Ask your average American, “what does a farmer look like?”, and you are likely to get an outdated answer. In fact, if you Google the question, images of men dominate the search results. But the demographics of farming are changing: according to the USDA, the number of women-operated farms increased nearly three-fold from 1978 to 2007. Online projects such as the Female Farmer Project and FarmHer are documenting the change.
Nowhere is this change more evident than at NC Choices’ Women Working in the Meat Business, a conference that was launched in 2013 and is already doubling in size to meet growing demand. The conference attracts women livestock farmers, processors, and professionals from around the country who raise, butcher, prepare, and/or market pasture-raised meat. They hunker down in Orange County, North Carolina for more than two full days of training from the nation’s top professionals on everything from on-farm management to whole-animal butchery.
The conference grew out of a women-led panel discussion at the 2012 NC Choices’ Carolina Meat Conference, the largest local meat conference in the country. The packed discussion started with women’s various roles in the meat business and quickly turned to strategies for dealing with the challenges of working in male-dominated spaces, for example at a meat processing plant.
According to Sarah Blacklin, NC Choices Program Director, “one major challenge for women is how to build credibility as owners/operators of a meat business while still developing a ‘safe space’ to ask questions and learn. Many times women won’t ask questions because they don’t want to seem uninformed in front of men in the business, which delays learning. Women Working in the Meat Business provides women with the opportunity to ask those questions freely while simultaneously building a professional network of women peers who validate, support, and understand these challenges. On top of that, they build real business-to-business connections throughout the process.”
The following year, Women Working in the Meat Business was launched. In a follow-up survey, 100% of participants reported greater understanding and improved confidence in pricing, profitability, marketability, understanding tools/resources, and developing a professional network. In March of this year, Women Working in the Meat Business and Blacklin were recognized as “changing rural communities and agriculture for the better” as part of Farm Credit’s 100 Fresh Perspectives national awards.
Women Working in the Meat Business is already generating a list of successful “graduates”, including women who have gone on to open butcher shops, author books, expand their livestock production, and launch alternative meat businesses including online meat buying services.
And in case you’re wondering how to express your excitement about the rise of women in agriculture, Modern Farmer reports that ”a team of Google employees created 13 new emojis that depict a wide range of jobs held by women,” including a woman farmer. Linked to in the article is Lady Butchers Grab the Knife, an article about – you guessed it – Women Working in the Meat Business.
Mark your calendars for Women Working in the Meat Business, October 2-4 in Chapel Hill, NC. Register now, space is extremely limited! For more information please visit carolinameatconference.com/women.
Top photo: Anne Rose, Women Working in the Meat Business graduate. Photo credit: Stephen Bailey, Heifer International.