The Future of Female Farming Entrepreneurship?

Note: I am smack-dab in the middle of writing my final papers for the winter term of my graduate Food Systems & Society program at Marylhurst University, so I am, once again, taking advantage of work I produced last term to serve as my blog post. Plus, I added a new venue: The Lostine Tavern, which is in the middle of a crowdfunding campaign to re-open its doors this May! I am very much looking forward to it!

Chapter 6 of Together at the Table and the piece “Five Faces of Oppression” make me especially interested in the small-farm and local food phenomenon occurring in the county in which I live, Wallowa County, Oregon. Because of the area’s relative monoculture and relative poverty, the study of privilege takes an interesting tack.

In “Five Faces of Oppression,” Young notes that “… for every oppressed group there is a group that is privileged in relation to that group.” I find this distinction important: One group is not necessarily consciously lording over another group in order for the latter group to lack the same opportunities and rights. This is certainly the case in Wallowa County, where men operate most of the businesses, especially the county’s lead industries.

Wallowa County’s main industry remains forestry. The county’s main agricultural industry (45 percent) is beef cattle ranching. There is also farming, most of which is three kinds of hay for wintertime feeding of cattle (34 percent) and wheat for export (11 percent).

Leadership and activism being born in privilege (Allen, p. 161) may be easier to demonstrate in wider society, because there is more diversity in race, ethnic background, religion, social class, etc. Wallowa County is a bit of a monoculture. European Americans have dominated the county since the late 1800s, after they forced the native Nez Perce from the Wallowa and Imnaha valleys (“Chief Joseph,” n.d.). In the 2010 national census, 4.0 percent of the population identified as “minority,” and 2.2 percent identified as Hispanic (Northeast Oregon Economic Development District, p. 31).

Wallowa County has a 46.3-percent rate of self-employment (the Oregon average is 22.6 percent); however, the average income is $12,170 (Northeast Oregon Economic Development District, p. 15). Against this backdrop, a number of small farm enterprises have been launched in the past five years, all but one run by women:

  • Magic Garden: Farm-to-school project planted on land that was donated by a local ranching family (locations in Joseph and Imnaha)
  • Slow Food Wallowas: Chapter of Slow Food USA based in Enterprise
  • Backyard Gardens: Farmers market stand and CSA with delivery locations in Enterprise and Joseph
  • M Crow: A reclaimed general store that sells local produce and meat, and handmade items, as well as hardware, clothing, supplies, and other wares, in Lostine (the exception; founded by a man)
  • June’s Local Market: Produce and locally made value-added products such as canned jams and salsas, jewelry, and gifts, in Lostine
  • Wallowa County Farmers Market: Locations in Enterprise and Joseph, SNAP/WIC/FDNP accepted
  • Lostine Tavern (opening May 2014), being billed as a farm-to-table restaurant, co-owned by a woman and a man

Wallowa County Farmers MarketAdditionally, most of the non-commodity farming in the region is led by women. Of the eleven listings for farm/ranch operations in Oregon Rural Action’s Food and Farm Directory, seven have female sole proprietors, including 6 Ranch, a cattle and sheep ranch run by a mother-daughter team (Oregon Rural Action, p. 10-11).

While men still run the most lucrative businesses in Wallowa County, this influx of female food-industry entrepreneurs proves to be an interesting microcosm of a potential sea change within agriculture.

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