By Juhie Bhatia
Monday, November 8, 2010
The Woman's Land Army is a group of almost-forgotten U.S. women who helped feed the country during World War I. Today their self-sufficient example is helping to nourish the locally-grown food movement.
Farrell says groups with these concerns are popping up all over the country, despite the void of any central organization tying them together. She says the convergence of food safety and food security issues, plus climate change, have exposed the problems of food supply. Others at the conference said the economic downturn and increasing health problems are also part of the push to bring organic and locally-grown food to kitchen tables.
While most of the event's participants were women, farms are still mainly run by men. Still, the 2007 Census of Agriculture found that women are gaining ground. Between 2002 and 2007 the number of female farm operators increased 19 percent to over one million from 847,832. More than 30 percent of U.S. farm operators are now women.
Sharon Gaughan is an educator at Prairie Crossing, a conservation community that began in 1992 in Grayslake, Ill. In the community, open space, trails, more than 300 houses, an environmentally-focused charter school and a children's "learning" farm surround an organic farm.
Gaughan says she's observed that women are often more involved with smaller farming operations, which are more likely to use organic growing practices.
By hosting small organic farms and gardens, colleges are also playing a role in this movement. That echoes their role during the time of the Woman's Land Army when, Weiss says, they led the way for training women in farming.
In January, Elizabeth Birnbaum, program coordinator of environmental studies at Lake Forest College, 30 miles north of Chicago, proposed creating an organic vegetable garden on campus. The new garden has helped bring different students together, she says, and the college's cafeteria has now started to use some of their food.
All of these efforts may be trickling up to create higher-level change. The week after the Woman's Land Army event, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, the regional planning organization of the Chicago area, unveiled a 30-year development plan. It includes a section to promote sustainable local food production.
Weiss says the Woman's Land Army can be a model for communities everywhere since it was an example of ordinary citizens working to solve a national problem.
Conference co-organizer Littlefield agrees. "Women can continue to organize in the ways these women did," she said. "If they did it then, we could do it now."
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Juhie Bhatia is on staff at Women's eNews.
Fruits of Victory:
GO TO 2040:
"Local Food, Farms & Jobs: Growing the Illinois Economy" report: