Women on the land

How to support local farmers

Female farmers and landowners are a vital part of agriculture in Solano County and the nation. According to American Farmland Trust, there are one million women farm operators in America and another half-a-million women landowners who lease their land to farmers. “The future of agriculture is increasingly female,” says the national nonprofit.

Here in Solano County we have many local heroes such as Jeanne McCormack, who has herded sheep for decades on her family’s historic ranch at McCormack Ranch; Jean Brazelton, who continues to be the heart of Vacaville’s Brazelton Ranch; Amy Grabish, who raises heritage animals in Dixon at Grabish Farm; Ethel Hoskins of Joyful Ranch, whose family has a storied history of farming in the area; Lisa Howard of Tolenas Vineyards and Winery, who has come home to make wine in Suisun Valley; and Alexis Koefoed of Soul Food Farm, who continues to push the boundaries of what a small, family farm means today.

Amy Grabish raises heritage animals at Grabish Farm.

Others have played major roles on family farms that couldn’t have survived without their support, including Victoria Erickson of Erickson Ranch; Linda Tenbrink of Tenbrink Farm; and Lorraine Walker at Eatwell Farm. Although Full Belly Farm is in the Capay Valley and not in Solano County, a list of farm heroes wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Judith Redmond, an early leader in the community-supported-agriculture (CSA) movement. Fully Belly Farm has a CSA drop-off site at Rush Ranch.

Lisa Howard of Tolenas Vineyards and Winery is harvest happy.

Alexis Koefoed of Soul Food Farm gathers eggs and licks.

Challenges and solutions

All farmers face challenges that include land access, climate change, development pressures, and land restoration, but women have troubles unique to their gender.

These disparities are being addressed by Solano Land Trust and others. Last December, we hosted a “learning circle” for women farmers at Rush Ranch. The American Farmland Trust coordinated the event, which included a visit to Soul Food Farm in Vacaville.

Alexis Koefoed, owner of Soul Food Farm, says that land access and the business aspects of farming are the greatest challenges for all farmers. In addition to thinking about soil, farmers deal with mortgages, insurance, loans, how to be equitable with workers, and selling their products. “It’s cross gender but worse for women,” she says. “Farmers are thinking about a lot of things other than the carrots they’re growing.”

Beyond sustainable

Each solution is regenerative farming, says Alexis, who hosts a Women of Abundance workshop each September. “The idea of a regenerative system is to rebuild the land and the community into something long lasting that is much more than sustainable,” she says. “It is to leave something behind that others can benefit from.”

How can you help farmers in your community? Visit their farms and buy their products. Alexis cites a study that says that each dollar spent locally instead of at a big-box store travels through the community seven times, and that builds economic pathways.

Together, we can support family farms in our community by understanding their needs and challenges, and by seeking out and buying their products.

Thank you for being part of the solution.

Photos courtesy of Aleta George, Tolenas Vineyards and Winery, and Soul Food Farm.