Massachusetts Women Take Up Farming

Across the state of Massachusetts, more and more women are relying on small-scale farms for their livelihood.

Most of the women-owned farms that are popping up across the state are small in scale and feature higher-priced gourmet foods that are likely to bring a good price. For instance, many women raise goats and other small livestock to make specialty cheese and fibers for clothing. Others grow expensive herbs or manage vineyards. Many sell their homemade food and crafts at little cost by setting up roadside stands.

Barbara Goodwin grows blueberries for a living and sees women’s advances into farming as a natural extension of women’s general financial and educational advances. “The same evolution is happening in farming as has happened in business,” noting that, while she got a few strange looks when she first started, “nobody bats an eye at me anymore.”

The New England Agricultural Statistics Service reported that the number of women farmers increased by 13 percent in the region. Some remain skeptical about these findings, noting that more women than men may have returned the questionnaires upon which the findings were based. Others argue that women’s increased numbers only seem to have grown in relation to the number of male farmers, which continued to decline.

Cranberry farmer Pat Zimmer noted that she, like many other women, was forced to take up farming out of necessity when male family members passed away. “I don’t know if women are saying, ‘Gee, I think I’ll buy a farm or invest in blueberries or raise cows,’ but if there is some reason for them to be connected to the business, they’re going ahead and saying, ‘OK, I can do this.”

Others argue that women are better suited than men for farming and for selling the farm’s harvest. “You need to be tuned in and observant, which women learn naturally through child-rearing,” said Goodwin.


Boston Globe - February 15, 1999

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