There was a moment last year, as I was roaming around Bellingham Farmers Market, when I realized that many of my favorite stands were operated by women farmers. Some of my favorite books about farming have been written by women farmers, too.
I wondered if this indicated an agricultural trend. The next stop on my rounds was the Terra Verde stand, where I asked farmer Amy Fontaine if she thought an unusually large number of women were becoming farmers.
She said she didn't know, but also said, "It's funny you should ask. Yesterday, when I was working in the fields, at one point I looked up and realized that every field around me was being worked by women."
Soon afterward I found out about an annual "Women in Agriculture" event sponsored by Washington State University Extension. Their information packet included the book "Farmer Jane" by Temra Costa. I wasn't able to attend the event, but recently started reading the book.
Statistics in the book's introduction confirmed what I had suspected. Women are indeed the fastest growing demographic of new diversified farmers (i.e., small farms growing multiple products) in the U.S. In the 2007 farm census, the USDA "counted nearly 30 percent more women as principal farm operators."
Women also control 85 percent of household spending in the U.S. Of the top 15 national nonprofit organizations focused on sustainable agriculture, women make up 60 percent of the executive directors and 61 percent of the employees.
In the commercial sector, women increasingly own restaurants, catering services and other food delivery businesses. Clearly, women are in a strong position to help bring about what restaurateur and real food advocate Alice Waters calls a "delicious revolution" in our food system.
"Farmer Jane" demonstrates some of the ways this is happening by telling the stories of 30 key women who are making a more sustainable food system. The book defines sustainable food and agriculture as "food and farming that doesn't compromise the production capabilities or health of future generations." The author believes women tend to bring a more communication-based approach that focuses on relationships.
Women interviewed in the book include rural farmers, urban farmers, sustainable agriculture activists, policy mavens, advocates for social change, chefs, seed savers and marketing consultants. The diversity of approaches is enormous, and their stories are inspiring for women and men alike.
Here in Whatcom County we can also see wonderful examples of women making a difference on food issues.
Local women farmers include Amy Fontaine (with her husband, Skuter, at Terra Verde Gardens, Everson), Roslyn McNicholl (Rabbit Fields Farm, Everson), and Helen Solem (Sumas River Farm, Sumas), to name just a few. They grow spectacular, certified organic food for us to eat and also participate to improve our food system in other ways, such as administering the Farmers Market and educating new farmers.
Rosalinda Guillen, executive director of Community to Community, advocates and educates on farm worker and food justice issues. Mentored by Cesar Chavez, she is nationally respected and is often consulted on policy development matters.
Sara Southerland, coordinator of Sustainable Connections' Food and Farming Program, works to connect people in our community with the environment and the food we eat, and has been a leader in many environmental outreach and education efforts throughout the state.
Mardi Solomon, Holly O'Neil and Jessica Sankey of Whatcom Farm To School have taken on the complicated and difficult task of connecting farmers with school food programs to improve the nutrition of our children's school lunches. Their efforts include curriculum development to help kids learn about real food, and local food workshops with professional chefs for lunch program employees.
Diana Ambauen-Meade created Scratch and Peck Feeds in 2009 because she couldn't find healthy feed for her own chickens. Now she produces high-quality, nutritious animal feed commercially. Scratch and Peck was the first feed company in North America to be non-GMO verified - quite an accomplishment!
And that leads to Megan Westgate, executive director of the Non-GMO Project. The national project, headquartered here in Bellingham, is "a non-profit organization committed to preserving and building sources of non-GMO products, educating consumers and providing verified non-GMO choices." In her spare time, with her husband, Noah, Megan is also developing an organic permaculture homestead on five acres of land.
These are just a few of the remarkable women who are quietly working hard every day to help develop a sustainable local food economy here in Whatcom County. I wish I had the time and space to list them all and give them the credit they deserve.
Today's recipe was made with leeks still growing in my garden from last year. This puree may win the prize for versatility. Because it has the delicate onion-like flavor of leeks and a buttery texture, it goes well with nearly any other food.
I served it as a warm sauce over salmon fillets, but it could also be used as a sauce for pasta, steak, eggs, potatoes or most other vegetables. It works equally well served warm or cold as a dip for raw veggies. Add more smoked cayenne for a spicier version and serve with ground beef wrapped with tortillas. You also could add a single herb, such as dill or oregano, to pair the flavor with nearly anything.
2 cups leeks, cleaned and sliced thinly (home garden, Lummi Island)
2 tablespoons butter (homemade with cream from Fresh Breeze Organic Dairy, Lynden)
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar (BelleWood Acres, Lynden)
1/2 smoked cayenne pepper, minced (Rabbit Fields Farm, Everson)
2 tablespoons cream (Fresh Breeze Organic Dairy, Lynden)
Steam the leeks over boiling water for 3-5 minutes, until very soft.
In a bowl, mix in the butter while hot. Stir in the apple cider vinegar and smoked pepper.
Put the leeks mixture in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth.
In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, reheat the mixture and add cream until you have the desired texture. Salt to taste.
Can be served hot or cold.
You'll find Whatcom County foods at these stores and farms. Many outlets have seasonal hours. We recommend you call or check websites for current hours.
Acme Farms + Kitchen, 1313 N State Street, Bellingham
Appel Farms Cheese Shoppe, 6605 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4996
Artisan Wine Gallery, 2072 Granger Way, Lummi Island; 360-758-2959
BelleWood Acres, 6140 Guide Meridian, Lynden; 360-318-7720
Bellingham Country Gardens (u-pick vegetables), 2838 East Kelly Road, Bellingham
Bellingham Farmers Market, Railroad at Chestnut; 360-647-2060
Boxx Berry Farm Store and u-pick, 6211 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-380-2699
Cloud Mountain Farm Nursery, 6906 Goodwin Road, Everson; 360-966-5859
Community Food Cooperative, 1220 N. Forest St. and 315 Westerly Road, Bellingham; 360-734-8158
Five Loaves Farm, 514 Liberty St., Lynden
Ferndale Public Market, Centennial Riverwalk, Ferndale; 360-410-7747
Grace Harbor Farms, 2347 Birch Bay Lynden Road, Custer; 360-366-4151
The Green Barn, 211 Birch Bay-Lynden Road, Lynden; 360-318-8869
Hopewell Farm, 3072 Massey Road, Everson; 360-927-8433
The Islander, 2106 S. Nugent Road, Lummi Island; 360-758-2190
Joe's Garden, 3110 Taylor Avenue, Bellingham, 360-671-7639
Lynden Farmers Market, Fourth and Front streets, Lynden
The Markets LLC, 1030 Lakeway, Bellingham; 8135 Birch Bay Square St., Blaine; 360-714-9797
Pleasant Valley Dairy, 6804 Kickerville Road, Ferndale; 360-366-5398
Small's Gardens, 6451 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4637
Terra Organica, 1530 Cornwall Ave., Bellingham; 360-715-8020
Reach Whatcom Locavore columnist Nancy Ging at 360-758-2529 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To follow her day- to-day locavore activities, go to Whatcom Locavore on Facebook or @whatcomlocavore on Twitter. For locavore menus, recipes and more resources, go to whatcomlocavore.com.