Being passionate about eating well and caring about the food you consume can lead you to some interesting places, like a field of okra.
This article is part of our Farming Women and Women in Homesteading series. Read the introductory article and find links to many more profiles here.
CHATTAHOOCHEE HILLS--Brinton Fox had come so close to spending her life pouring over documents, dressed in a pantsuit in a fancy office, but the earthy life of farming women fit her so much better.
“I thought I was going to go into environmental law or food ethics, but then I realized I wanted to be on the other side,” said the then-25-year-old, who was Serenbe Farms’ assistant manager at the time, as she worked in a field of okra last summer.
The Clemson University graduate was not involved in agricultural programs at all when she started school, but she was passionate about eating well, so she joined the on-campus CSA. (CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, a club in which members buy in or assist in the labor on a farm in order to receive their own regular bounty of produce).
“I liked the CSA environment so much, I started volunteering. That CSA led me to what I’m doing now,” Fox said.
As she spoke, she continued manually tilling grass away from the fragile young plants with a stirrup hoe. Soon, the okra would be on dinner plates in Serenbe, either in one of the on-site restaurants that regularly uses the farm’s produce, or in the homes of the many residents who shop at the community farmer’s market and rely on the farm’s CSA for produce.
Fox became an employee at the farm, which is in the heart of the utopian-like community south of Atlanta, to learn how to manage a farm. The hands-on education involves not only labor in the fields, but also managing the books, ensuring supplies are ordered on time and understanding how to improve the land -- as well as improving the success of the CSA, itself. A day’s work might involve working in the fields, lining up a buyer for an overflow of bok choy, and posting a recipe online for CSA members.
Fox’s ultimate goal is to own a farm of her own -- and there are many young women who share her passion. In fact, women have become the majority of students studying in agriculture-related fields, according to this article in Purdue University’s Agricultures magazine.
Many, like Fox, are drawn specifically to organic farming and the slow food movement, hoping to fill a growing nationwide demand for healthier food sources.
“I definitely believe there is a new generation of farmers,” Fox said, and that’s good news for the industry. This USDA study projects there will be close to 58,000 job openings in the food, agriculture, renewable natural resources, and environment fields every year as the world prepares to feed a projected population of more than 9 billion people by 2050.
Aware of the growing demands, Fox’s generation has a strong grasp of the need to teach others to farm, too. When she was in school in South Carolina, she worked with the national Farm to School Network, which aims to improve all children’s access to local food and nutrition education. And at Serenbe Farms, children from the local Montessori School come weekly to assist with farm projects.
But Fox said there is a major challenge for future farming women: a lack of available farmland.
“There’s a huge gap. As older farmers age, there are options to lease farmland, but it’s a challenge to learn to farm without owning land.”
Fox said there is ongoing research to find out how to better use the land that is available. For example, researchers are looking into ways to better use former commercial timberland, such as the land Rethink:Rural’s parent company, Raydient Places + Properties, markets, for various types of farming.
“I just hope there will be opportunities for future farming women like me,” Fox said.
All photography by Gary Clark, a former Southern Living Magazine travel photographer and photographer of the United States Postal Service 2014 Star-Spangled Banner Forever stamp. See more of Gary's work and contact him at www.thegaryclark.com.