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Will Farmer Janes Lead the Local Food Revolution in Your Neighborhood?

| Thursday April 15th, 2010 | 2 Comments

The role of women as food providers is changing in AmericaAmerica today is still run by a fast food culture: about 31% of the food that we eat is most likely to be processed foods, and about 20% of children in the US struggle with childhood obesity. These are concerning statistics, but there is also some evidence to suggest that women could be the spark for a more mainstream "local" food economy.Clearly, we've come a long way since the 1940s. In the new millennium, women are principal decision makers in the home,  and they are the fastest growing minority group to  run or own farms, as the national total of farms declines, according to  the National Agriculture Statistics Service. So,  there’s really powerful story about women in the agricultural industry.That is the point Temra Costa, a sustainable food advocate in the SF Bay Area, is trying to highlight with her new book, Farmer Jane: Women Changing the Way We Eat. The book tells the stories of 30 women who are driving the sustainable food movement today. Some are farmers, some lawyers, others are restaurateurs…all working towards changing our local economic landscape. She said she wanted to write the book because she noticed that a very high number of women (about 61%) were executive directors of food-based non-profits.

The cool thing about the title is that a Farmer Jane is any woman-and any man. Costa emphasizes that her book is not an angsty, “rah-rah” feminist’s book. She says the women in the book represent “feminine” qualities that can be brought out in men and women. She was compelled to profile women, because for their tendency to “lean towards relationships and long-term strategies that prioritize future generations.” A long term outlook is a much needed characteristic to make green economies work.

If you’re not aware of the specific problems with the modern food chain in America, just think of a set of dominoes, where each one can affect the next, starting with a single nudge of the first. A farm starts with a set of crops, and as distributors begin to buy just one of those crops that are profitable, the farm begins to specialize and grow only one crop. The volume of these crops brings down prices, and grocery stores like Safeway can offer them to consumers at a low price. Consumers get trained to buy low, while the farms are encouraged to grow and grow. These industrial farms start to take a huge toll on the land, which then can have dire effects on the environment. It’s a monopoly or oligopoly of sorts, and this can have social and environmental effects of extraordinary proportions. An industrial scale cattle farm can cause gross production of methane which in turn causes sickness, and more tax dollars spent on health care.

Simply put, there’s just no way a farm can grow any larger than the land beneath that supports it.

So, it makes sense that the choices we make in what we buy can make or break a company. Ultimately, whether there is a “Farmer Jane” to drive more change in your local community is up to you to be one. Of course, not all regions in the US can support a 100% local economy, but spending just a few dollars could get us to a healthier place in the world. Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing more entrepreneurs working to find solutions and partake in the organic food revolution, and doing it without breaking rules of economy of scale.

So if you’re doing something in the food movement, or you know of resources on this topic of the local food revolution, leave a comment, Digg, or shoot me an email.

Clara Kuo, MBA, is a foodie and the primary decision maker for her household’s groceries. And yes, she buys local.

Temra Costa’s book, Farmer Jane, will be available on May 1st.

For more, check out some of these links:
Ryan Mickle’s “Local is not what you think”
Kent’s “Opportunity for Small Business: Impact Your Community”
A food blog focusing on the importance of locally and sustainably grown food
The Ethicurean: a blog on sustainable meats


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