“Farming women,” reads a page from a 1977 issue of Country Women Magazine. “Who are we? Young and old? What are the realities of our lives, our history, our farms?”
The same questions could as easily be asked today, when more U.S. women are entering farming than ever before. Since the 1970s, NPR reports, the number of female-led farms has tripled, and women now constitute farming’s largest minority.
But this isn’t the first time the nation has seen a boom in women-led farms. In the 1970s, radical feminism collided with the nascent organic movement and the idea of “womyn’s land” was born. As urban feminist factions splintered into increasingly radicalized subsets, disenchanted members started communes with names like Arkansas’ “Yellowhammer” and Oregon’s “WomanShare.” Independent magazines and newsletters such as Country Women, written by a collective located on California’s Mendocino coast, promised to teach their readers “how to negotiate a land purchase, dig a well, grow vegetables organically, build a fence and shed, deliver a goat, skin a lamb, spin yarn, and raise a flock of good eggs.” Sustainable separatism was the name of the game: when in 2009, Michael Pollan lambasted Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique as “the book that taught millions of American women to regard housework, cooking included, as drudgery, indeed as a form of oppression,” he overlooked an entire generation’s attempts to re-contextualize domestic work as a feminist undertaking.
It was the emphasis on gender politics that differentiates yesterday’s separatist communes and collectives from today’s female farmers.