July 19, 2004


Women, Hispanics put new face on U.S. farming (Haya El Nasser, 7/19/04, USA TODAY)

Mirroring the demographic transformation of the USA, American farming is becoming more diverse. There is a marked increase in the number of women and Hispanics who are "principal operators" — those who run the farm.

Women and Hispanics have long played a significant role in farming, but often in supporting jobs from picking crops and milking cows to bookkeeping. But an aging population, the surge in Hispanics in every corner of the country and Americans' growing fascination with organic foods are propelling more women and Hispanics into owning and managing farms.

"Agriculture in this country is changing in ways we don't even know," says Ron Wimberley, an agricultural demographer at North Carolina State University and former president of the Rural Sociological Society.

The latest Census of Agriculture by the U.S. government shows that women's presence as principal farm operators is growing in 43 states. More Hispanics are running farms in all 50 states, planting roots in regions where their role in agriculture had been limited largely to migrant labor.

To those who cherish Thomas Jefferson's idea that farmers are the cornerstone of democracy, the growth is worth celebrating.

"It's very encouraging that there are people who want to farm," says Ralph Grossi, president of the American Farmland Trust, a non-profit group that works to protect farmland. "We're seeing a reconnect." [...]

Among the reasons for the increase in female and Hispanic farmers: [...]

• Love of land. Farming is deeply rooted in the culture of many Hispanic immigrants who have rural upbringings. Owning a farm brings some of them closer to achieving the American dream than does a house in the suburbs. The long history of abuse of Hispanic migrant workers makes such accomplishments even sweeter.

"Among our people, the land is very precious," says Felipe Llerena, the Texas-born son of Mexican migrant workers. Llerena and his 10 brothers and sisters own about 800 acres near Bangor, Mich. [...]

• Quality of life. Rural life appeals to families aching for a return to traditional values. Many long for a time when children did chores rather than play electronic games, a time when they knew that chickens have to be slaughtered to make chicken nuggets.

"Kids today are sort of plugged into computers, TVs. My kids aren't," says Lori Laing, who owns a 200-acre dairy farm near Battle Creek, Mich. Her children, ages 10, 8, and 6, do chores from feeding calves to cleaning the barn. "I think I'm going to have a different child than anybody else," says Laing, 42. "They know what work means."

There's something exquisite about the way Hispanics have the values that the nativists claim to be protecting.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 19, 2004 10:44 AM

Conflating hobby farms for yuppies with the
supposed desire of immigrants to recreate their
agrarian lifestyle makes for a bit of a muddy

Is is possible that women "own" these farms as
some sort of a tax shelter?

Does this mean that the left has a new double whammy of a constituency (Mexican Farmers) who will no doubt push for even more government subsidies for unprofitable ventures. Is there no
farmland in Mexico???

Posted by: J.H. at July 19, 2004 1:43 PM


There's farmland aplenty in Ireland; should the 40 million Irish-Americans ship out ?

What have you got against succeeding in America ?

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at July 19, 2004 2:22 PM


It's just racism.

Posted by: oj at July 19, 2004 2:26 PM

Most female principal operators are widows of dead farmers and lease their land to men.

At least, that's the way it's always been, and though I haven't done any field surveys, my visits to farms don't suggest to me any significant change.

Watch out for the new Food Safe program coming along. Traditional Hispanic farming practices are gonna be killed off by the lawyers.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at July 19, 2004 2:38 PM

Heather Mac Donald weighs in.

(Via Michelle Malkin.)

Posted by: Barry Meislin at July 20, 2004 7:42 AM