I sit here in the wake of Thanksgiving, my favorite on the all-too-sparse menu of U.S. holidays, and I really feel the need to express my gratitude. Sure, I could talk about the relative prosperity of modern Americans. I could write about my wonderful family and friends. I could go on and on about my privileges as a college-educated white male.
Instead, I’m going to say a bit about farm women and their role in modern agriculture.
Farm women deserve all of the credit in the world for the roles they play, as farmers and as workers and providers of income and care. They are critical in all aspects of the family farm. They drive tractors, own land, make meals, tend the younger generations, work off the farm, and more to make sure that family farms keep chugging along. They balance checkbooks, pay bills, bake pies to support community events, and do much of the hard work it takes to keep rural communities churning.
You might be surprised to learn some statistics about the role of women in agriculture. You might not be aware that 30 percent of the nation’s farm operators are women. That share is likely to continue to grow. After all, women tend to live longer than us males—by quite a few years. A lot of women end up owning and controlling a lot of land due to longevity. And they do the work it takes to keep the farm going.
But that’s not the only story. There’s another narrative behind the numbers for a great swath of farm families—those of us who also work off the farm, as we try to keep building our farm assets. Women provide critical family income to help pay the bills and supplement family farm income. They hold down “steady” jobs with benefits like health insurance so our kids can go the doctor when a bone inevitably breaks.
My wife is a kindergarten through high school art teacher at a local rural school. She leaves the house before 7 a.m. every Monday through Friday and gets home right around sundown. Our pay is comparable, but hers provides the regular income and the benefits our family needs to get through the lean times in my farming-and-writing livelihood. She is the real backbone of our family’s economic order.
So, in honor of the women out there in rural America, those who bear and raise the children, those who work hard for paid and unpaid hours, those whose labor is often under-represented and under-respected, I give you a great big cheer of thanks. You are the real heroes of the food system.
It’s times like these when I wish I could summon the courage to be more poetic than I am right now. But just know, I truly appreciate all that you do, Women of Farm Country, to help keep the world turning. Thank you, and may the holiday season be happy and abundant for each of you.
Bryce Oates is a farmer, a father, a writer, and a conservationist in western Missouri. He lives and works on his family’s multigenerational farm, tending cattle, sheep, goats, and organic vegetables. His goals in life are simple: to wake up before the sun, catch a couple of fish, turn the compost pile, dig some potatoes, and sit by the fire in the evening, watching the fireflies mimic the stars.
PHOTO: ANGIE THOMAS