Farm Women

Farm women work in agriculture. They are active in all areas of farm work, including risk management and financial aspects. Due to technological and sociological changes, the role of farm women has changed drastically throughout the years. A farm woman may be the wife of a farmer or an independent farmer in her own right.

The 20th century saw a dramatic shift in agricultural life, as more and more people in the United States left rural areas to move to cities. Despite, or perhaps due to, this decline, more women are managing farms, working as farmers themselves and acquiring farmland. A farm is a unique working environment in that there is no separation between home and work. In modern society, most work is done outside the home, whereas on a farm, the home is a productive place.

The farm is essentially a family business. Therefore, a woman living on a farm works alongside her husband in addition to taking care of the family. Compared to other women who generally cook just for their families, a farm woman cooks for her family and for the farm workers. These women may grow and process food and do farm work without pay so as to contribute to production.

There are community and agricultural organizations that cater to the needs of women and families on farms. One such organization, Women Managing the Farm, provides working farm women with resources, tools, information and support. Women can attend conferences where they learn about business planning and employee management.

In 1979, the U.S. Department of Agriculture funded a survey about farm women in response to complaints that these women were not receiving due recognition or appreciation. The Farm Women's Survey of 1980 addressed these women's needs. The information was gathered from interviews with over 2,500 farm women, letters sent by farm women from all over the country and conversations conducted at the National Young Farmers Educational Institute in Ohio.

The survey explored the type of roles women fulfilled on and off the farm, the availability of community organizations directed toward their needs and their social-economic status. These women also provided information on the types of crops they cultivated, the size of their farms and their annual revenues. According to the survey, almost 90 percent of the women had partial ownership of land.

According to Rachel Ann Rosenfeld, author of Farm Women: Work, Farm and Family in the United States, the factor determining the type of work a woman participates in is her marital status. In some cases, a wife may fill in for her husband. An older son may form a partnership with his father, thereby limiting the woman's participation in managerial matters. A woman's formal education also affects the type of work she is involved in.

The women surveyed reported that, on average, they spent two thirds of their life working on the farm. Over 97 percent of the women claimed to be involved in regular housework and about three quarters were their children's primary caregiver. The most active women were between the ages of 30 and 60. The Farm Women's Survey also reported a lack of minorities in the farming world. Over 94 percent of the respondents were white, 4 percent were black and 2 percent were Hispanic.

Due to the overlapping of farm work and home life, farm women tend to work long hours. Farm activities women participate in include running errands, gardening and homemaking, harvesting, taking care of farm animals, bookkeeping, supervising the farm workers and plowing. The more educated or younger women tend to work off the farm. Those with more experience in farming were more active on the farm. On the other hand, only a small percentage of women are active in marketing their produce or making major purchases.

Despite the active role farm women play, many choose not to identify themselves as farm workers. According to Rosenfeld, "the majority of farm women identify with traditional women's roles within the family. The term ‘farm wife,' which some women say they have begun using to emphasize their roles both within the family and on the operation, does not seem to have caught on widely in this context. Identification seems greater with occupations held off the farm than with work women do on the farm." They consider the term farmer as one that applies only to men, and due to the broad range of their work, they fail to define themselves as simply farmers.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Entitled to Power: Farm Women and Technology, 1913-1963
Katherine Jellison.
University of North Carolina Press, 1993
Gendered Fields: Rural Women, Agriculture, and Environment
Carolyn E. Sachs.
Westview Press, 1996
Farm Women: Work, Farm, and Family in the United States
Rachel Ann Rosenfeld.
University of North Carolina Press, 1985
Mama Learned Us to Work: Farm Women in the New South
Lu Ann Jones.
University of North Carolina Press, 2002
Women of the Grange: Mutuality and Sisterhood in Rural America, 1866-1920
Donald B. Marti.
Greenwood Press, 1991
Agrarian Women: Wives and Mothers in Rural Nebraska, 1880-1940
Deborah Fink.
University of North Carolina Press, 1992
Women Farmers and Commercial Ventures: Increasing Food Security in Developing Countries
Anita Spring.
Lynne Rienner, 2000
`Farmers' Wives': Women Who Are Off-Farm Breadwinners and the Implications for On-Farm Gender Relations
Kelly, Roisin; Shortall, Sally.
Journal of Sociology, Vol. 38, No. 4, December 2002
Structural Adjustment and African Women Farmers
Christina H. Gladwin; Center for African Studies University of Florida.
University of Florida Press, 1991
Rural Women Workers in Nineteenth-Century England: Gender, Work and Wages
Nicola Verdon.
Boydell Press, 2002
Partners in Production? Women, Farm, and Family in Ireland
Patricia O'Hara.
Berghahn Books, 1998
Russian Peasant Women
Beatrice Farnsworth; Lynne Viola.
Oxford University Press, 1992
Search for more books and articles on farm women