Veteran Women Farmers Bring Unique Skills and Experience to the Field of Agriculture
“There’s a greater purpose in life for me. I’m meant to be a steward of the land. I know I’m meant to grow things for people. I know I’m meant to feed people. I’m meant to rehabilitate the land with sustainable agriculture practices. It’s just the highest calling there is for me.”
I feel honored to be working with our Veteran Women for the Land program, a partnership between Women for the Land and our Pacific Northwest Regional team. As Women for the Land Initiative Director here at American Farmland Trust, I recently had the privilege of hosting a Free-Range conversation with a few amazing colleagues and partners to celebrate Veterans Day and highlight the work we are doing to better support veteran women farmers in agriculture.
I was joined by Ta ‘Neshia Renae, an Air Force veteran and entrepreneur from the Pacific Northwest who is also an intern with Veteran Women for the Land. Kim Pham, Veteran Conservation Corps Manager for Washington Department of Veteran Affairs and a veteran, also joined in the conversation. Finally, we were joined by Teagan Moran who is an Oregon State University Extension Small Farms coordinator based in the Willamette Valley where she helps to coordinate outreach with women and veteran farmers. Our discussion explored the challenges and opportunities that women veterans in agriculture must contend with to build their agricultural businesses and community ventures. Our discussion explored the challenges and opportunities that women veterans in agriculture must contend with to build their agricultural businesses and community ventures.
Veteran women bring unique skills and experience to the field of agriculture. Many also bring a need for healing and direct connection to the land. Historically, public and private institutions have not served veteran women adequately, particularly as it relates to helping them realize their farming goals. We hope that our recent conversation helped us understand and engage with women veterans in the agricultural community at local to national scales. This work is regional in scope, but it resonates beyond the PNW.
Our conversation also highlighted a recent veteran women farmers’ needs assessment we developed to guide our programmatic work and outreach with those in agriculture. During the past year, we had the privilege of working with 23 women veterans and veteran service providers to better understand what women veterans involved in agriculture need to support their success.
The needs assessment raises the following core findings:
- Veteran women farmers are a diverse group. Just as we know that women farmers are not a monolithic group, we also know that veteran women involved in agriculture have different motivations for growing food and face different challenges. Many are motivated to engage in agriculture because the profession offers a chance to connect to the land, provide healing for the self and others, and create more resilience in the face of uncertain times.
- Intersectional and layered barriers exist for veteran women in agriculture. Many are beginning farmers who are looking to navigate challenges with land access. Others are facing gendered discrimination, and many are wary of public institutions that they may feel have betrayed them or let them down in their return to civilian lives.
- Outreach to veterans and carefully curated spaces for education and networking are important.
Finding and appealing to women veterans in agriculture is a challenge but many find value in connecting with other women and are eager for connections and resources that are curated for them.
Our team is excited to launch more programming in the PNW to directly work with this important underserved audience. And as our partner, Kim Pham said during the Livestream, “we still have so much to learn [to better serve veteran women in agriculture] and that to me is so exciting!” I couldn’t agree more!
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