Women in Agriculture and why Shear Madness is to be applauded

I was out feeding the rabbits and idly picking hay out of my fiber bunny's fluff when the email pinged on my phone. It was my sweet friend Sheri Halliday sending a blog over about the new National Geographic show, Shear Madness, for the newsletter I edit.

As I scanned the first paragraph, my mind wandered back to something I read on Natalie Redding of Namaste Farm's Facebook that morning. Before Sheri's thoughts could cloud my own, I shut down my email and left Sheri's post til later, while I composed this.

Natalie posted earlier that someone had been posting nastygrams directed at her on the Nat Geo Wild Facebook page and, while she seemed be considerably more emotionally stable about it than I might have been, the words of even one screen-brave internet troll have to sting.

I firmly believe that the internet encourages some human beings to release the very worst of their nature, able to unleash vitriolic outbursts - usually spurred on by jealousy, it seems - at will, without regard for the human being on the receiving end. The anonymity of the internet caters perfectly to those with an axe to grind who have no other outlet or capacity to self-regulate.

What Natalie is doing on her new show, Shear Madness, is so important for the face of agriculture, and even more important for women in agriculture. When I first started my farm, I was mocked, laughed at and generally treated as if it were 'cute' that the 'little lady wanted a little farm'. Well, who's laughing now, suckers? My goats bring more money per head than your cows, eat far less, and junk way fewer fences. I am managing to survive as a full time farmer, but I am small fry compared to Natalie.

The last USDA census about Women in Agriculture was conducted in 2007, and showed interesting figures. The number of woman operated farms was clearly on the rise, but consisted of fewer acres and generated significantly less income. However, they were far more likely to own the entire property that they farmed, and outnumbered men in the farming of poultry, goats, sheep and 'other animals'. This is a trend that I, for one, am keen to see continue, but if a cursory glance of the available statistics from the 2012 census has been read correctly, numbers have fallen again. The full report for race, gender and ethnicity has yet to be released.

It's so vital that more people realize that farming does not equal Monsanto, Tyson or any of the other big box commercial ag companies. There are small, family farms who need support, that are bringing good, honest products - be it food, dairy or fiber - to the market, products which haven't been sprayed with chemicals, genetically modified or made in China. But in order for this to happen, people have to stand up and declare what they are, what they believe in, that they truly live what they preach. We, the small farmers, whether we are male or female, have to bring our cause to the people who may dismiss us, still believe only in mass production and commercial agriculture, and sell it to them.

This is what Natalie is doing in Shear Madness. She is showing the good, the bad, the daily life and the constant state of planning ahead that every good farmer lives in. By bringing her farm into the homes of viewers, she might just inspire future farmers to follow in her footsteps, to join 4H, to join FFA, to find a mentor and begin on their farming journey. She is, if you will, an ambassador for our small-farm industry. An am-baaaa-ssador. Sorry.

What I really applaud Natalie for is her willingness to put herself out there. Her family, her home, her farm, her life. All out there, to be picked over and criticized by anyone with too much time, a harsh nature and too little ability to 'scroll on by' when they see something that they don't fully understand or like, or that offends them. Doing what Natalie does is something I truly do not think I would be brave enough to do. I've already attracted more than my fair share of crazies in my relatively short time farming my little piece of land, and they sure do take some shucking. And they are ex-haust-ing.

The Nat Geo troll earlier reminded me of this, and caused me to spare a few minutes thought for Natalie and her family; the work she is doing on the show is so important for the public's perception of farming, so when the trolls raise their ugly heads, it's up us who happen to think she's awesome to rally and defend. Circle the wagons, if you will.

So thank you, Natalie, for standing up for farming, for standing up for women. We're more than a USDA statistic, we're real, we're living this crazy, difficult economy and changing buying patterns as people start to realize the value of home grown and hand made, and we're carving our path. It's a path I am proud to be on.