Work to break down barriers for women of colour in agriculture must go far beyond International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month
By Jackie Clark
March was celebrated as Women’s History Month in many places, and on March 8, many individuals and organizations across the agriculture industry observed International Women’s Day by celebrating the accomplishments and thanking women in ag.
As the month comes to a close, it’s important to ask ourselves how we can continue the work of lifting women’s voices in the agriculture industry year-round and look at issues of diversity and equity using an intersectional lens.
Intersectionality is a framework that helps us understand how different facets of a person’s identity create an interdependent system of privilege or disadvantage. At a time when ag organizations are acknowledging the importance of anti-racism efforts, Farms.com connected with ag industry leaders to understand additional challenges faced by women of colour in the agriculture industry.
Those challenges include representation, access, and equity, explained Angel Beyde, a Toronto-based grower and aspiring rural farmer and anti-racism and equity consultant with the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario (EFAO).
“In terms of the Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) farmers network that I’m currently facilitating, the biggest thing that comes up over and over again, specifically for racialized women, is secure land access with equity-building potential,” she said.
Agricultural land prices in Ontario are astronomical.
It is a barrier “not having that inherited land, not coming from a family that has been in a land ownership position for generations. Some of us, racialized women and would-be farmers, some of our families have been here for centuries, but we’re descendants of people who were brought here enslaved and prevented in well-documented ways over the years from owning land and building wealth. Inter-generational wealth is the biggest asset to help you access a farm,” Beyde explained. “We’re definitely starting at a serious disadvantage.”
Another concern of many BIPOC women looking to get into farming is community.
“A lot of racialized young women, urban farmers that I know, who would like to transition to a rural farm are worried that they wouldn’t be able to find community in a rural area that does not have a lot of BIPOC folks. Being able to access farmland close to supportive family and community who are in urban areas would be incredibly helpful. Farming is tough and you need people who know you and are rooting for you, for support,” Beyde said.
Understanding the obstacles and barriers women, and particularly women of colour, face in agriculture is critical for the continued success of the industry.
“I feel really grateful to work with a lot of amazingly inspiring women who care greatly about this movement, who care about ecological agriculture,” Ali English, executive director of EFAO, told Farms.com. “We’re trying to think about agriculture in new ways and how short-sighted we’ve been not to also be talking about systemic racism and equity as part of this.”
She had noticed that “it is women who are moving this conversation forward around equity in agriculture,” she said. Many women bring a “commitment to fostering relationships, to building community, and ultimately I think we need more women at the agricultural tables, and especially more women of colour.”
For Beyde, “being a woman in agriculture really speaks to my mission to help to nourish people, build equity for myself, and mentor the young ones coming up, especially young racialized women. (I want to) help them get a foothold with really good agricultural education and financial mentorship as well. My goal when we find land for our Good Fortune Farmstead is to grow food and the next generation of BIPOC farmers,” she said.
Ag industry leaders should be encouraged to “have conversations, invite women of colour to your boards, to your staff, to your committees. I feel like that’s where the change is going to start, through mutual caring and understanding and relationship and friendship,” English said.
If we find ways to connect around shared passion and struggle in agriculture, we can have productive conversations around gender, race, identity, and equity in agriculture, and avoid falling into divisive misunderstandings.
“I am so inspired by farmers of all backgrounds - we are deeply unified by our love for the soil, growing food and raising animals. I love to listen to and share my energy with folks, especially with older, rural farmers who have deep roots in their communities and so much wisdom to pass on. In these tough times, we need each other more than ever,” Beyde said.
“I think there’s a lot more common than we think between a young black woman trying to get into market gardening or small livestock and an older white rancher who’s retiring in Alberta. We have much more in common than there are differences. We need to connect and pull together,” she explained.
There are many young racialized farmers who would be energized to connect with landowners to discuss working together in a succession arrangement, to help new farmers build equity and security, while carrying on the legacy of the farm, she added. “We would love to get those conversations and match-making happening. Reach out through EFAO or my Good Fortune Farmstead website!”
When it comes to breaking down barriers for young women of colour and BIPOC farmers more generally “there’s a bit of hopefulness but also, gosh, we’re so behind and there’s so much work to be done,” said English.
rez-art\iStock\Getty Images Plus photo