Women farmers in KY: It’s not your daddy's or grandpa’s farm
The number of women farmers in Kentucky is growing.
Of the 13 million acres farmed in Kentucky, it’s estimated that four million are under the care and cultivation of women. That’s according to an organization called Kentucky Women in Agriculture.
Its President, Babette Overman, says women have a growing voice in agriculture. “We now are seeing ourselves being seated at the tables of conversation about agriculture, and also that our voices are being heard, and the opportunities…immense, immense.”
Why are more women getting into a traditionally male-dominated business?
Overman points to more women going to college to study agriculture, joining groups like 4-H and FFA (Future Farmers of America), and finding ways to add more income to the family farm. “The woman has looked at the soil, and has said, yes, we have cattle, yes, we have pork, yes, we have whatever it may be, but I have an acre over here that’s not being used, and I have a passion for cut flowers. Why not use that acreage that is not being used, and plant something that there can be an additional income?”
Planting and harvesting cut flowers is one example of the non-traditional farming route that some women are taking. Julie Ross of Jessamine County plants, grows and sells many kinds of flowers to wholesalers, retailers, and designers. Ross says, “I’ve always loved flowers and gardening, but we had six children so there wasn’t a whole lot of time for big things.”
Once those children grew up, Ross and her husband bought acreage in rural Jessamine County. She started with a blank piece of land and has spent the last 25 years building her cut flower farm called Agape Fields. It now includes an area open to the public.
Ross created a sanctuary for flower lovers. They buy tickets to come and pick flowers that are in wood-framed grow boxes on the ground.
“I look at it as more of a reprieve. You know you come out here, you hear the birds singing, you can rest, relax, and you just go about it at your leisure, picking and enjoying nature.”
Her two daughters, Jordyn Ritchie and Ahlai Combs have joined their mother as flower farmers. Among many jobs on the farm, Ritchie does most of the fertilizing and spraying for bugs. “I love it. It’s just very therapeutic and calming. I love coming to work every day. It’s awesome.” Combs says the family connection with farming is key, and she sees a spiritual side to it too. “My mom always told us that we should pray over the seeds we put in the ground, pray for people who they’ll touch. We see the need that it filled in the person, and that’s a really rewarding thing to see.”
It’s also a family affair at Stepping Stone Farm on US27 between Paris and Cynthiana. Ally Barnett is the 8th generation to farm here. She and her brother, Brandon and his wife Hanna, are bringing new ideas and income to their family's farm.
“I knew I wanted to be in agriculture, but I did not think I would be farming per se, and so it really just has fallen into our laps.” The 27-year-old says an opportunity came up to lease a nearby orchard from a couple who were retiring.
Barnett, her brother, and sister-in-law began learning what it would take to run a successful orchard and start agritourism on their family farm. Hanna Barnett says, “when we first started, we didn’t know how to price things, we didn’t know exactly what to put on our playground, we didn’t know exactly how to plant stuff so it would be ready for at a certain time. So, we called local orchards. Most of them were open arms, and they have been absolutely wonderful.”
Ally Barnett says, “we’ve also planted here on this farm three thousand apple trees, 600 peach trees, blackberries, red raspberries, and this Spring we did two and a half acres of strawberries.” The playground is built with a 20-foot slide, a corn pit for children, and a picnic shelter. A farmer’s market is opening soon, and they have plans for a large event building for weddings and educational gatherings. Ally Barnett says education is one of their main goals at Stepping Stone Farm. “Really educate where your food is coming from, and to keep it local as well so we will be doing a lot of field trips.” Her father still has beef cattle and grows tobacco on the farm. Ally explains, “my dad is a firm believer in diversity, so he does not want us to put all our eggs in one basket. He taught us that when we started doing this what if something happens to the tobacco industry, or the beef cattle industry, you need to diversify yourself so that you have a safety blanket.”
Stepping Stone Farm and Agape Fields are two examples of Kentucky women taking a non-traditional approach.
Babette Overman says it’s good for agriculture in Kentucky. “We are seeing more and more young women stepping up to grandpa, grandma, mom, dad and saying I want to be the one who carries this on. When you are looking at non-traditional says the future is bright, and it’s only going to get bigger and better for them.”
All the women we talked to say it's hard work, long hours, and challenging. But they love seeing other people enjoy what a farm can offer, and they keep looking for new ways to make the farm a success.
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