The future of agriculture depends on the next generation of farmers and ranchers. That’s why the Department of Agriculture is committed to creating more opportunities for new and beginning farmers and removing barriers for women and minority farmers.
To advance these priorities, I traveled to Syracuse, N.Y., last week, where I was joined by my USDA state colleagues and New York State Commissioner of Agriculture Richard Ball for a roundtable on Women in Agriculture and Local Foods at the Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (WISE) Center in Syracuse, N.Y. The discussion focused on the big picture of how a thriving local food system can help women succeed as farmers, ranchers, and entrepreneurs. We had a vibrant conversation that ranged from sharing ideas to creating valuable connections and networks to mapping out strategies for further progress.
Everyone at the roundtable had something to contribute. I shared how my agency, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), conducts critical research, provides technical assistance, and awards grants to support local and regional food systems. As a woman whose career has taken me from the food industry to agricultural non-profits to international trade, I also brought my own perspective and insight into the challenges women face.
My USDA New York colleagues – Jim Barber, USDA Farm Services Agency (FSA) State Director; Greg Kist, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) State Conservationist; and Beverly von Pless from USDA Rural Development’s (RD) Rural Business Cooperative Service – shared valuable resources from their agencies. Jim Barber and Commissioner Ball, both of whom have farms in upstate New York, added the local farmer perspective.
I can’t stress enough how valuable it is to have USDA leadership come together to openly discuss the various issues impacting our stakeholders. Just from one roundtable, we were able to identify resources that could help local farmers in the room gain better access to markets, and roundtable participants were able to meet other people who are facing similar challenges and opportunities. We left with a renewed commitment to improving our communication with the many New Yorkers who share USDA’s goal of revitalizing rural economies by building strong local and regional food systems.
We know that women contribute to agriculture every day as leaders. USDA’s Women in Agriculture Mentoring Network, which now has over 800 members from across the country, was established by USDA Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden to support and engage women across all areas of agriculture. The program fosters professional partnerships between women with shared backgrounds, interests, and goals. Just like we encouraged everyone at the Syracuse roundtable to sign up and support each other, you can, too, by emailing email@example.com.