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Book Report: 'Farmer Jane'

(Gibbs Smith)

I have to confess the real reason I picked up Temra Costa's new book was the title: "Farmer Jane" (Gibbs Smith, 2010). Lucky for me, the topic turned out to be a worthy one. The book profiles women farmers, educators, advocates and chefs who are changing the way we eat.

Farming is a man's world, or at least most people think it is. But Costa argues that women are driving many of the changes in the sector.

Of the top 15 national nonprofits focusing on sustainable agriculture issues, women comprise 61.5 percent of the employees and 60 percent of the executive directors. As mothers of children, nurturers of health and the ones in control of 85 percent of household budgets, women have the largest impact and concern when it comes to what they feed themselves and their families. On the farm, women are one of the fastest-growing demographics to own and operate farms in the United States and they are tending towards diversified, direct-marketed foods that create relationships with eaters.

In each chapter, Costa targets a different area of the "good-food" movement: advocates for social change, promoters of local and seasonal food, urban farmers, etc. Each features profiles of women and ends with "recipes for action": ways that eaters, farmers and food folks can join the movement.

Costa is a compelling writer, but I would have liked to see her select a more diverse group of women. East and West coasts are heavily represented. (Is it possible that nearly all America's progressive female farmers live in Vermont, New York and Northern California?) Even the exceptions prove the rule. Emily Oakley, who runs Three Springs Farm in Oaks, Okla,, got a degree from the University of California-Davis and trained at Full Belly Farm, one of the most well-known CSAs (community supported agriculture) in the country.

Other chapters highlight already well-known women. There's Erika Allen of Growing Power, Novella Carpenter, the author of "Farm City," chef-author Deborah Madison and Traci Miller of Etoile in Madison, Wis. It would be wrong to skip over these women's significant achievements, especially if Costa aims to recruit readers new to sustainable farming. But I would have liked to see more stories such as that of Mily Trevino Sauceda, founder of Organizacion de Lideres Campesinas, a California group that supports women farm workers. The women Costa talks to have already got plenty of press. There are others, no doubt, who need it.

Still, for those who are new to the world of sustainable agriculture, farmers markets and food, "Farmer Jane" is a good introduction. And, Costa hopes, an inspiration.

-- Jane Black

By Jane Black  |  May 27, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Books , Sustainable Food  | Tags: Jane Black, books, sustainable food  
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Thanks for highlighting this informative new book. As an Ohio farm girl, I take great comfort in Temra's writing. Although I agree with you that more midwestern women could have been in the spotlight, I think Denise O'Brien from Iowa and Marion Kalb from New Mexico represent well for those beyond the coasts.

Maybe you'll be Farmer Jane some day!

Farmer Deb

Posted by: DebraEschmeyer | May 27, 2010 3:58 PM | Report abuse

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