local markets is attracting more and more women to farming and women farmers are at the forefront of a revolution in how our food is being grown.
ASAP’s Local Food Research Center tracks changes in the local food system through annual surveys of more than 800 local farms in the Southern Appalachian region. Most farms are run by multiple farmers, and as of the last survey, 45% of them were women, including 38% with a woman as the “principal operator,” which means they’re in charge of the majority of the decision making.
Over the next few weeks, Growing Local will profile women who are leading the way in the local food movement. We’ll meet a young farmer who is growing flowers as well as a thriving new business. We’ll also get to know a key player in the food system who is connecting farm-fresh food with customers.
And today we’ll introduce you to Cassandra Bare from Harvest Farm in Valle Crucis, North Carolina. She grows produce on nearly 300 acres, including summer crops like heirloom tomatoes, and fall staples like pumpkins and gourds. She sells wholesale through retailers such as Ingles, a regional grocery chain. Her farm is also an agritourism destination where visitors can pick up a pair of pruners and cut their own pumpkins in the field.
If you ask Bare about her role as the owner of a larger-scale farm, get ready for a long list of responsibilities. She manages the planting cycles, estimates when produce will be ready for harvest, and maintains food safety certification records.
Harvest Farm employs farmworkers to do much of the hands-on work with the produce, but as agritourism season ramps up, you’ll find Bare in the field preparing the corn maze. “I use a GPS mapping system to go out and get the coordinates,” she says. “Then I transfer my drawing on to the mapping software and then I’ll go out and cut the corn maze with the lawnmower.”
Bare is a fifth-generation farmer who learned the basics on her father’s Christmas tree farm and nursery. “As a kid, I was driving the tractors, I’d help with a planting crew. We’d trim trees, fertilize. Whatever everybody else did, I did too.”
Bare has two younger sisters who weren’t interested in taking over the family farm. But Bare enjoyed working outside, and says her faith was the main reason she devoted her life to farming. Although she’s upbeat when she talks about the many facets of her farming career, she doesn’t shy away from talking about the hard parts, too. She says the biggest challenge of running a larger-scale farm is caring for her family at the same time.
“The hardest part is balancing being a workaholic and a mom, because I’ve got two little kids and I had to learn the hard way how to balance that,” she says. “That’s probably the most challenging thing about [running the farm].”
Luckily, her kids are eager to learn how to farm, and Bare has been able to pass down some of the skills she learned as a child. “During the summer they come to the farm three days a week and they’ve been helping plant vegetable seeds and harvesting,” she says. “My little girl is four and she knows how to work all the switches on a tractor already.”
Bare says she hopes her kids will want to take over the farm someday. In the meantime, she’ll keep the 300 acres running smoothly so everything is in place when the next generation is ready to take over.
Learn about more Western North Carolina farms and the women who run them in ASAP’s Local Food Guide – www.appalachiangrown.org
Aired: August 27, 2018