Celebrating Women in Agriculture

This year, Just Us! Coffee Roasters is celebrating women in agriculture.  Over the course of the years and many visits to producer cooperatives with whom we partner in the Global South, we have witnessed the role of women in all the stages of coffee production.  Their hard work is something to be celebrated and appreciated with each cup.

As a woman who’s been working on a small organic farm for the past 6 years, I have to admit that I had never deeply considered the role of women in farming worldwide.  In our community of small-scale, local and organic growers, women often work in partnership with others or run their own farms; my first farming mentor cared for her land and animals on her own.  When we advertise for help on our farm, it’s almost always women that respond.  When I sell our produce at the farmers market, I feel appreciated by our community, and I work as an equal with my male and female co-farmers.

It’s only since I began working with the Just Us! Centre for Small Farms and Just Us! Coffee Roasters Coop that I’ve become aware of stories of women in agriculture different than my own.  With our coffee being grown so far away, even remembering that it’s an agricultural product is a big leap.  It can be hard to wrap our heads around complex gender relationships that provide the context for the growing, which may remain hidden even at close quarters.  But as coffee lovers and lovers of food, it’s important to understand the gender dynamics in farming.

Women are the main face of agriculture around the world.  With a focus on growing food for their households and communities, their skills and knowledge are indispensable for food security:

Women also make the most significant contribution to food security by producing more than half of the world’s food, and providing more than 80% of the food needs of food-insecure households and regions (Shiva, 2010).

However, these women often have very little power and legal abilities compared to their male counterparts.  Root Capital claims that “women produce more than half of the world’s food, yet own only 2% of titled land and receive less than 10% of credit available to small businesses”.  It is often gender inequalities and societal views of women’s roles that keeps their work largely invisible.  In her documentary Who’s Counting?, Maralyn Waring discusses the invisibility of women’s work, stressing how “women’s work remains unvalued, underpaid and unrecognized.”

With all of this in mind, I am reminded of the subtle differences between myself and the men that I work with.  I tend to focus more on whether we have harvested enough for dinner and for the winter than how much we have for market.  I am generally more social when I work.  And particularly in the 2 years since I’ve had daughter, I’ve had to learn how to balance my energy between the farm and taking care of our family.  There’s a big difference between being a farmer and being a farmer with a family: the to-do list grows and getting everything done becomes more complex and multi-tasked.

It is this complexity that make it difficult for research to recognize the important ways in which women contribute to agriculture.  In Vandana Shiva’s Staying Alive, she explains:

There is a conceptual inability on the part of statisticians and researchers to define women’s work inside and outside of the home (and farming is usually part of both); this non- recognition of what is and is not labour is exacerbated both by the great volume of work that women do and the fact that they do many chores at the same time.

With this in mind, Just Us! Coffee Roasters Co-op and the Just Us! Centre for Small Farms has chosen this beautiful image to represent the Women in Agriculture awareness campaign we are championing this year:

With the launch of many of this year’s Limited Release coffees, there will be featured stories about the wonderful women who are involved.  Educating ourselves about the lives and efforts of these women adds more depth and appreciation to each cup of coffee.

Sarah Pittoello
Farmer in Residence,
Just Us! Centre for Small Farms