I just have to dive right in and say it: women farmers are awesome! They are the single strongest and most resilient group of people I have met in my life. Many people know just how challenging farming can be, but did you know it can be much more so for women farmers?
The design world has recently received criticism for producing products created with men’s proportions and characteristics in mind more so than women’s. From the placement of seat belt straps, to the temperature regulation of office environmental control units, to the dimensions of hand tools, the world is often a far more comfortable and useful place for the brawnier sex. These disparities permeate the tools, equipment, and clothing of agriculture, where women make-up just 31% of all farmers.
Almost one-third of farmers in the United States hail from the gender of curves, petite hands, lower center of gravity, the anatomical obstacles that are breasts, comparatively lower upper body strength, and smaller mass. The angle required to apply appropriate leverage for crowbars, the location of safety buttons and switches in power tools, the grip size of hand tools, the height of steps up to a tractor are just a few examples of ergonomic and design challenges women farmers face. And, 76% of this one-third of farmers currently gross less than $10,000 in annual sales. The reality is that the agricultural world is designed for the other two-thirds who carry the vast majority of the market share in farming tools, equipment, and apparel. The practical effect of this gender bias in agricultural engineering and design are tools that are far less functional and ergonomic for women.
But, women in farming are rising. And, as we rise, the designers and engineers take notice and begin to design with more diverse proportions in mind. Companies like Green Heron Tools, Red Ants Pants, and Meadow Creature are a few examples of products designed for body diversity. We haven’t yet reached the tipping point, but as women farmers gain in number the work will become smoother, more efficient, more ERGONOMIC!
For now, though, women farmers are getting creative. We are finding ways to make our farming systems work with the tools we have right now, and the most important tool we have is each other. This is why I am organizing the Women Who Farm Field Day Series this summer. I want to bring together women farmers, and the men who stand beside them, to celebrate together and learn from each other. I want to create a powerful movement that empowers women on the farm, that creates more chances to market products, to learn new technologies and techniques, and gives women the opportunity to learn how other women have made it all work.
I hope each one of you will join me at our first Women Who Farm event with Deborah Niemann at Antiquity Oaks on June 25. Let’s share, support, and learn together.