by Maggie Bowling
News articles documenting female farmers have popped up across the country; with most agreeing that women have always been farmers, now they are just being counted. In Eastern Kentucky this sentiment rings true for many. Here’s a glimpse into a few of those farmers’ lives:
Cortney Moses grows certified organic vegetables and heritage hogs on her small farm in Whitley County, KY. Cortney grew up on a diversified farm only a few miles from where she farms today and fell in love with farming during the summers she spent helping her aunt and uncle grow tobacco. “I really liked doing the tobacco, and when it was time to hang it, it was such a community thing that really brought the family together.” Cortney knows there have been women farming the hills for decades, “Appalachia is built on strong women, working women. They have always been here and they have always been farming. Women farmers are not the minority, we have just not been out in the forefront. I learned from women: my aunts and grandma. They get most of the credit for who I am today and the love I have for the land.”
Joyce Pinson of Friends Drift Inn Farm believes that “women have always been the driver on the farm. They knew what they wanted to put on their table, they knew they could sell their eggs and have a little egg money that they could put back for a rainy day.” Joyce, who lives on John’s Creek in Pike County raising heirloom vegetables and heritage poultry, not only provides food for the farmers’ market and area restaurants, but she is also a well-known writer who works with many community members to advocate for Appalachia, farming, food, and seed saving. Whether women farmers have been in the forefront of agriculture or not, they have often been doing the important work of providing food, sharing their experiences, and giving back to their communities. Joyce explains, “My ultimate goal as a woman in agriculture in Eastern Kentucky is to inspire my neighbors and their kids, and grandkids and great grandkids. I want to be the spark that changes things.”
Like Joyce, Nancy Hayes of Singing Hills Goat Farm enjoys working with her community. The Whitley County Farmers Market opened up opportunities for Nancy to network with other female producers, and when Nancy was injured a few years ago these women helped her get back on her feet, and made sure that her livestock were cared for. Nancy has been learning from women her entire life. Raised in the horse industry, she performed surgery in her family’s horse hospital as a teenager. Nancy remembers, “my mom ran a tobacco warehouse and was in the farming business, and I really think her work ethic passed onto me and my family. I did everything, even though I was a girl. It was just part of my growing up, part of my life. I can’t imagine living any other way.” Nancy now raises registered Nubian dairy goats whose milk she uses to create soaps and lotions. She sells her products across the state, including at 115 Kroger locations and Whole Foods Market. “I’m just a small farmer trying to make a living. Anyone can do it, man or woman, if they put their mind to it,” says Nancy.
Fellow Whitley County livestock farmer, Anne Bays of Moonlight Farm, LLC, has always worked in a male dominated industry. An engineer in a previous career, she now raises Scottish Highlander and Angus cattle, red wattle hogs, horses, and pastured poultry on her 350 acres. “My claim to fame is winning a blue ribbon at the fair for crocheting and cattle. Yes, I’m a woman, but I don’t flaunt that, I don’t use that, and I just try to work with all of the other farmers,” Anne says. “I like farming and I have to say I’m proud of the fact that I can to it. I want to be an example for other women who want to try to do it too, because they can.”
Kristin Smith of Faulkner Bent Farm who raises beef cattle and heritage hogs on her 120 acre farm in Whitley County, has also been working with the other farmers in her community. As a female farmer and co-founder of the Wrigley Taproom and Brewery, Kristin has built upon the entrepreneurial skills she learned from her grandfathers. She thinks “the farmers market and our local food group have been a nice community for me to be a part of for the last five years. It would be great if we had more men (involved in the group), we need a diverse community”.
From Nancy’s goat soaps to Anne’s pastured poultry, women across Eastern Kentucky are producing a wide variety of products from their farms. Aly Lynch raises over 300 Katahdin hair sheep ewes (and their lambs) for local meat sales and the commodity market and Mary Beth Jewell (Hell Cat Farm, LLC) sells hand spun yarns, hand woven wearable fiber art, mohair fleece, and luxury blended rovings and batts from her color angora goats. These women are creative, hardworking and proud.
Val Carmichael of Agape LLand Llamas said it well, “I’m proud that I am a woman doing this work… I care deeply about integrity. It makes me proud when people know who I am through the reputation of my farm.” So, don’t be surprised if when you see a FarmHer bumper sticker on a vehicle driving down a twisting Eastern Kentucky road, there might just be a beautiful Kentucky farmer behind the wheel.