The narrative of women in agriculture is often quieter and lesser told than of men. I've seen that change over the past 15 years of my career but there is still work to be done. I know of hundreds, women and men, who are working to change it for the better on many fronts.
Women have always been in agriculture but not always independently, or right alongside their male partners and spouses, or leading. I know who many of these women are. I see them. I watch them live out their own stories. As a woman in agriculture, I've been a part of efforts to share more stories and also have worked with many organizations to empower women in agriculture to utilize communication tools to share their own stories and amplify them.
My storytelling passion combined with women in agriculture connections led me to connect with Audra Mulkern from the Seattle area on Twitter. In social media terms, it's long ago, like more than five years ago, I started following Audra and her Female Farmer Project effort. She was bringing stories forward about female farmers I had never seen or heard of and it intrigued me. I watched and admired her work. She was traveling, meetings hundreds of farmers and pulling out stories that had never been told while utilizing her photography to capture images captivating the essence of each female farmer.
Recently, I received a tweet from Audra that said she was headed to North Dakota. The power of social media kept us connected but we had never met in real life. I drove 178 miles to downtown Fargo to have lunch together and then she joined me in the AgweekTV studio for an interview you can watch this week on AgweekTV or on Agweek.com
The Female Farmer Project is a nonprofit effort and Audra uses her national farm to table photography business she has built over the past decade to fund it. She is not from a farm or agriculture background and had spent years working at Microsoft before leaving to be home more with her family and grow her own purpose, passions, and brand. How does an everyday non-ag person decide to start this type of an ongoing farmer-focused project?
Audra shared with me, "One day at the farmers market, I noticed that behind every single table was a woman. And it was one of those moments where I thought, why am I noticing this? What I realized is a that women were missing from the agricultural narrative. The Female Farmer Project has been sort of this journey and I've been bringing sort of this non-agricultural audience along with me, learning about women in agriculture. I would say it's more than a passion. I would say that there's purpose behind it and that purpose is really to amplify the voices of women in agriculture."
From Iceland to North Dakota, Audra has visited hundreds of farms all across the world now. What has the reaction been from the women in sharing in agriculture stories? "Well, first of all, they're very shy about having a story. They think they don't have one and it's really fun to warm them up and get that story out of them. I think they are proud and one woman told me that it seemed as if I show them how beautiful they are. And I am really proud of that. I feel like now it's time to tell the stories of the women of the past. The women who, their own stories have never told and I want to pull out of these communities and get those stories told," Mulkern said.
Next up for Audra is to tackle a documentary called "Women's Work, the untold story of America's female farmers" and she's fundraising for it now. Who will it include?
"There's the first and original female farmers here, the native farmers. There are the women who came across on the boats with seeds sewn in the hems of their dresses. There are so many stories that I want to tell because they fed their families and our communities and still continue to do that to this day," Mulkern said.
You might have one or more of those untold female farmer or women's work stories in your family history. I do. See the Women's Work Trailer online, read and see the Female Farmer Project stories and Audra's international storytelling on farmer suicides, and contact her if you can help with her fundraising efforts for the documentary. Let's help tell the stories of our ancestors, the women who farmed and raised up our generations to advance where we are today.