Building Power Among California Womxn in Agriculture: Celebrating Wins, Advancing our Coalition
After weeks of torrential rain and destructive wind, two California state assemblymembers gathered on a sunny Saturday afternoon at Pie Ranch with our Women for the Land (WFL) team and 30 women farmers to celebrate the passage of the nation’s first Women in Agriculture Resolution. This diverse group of women farmers, ranchers, and advocates dialogued with their elected officials and our WFL team about what can be done next to build on the momentum of the resolution and bolster the potential of women-led farms in the region.
Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, the legislative champion for the California Women in Agriculture Resolution, spoke at the event alongside her new colleague, Assemblymember Gail Pellerin, to address the issues that the rural and agricultural communities they represent are facing. On the heels of the recent shooting in nearby Half Moon Bay, Assemblymember Aguiar-Curry highlighted the need to improve living and working conditions for California farmworkers, a growing share of whom are women.
Assemblymember Pellerin recounted her upbringing in a family where girls were socialized differently than boys and noted that the research our Women for the Land team shared on disparities and barriers for women in agriculture made her feel motivated to find ways to collaborate with colleagues such as Assemblymember Aguiar-Curry to foster a more equitable future in agriculture.
We know that we are far from achieving equity in agriculture. For instance, women are more likely to have small and medium-sized farms with lower farm sales, earning 40% less farm income, on average, compared to farms operated by men. Despite being critical to supporting farmers’ resilience to disasters such as the recent floods in California’s Central Coast, massive disparities still exist in women’s access to farm conservation programs.
For example, between 2015-2020, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in California awarded just 16% of Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) incentive contracts to women, only 2% of which went to non-white women1. EQIP is the most popular program at NRCS, but evidence suggests that a combination of risk aversion, land tenure barriers, internalized sexism, and biased culture within agricultural institutions are contributing factors to these continued disparities.
Having recently suffered devastating losses from climate-exacerbated storms, many farmers at the event were calling for improved safety net resources, disaster assistance, and land access support, especially for undocumented farmers. The group was also galvanized to engage more across genders to address the issues that keep womxn in agriculture from achieving their full potential. Afterall, these issues are not just for womxn to solve amongst ourselves.
Among them were Verónica Mazariegos-Anastassiou of Brisa Ranch, who has been a rising leader across the Central Coast and statewide through her work with the California Farmer Justice Coalition and her recent win as school board member in her local district.
Celsa Ortega, an immigrant woman farmer and single mother of four, shared her journey of advocacy as survival for herself, her children, and her community of farmers in the Salinas region. She emphasized that her community grows organic vegetables for the nation and beyond yet can scarcely afford to eat the healthy food they produce.
Meagen Baldy, an Indigenous producer and advocate of the Hoopa Tribal Nation, also participated in the panel virtually, sharing her hope for Indigenous women to embrace again their powerful role as food stewards.
Through both federal and state advocacy, as well as continued farmer education, our Women for the Land team will be continuing to push for these priorities. But this work is some of the most challenging to resource. If you want to help us advance this work, consider supporting our California agriculture work at AFT or reaching out to our team about ways you can lend your skills, networks, or resources.