Farm Sweet Home
By Cristina DC Pastor
Jamie Blythe Wood of Courtland, Alabama, was to the farm manor born and inherited her knowledge and love of agriculture from a family of crop and cattle producers.
35 years later she, her sister, and their parents work the 3,500 acres of land devoted to cattle and row crops with two other employees.
Wood's responsibilities are many—from managing field operations, operating farm equipment, making decisions regarding their soil fertility program, overseeing harvest and supervising a herd of cows during calving season. Not to mention endless hours of record keeping and communication with equipment dealers, a consultant, and seed and chemical company reps via phone and email.
"That's my role in a nutshell," she said with a bit of wry humor.
Women are unique assets to farming because they are natural-born "peacemakers" and "negotiators" and are often tactful and respectful when delegating tasks. Aware that they are in a male-dominated field, agri-women are also open-minded and willing to learn from others, Wood added.
"There are so many skills and so much knowledge I am still trying to master so I have to be unafraid to ask questions even if I run the chance of sounding foolish when I ask them," she said.
For instance, she learned how to drive a tractor early on, but didn't know how to fix the machine when it broke down. It took her years to master the skill of equipment maintenance and repair. Today, she is never without a wrench in her hand and uses it with authority when the time comes to fix a punctured tire or a slipping clutch on a bush hog.
Because females are known for being adaptable and effective problem solvers, they are able to fulfill whatever roles they step into or are thrown their way. She could not quantify how many young women are joining the farm sector annually, but anecdotally, she sees women in agriculture as more "the norm than a novelty."
"It still seems necessary to be 'born into' a farm in order to get a start as a farmer. It seems just as feasible for a daughter to take up the reins of a farm than a son," she noted.
Going deep into the history of earlier cultures, Wood said women regarded the farm as if it was a family.
"We have an innate desire to take care of things," she said. "We want to nurture the land like it is our child, and the farm takes care of us and shapes us the way a parent would. We have a respect for the land in the same way that we respect a grandparent."
Reflecting on her own narrative, she recalled keeping some distance from the land that once belonged to her great grandfather when she was in her teens and 20s. "I always had a deep love and passion for it, but I mainly had the desire to see what else was out there in the world."
But something about the farm kept drawing her back. It was home.
In Courtland, she said the likes of Larkin Martin and Martha Athon who began farming in the 1990s, paved the way for women in agriculture. It's not so much of a surprise now to see wives, sisters and daughters of farmers driving around in a tractor. Larkin Martin is the managing partner of her family's Martin Farm in northern Alabama. Martha Athon also ran her family's farm since the 1990s.
"Outside of our community, it's sometimes a struggle to be taken seriously. I think women farmers must sometimes fight a bit harder to earn people's respect," she conceded.
Wood believes technology has opened doors for more women into agriculture. The new precision technology meant to increase productivity, requires someone staying in front of a computer—a good fit for a detail-oriented woman trying to multitask as a wife, mother and farmer.
Wood is married to a doctor who works in Alaska. She splits her time between the Alabama farm during the busy seasons of spring and fall and Alaska in between. Her downtime is spent keeping in touch with her family and employees via phone and email.
"My great grandfather owned this farm so there is quite a family history here, as well as a sense of obligation," she said. "I feel responsible for the generations who came before me to work hard and take care of the land."