Women Farmers Find Inspiration at Ag Diversity Symposium

Posted: February 6, 2016

One hundred women farmers and educators came together to celebrate diversity and resilience at the annual symposium in December.
Marian Dalke and Amanda Morales of Norris Square Neighborhood Project presenting about their work in Philadelphia.

Marian Dalke and Amanda Morales of Norris Square Neighborhood Project presenting about their work in Philadelphia.

More than one hundred participants gathered in early December for the Pennsylvania Women’s Agricultural Network’s  (PA WAgN) fifth annual networking symposium in State College. The topic was “Women Farmers Building Agricultural Resilience Through Diversity” presented by Kitchen Table Consultants. Mostly women involved in food production, the participants shared inspirational stories, planted the seeds of new relationships, and gained both personal and professional insights through speakers, panels and workshops that covered a variety of topics such as challenges of different scales of production and grower backgrounds, urban farming, marketing diverse products, herbal remedies for the farm, and business management.

The exciting day was kicked off by Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Hannah Smith-Brubaker who said, “PA WAgN is filled with members who offer each other resounding support to strategize a path forward, both in times of success and challenge, and, honestly, the assurance we are all working together to do what it takes to feed our families and our communities.”

Keynote speaker Natasha Bowens, author of The Color of Food: Stories of Race, Resilience and Farming, delivered poignant observations from her travels and interviews with farmers throughout the United States. She described how, through the support of the local and organic foods movement, disadvantaged farmers become visible and build successful farms. Bowens talk was followed by a panel of diverse urban farmers from Philadelphia who described their challenges and successes in establishing community gardens and farms in Latino, African American and Asian communities.

PA WAgN’s mission is to encourage and support women in agriculture; provide and strengthen networks for women in agriculture; provide educational and mentoring opportunities for women in agriculture; raise community awareness of agricultural related issues and concerns; and sustain farming livelihoods. Each year, PA WAgN honors members who exemplify outstanding support of the organization’s mission. For 2015, the “Wagoner” award was given to Leah Tewksbury of Tewksbury Grace Farm in Muncy. Leah operates the organic produce farm with her spouse, offering community supported agriculture (CSA) shares and selling directly to restaurants. Leah’s fellow farmers chose her because she "drives PA-WAgN forward by exemplifying PA-WAgN's goal to encourage and support women in agriculture by giving of her time and resources to help other women farmers succeed in farming."

Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Hannah Smith-Brubaker was honored with the WAgN Bolster Award. Along with her spouse, she operates Village Acres Farm and FoodShed, an organic produce and pastured poultry farm in Juniata County.  The farm provides CSA shares to 250 families on a weekly basis and also touches another 1,500 plates a week through participation in a grower’s cooperative that markets to Washington, D.C. and Baltimore area restaurants.  Hannah was nominated because she "has helped to bring wider recognition of the importance of women farmers to their communities, governments and to agriculture as a whole. Through her work as Deputy Secretary of Agriculture she is decreasing the friction between traditional roles and the new woman in agriculture."