On average, only 29% of European farms are managed by women. The numbers are higher in Eastern Europe, particularly in Latvia and Lithuania, where women manage 45% of farms. But in Western Europe, the figures quickly plummet. Women manage less than 10% of farms in Germany, Denmark, Malta, and the Netherlands. The reasons behind this are complex, and they differ around the world.
The FAO explains that women “face significant discrimination when it comes to land and livestock ownership, equal pay, participation in decision-making entities and access to credit and financial services.” Despite that discrimination, women are a vital part of the global food system. If women were given the same opportunities as men, their yields could increase by around 30%, producing enough food for another 150 million people.
In this article, we explore this further by talking with farmers and their experience.
Who We Spoke To…
Myrtha Zierock, Agricola Foradori
Myrtha is the co-owner of a biodynamic vineyard and vegetable farm in the Dolomites, Italy. She manages the farm together with her two brothers and mother.
Sophie Gregory, Gregory Agri Ltd
Sophie is a first-generation dairy farmer in Dorset, England. She quit her job in accounting to work full-time on the dairy farm she now owns and manages with her husband. She was recently awarded Arla’s Organic Farmer Dairy Industry Woman of the Year 2021.
Sonia Oliver, Coleshill Organics
Sonia is a British vegetable grower based in Oxfordshire, England, operating a successful business on a 7-acre farm. She has been singlehandedly running the business for the past 10 years.
Rowie Meers, Purton House Organics
Rowie is an organic farmer in Swindon, England. She started out farming in partnership with her husband. But after he passed away 15 years ago, she took the business forward on her own. Purton House Organics produce 100% grass fed meat & eggs.
Mellany Klompe, Klompe Landblouw
Mellany owns the 360-hectare Klompe Farm near Rotterdam, Netherlands, where she and her husband have been farming regeneratively for over a decade. She is also a qualified botanist, environmental scientist, and also the co-founder of Soil Heroes!
Are you wondering why we’ve only interviewed Western Women?
We reached out to women in Britain and Europe for this article because this is the region where Soil Heroes are working. At the same time, we acknowledge that the challenges and triumphs of women farmers will look different depending on each woman’s culture, region, race, religion, and economic background. If you have some articles about female farmers in other contexts that you would like to share, please don’t hesitate to post them in the comments below!
Little girls can grow up to be farmers. This message may seem obvious, but according to our interviews, it is not being adequately portrayed in media and popular culture.
As a child, Sophie never saw a woman on a tractor. She wants to see more variety in the images of agricultural workers that we portray to children. Whether that’s through social media or storybooks, it’s time to challenge the idea that only men drive tractors.
“I never say that I’m a farmer’s wife; I always say that I’m a farmer.” – Sophie
It isn’t just children that need to be taught that women have a place in farming. Myrtha told us about how visitors react to seeing so many female farmworkers on the vineyard. Even the adults are surprised when their ideas about what a farmer should look like are challenged. In her experience, women farmers are frequently underestimated, and it’s time to show people that women can and do farm profitably.
On top of access barriers, women don’t get credit for the work they are already doing. Mellany describes how many women farmers are “shadow workers”, meaning they are actively working on the farm without a salary. This is partly because many farms can not support more than a single salary, but it means that the vital role of women in farming is being overlooked.
Access To Land
Encouraging more diversity in farming doesn’t just come down to inspiring young people. We need to acknowledge that access to land has been more challenging to women for generations and develop policies to help redress that imbalance.
Mellany reminds us that land has been traditionally passed on to men in the family, which has contributed to the disparity in land ownership that we see today. And in countries like the Netherlands, where the price of land is prohibitive, loans and funding must be made more accessible to women if we want to see a meaningful difference in the status quo.
When Sonia started out, she couldn’t afford to buy land to start her vegetable garden. But she got around this barrier unconventionally by presenting a plan to the National Trust for a profitable garden that benefits the community. She now rents 7 acres right in the middle of a village.
She employs four people, as well as students in the summer. She teaches children where their food comes from when they visit the garden, and her veggie box scheme provides 120 boxes a week. She also sells vegetables at the local market and runs a small farm shop. You do not need to own a lot of land to make a living from farming.
“The shorter the supply chain, the healthier the food, the happier the people.”- Sonia
A Different Approach
Sonia achieved a great deal by thinking outside of the box. And the women we spoke to consistently felt that flexibility and creativity were key strengths of women farmers. In Rowie’s experience, women farmers are innovative and resourceful, especially when diversifying income streams for a farm.
She also finds her female colleagues to be particularly compassionate around animal welfare, essential in redressing the industrialisation of the food system and the welfare concerns that come along with it.
Women will never say, “it’s not my job to do this.” In farming, everything is everyone’s job. – Rowie
Myrtha adds that women farmers tend to take a more nurturing approach to the land. She is working in the family vineyard at the same time as she raises her 18-month son. At times, this is tough. But the experience of motherhood has taught her a lot about farming too.
Since becoming a mother, Myrtha sees a lot of similarities between feeding the soil and feeding a child. She has noticed that her approach is different from her brothers, who tend to be more precise and analytical. But she sees neither as better than the other. You need both intuition and precision to make great wine.
“Nourishing the land and nourishing a child is the same: it’s the feeling that you are responsible for a living being”.Myrtha
Rubie Van Crevel
Business Development, NL
Let’s talk about Regenerative Agriculture
You know you’ll dig it too.