Women find place to discuss their roles in agriculture

  • By Kelly Sullivan
  • Thursday, March 17, 2016 10:28am
  • NewsBusiness

While more women are turning up soil in the agriculture industry, they are unearthing a unique set of challenges.

Some are looking for new methods to cultivate and market their products a little differently than their male counterparts, while others are seeking ways to balance raising a family and running a farm. Many steer toward each other for an extra hand in navigation.

“As women are moving into what has been considered a traditionally male-dominated field, there’s also the learning curve and the acceptance factor,” said Margaret Viebrock, faculty member of the Washington State College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences and manager of the Women in Agriculture Conference, called “Power Up Your Communication, Power Up Your Farm.”

This year, the Kenai Peninsula is one of 31 sites throughout Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington to host the annual event from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Saturday, at the Kenai River Center in Soldotna, for the first time since it was established 11 years ago. Last year more than 650 women participated.

Women like to share and compare styles and help each other out, Viebrock said. They like to learn by doing and through experience, and that is not to say men don’t also learn in those same ways, she said. Speakers will be broadcast via video to each site and group activities will be held throughout the day.

Viebrock said the conference was created to serve as a place for female farmers to share ideas and concerns, and to network with one another, as they weren’t completely comfortable attending more traditional meetings run by men. The genders just approach situations and accomplish tasks in different ways, she said.

“There is only a little research that talks about how men are more tied to what they produce and looking at the dollar value, while women take a more nurturing look at raising healthy food, and healthy animals so that people are going to eat a healthful diet,” Viebrock said.

Right now roughly 30 percent of the nation’s farmers are women, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

It was only within the last five years that female owners and operators were even encouraged to start reporting themselves and the positions they hold, Viebrock said.

While the commodities cultivated in Alaska may be particular to the region, women in the northern state are facing similar challenges to those Outside, she said.

This year’s event is aimed at teaching different styles of communication, appealing to different types of buyers and developing marketing strategies.“Marketing is always an issue, and how to get the fair price for your products,” said Meriam Karlsson, a faculty member at the University of Fairbanks School Natural Resources and Extension, and host of Friday’s Fairbanks conference.

She said she has heard local female farmers say they have to work harder to be taken seriously in the industry, and it still helps to have a male go to the bank to get a loan.

In Alaska in particular, because the growing season is so short and intensive, family care during that time of year is hard to handle, Karlsson said. It is hard for a child to understand why their parent is working long hours growing, getting food ready for the market and spending time selling product, she said.

Louise Heite, who co-owns Eagle Glade Farm LLC in Nikiski with her husband, will attend to learn about marketing and sales among her female peers. “I want to talk to get to know other women who farm,” she said.

She is relatively new to the game but has a long-term plan for her property. The couple is in the process of building the high tunnels that will cover the cleared, plowed ground behind their home. They supply some herbs and vegetables to the Flats Bistro in Kenai, and hope within three years to rely entirely on revenue their produce brings in.

Heite said she knows utilizing social media can be a big boost to a business, but doesn’t have much experience with it.

She also added she is glad to be sharing the work load with her husband, who is capable of doing more heavy lifting than herself.

She does the sowing, she said.

“I haven’t personally experienced a lot of discrimination as a female farmer, but it might be because I am too dumb to notice,” Heite said jokingly.

More in News

Dollynda Phelps discusses current issues in the cannabis industry with local business owners on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018, in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
Cannabis industry meeting raises concerns over Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office

Cannabis cultivators, retailers and consumers squeezed into a small Kenai living room… Continue reading

The wall of the Red Chris tailings pond is a little less than 350 feet, or about the height of a 35-story building. It follows the same design as the Mount Polley tailings dam, which broke in 2014, sending 24 million cubic meters of toxic mine tailings into the Fraser River watershed. It is designed, however, to hold 305 million cubic meters of mine waste — seven times more than Mount Polley. Both mines are owned by Imperial Metals. (Courtesy Photo | Garth Lenz via Salmon State)
Transboundary mine faces $200-million cash crunch

With a strike, falling copper prices and more than $554-million ($723 million… Continue reading

Niko Mogar is shown in a June 2018 booking photo. (Photo provided, Homer Police)
Police arrest Homer area thief on new counts

A man charged last month with burglary and vehicle theft faces new… Continue reading

Homer area residents listen to the Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018 Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting at Homer City Hall in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
Residents talk Kachemak Selo school at assembly

While no major action was taken at Tuesday’s Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly… Continue reading

Ken Castner III answers a question at a city council and mayoral candidate forum Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018 at Alice’s Champagne Palace in Homer, Alaska. Castner is running for Homer mayor. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
Castner running for mayor to promote unity

Although Ken Castner has served on numerous city commissions, committees and task… Continue reading

Homer area school announcements

Homer High School Friday — Homecoming football game against Seward High School… Continue reading

David Lewis, a former member of the Homer City Council, makes his final remarks during his last meeting as a council member Monday, Oct. 9, 2017 in Cowles Council Chambers in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
Lewis takes second try at Homer mayor

Veteran Homer City Council member David Lewis will take another run for… Continue reading

Borough elections 2018: What you need to know

In between the August primary election and the November general election, Homer… Continue reading

Supreme Court finds Griswold due process rights violated

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include a comment from… Continue reading

Most Read