Local Women Farmers: Pivotal in Today’s Healthy Food Movement
Jun 30, 2016 10:51PM
● By Sheila Julson
As food awareness grows and the public returns to an earth-to-table way of eating, women of all ages and backgrounds are driven to enter farming as a viable career to help create positive change in the nation’s food supply. Natural Awakenings Lancaster recently caught up with some local women farmers to get their take on women in farming, and the challenges and rewards of the occupation.
Elisabeth Weaver-- Lancaster Farmacy
“I actually had a passion for growing herbs before I had a passion for growing produce,” reflects Elisabeth Weaver, who, along with Casey Spacht, own Lancaster Farmacy. As part of the Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative, Weaver says diverse crops are key to a well-rounded income base. They grow and sell medicinal herbs; cut flowers; and specialty heirloom produce. Much of what they grow is crafted into eight different tea blends primarily distributed through their community supported medicine (CSM) program. Like community-supported agriculture, CSM participants get a monthly package of fresh product each month from May through October. They also make skin care salves, oils and tinctures.
Weaver farms full-time while Spacht works at Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative. As one who didn’t grow up farming—her background is in art and social change/activism—she notes how women touring the farm see her in the fields, calling the shots and running the show, and she knows she’s setting a good example. “Other women see me and think ‘I can do this too,’” she says.
Lancaster Farmacy has grown steadily, now occupying five acres. In addition to selling through Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative, Weaver is working on an online store. They recently did a successful pop-up market in Lancaster and plan to offer workshops and classes. Passionate about community outreach, Weaver says they work with a shelter to bring young people to the farm to connect with nature and learn how to use herbs.
“I could be sitting in an office all day” Weaver says, “but farming allows every day to be different, to be in the moment and present with the elements, and to work in rhythm with that.”
Julie Hurst-- Blue Rooster Farm
Julie Hurst and her husband, Roy Brubaker, own Blue Rooster Farm. They raise 100 percent grass-fed Black Angus beef, lamb and pasture-raised Berkshire hogs and believe in being good stewards of the land. Hurst's family gardened, and she had relatives that ran a dairy farm; she is the full-time, on-farm farmer and market manager, while Brubaker farms around the edges of his off-farm job.
Like any small business, Hurst says they are competing in a market with big players that can offer cheap product, but she notes there are hidden costs in those products that we all pay for. “We try to promote the idea that you don’t need a lot of meat in your diet, but when you do want meat, select meat you can feel good about eating, from animals that had a good life, were well cared for, fed a healthy diet and had a positive impact the natural environment,” she advises.
Living where one works is another challenge, she notes, making it difficult to step away because there is always something to do. Yet Hurst is content with her slice of life she has created. “It’s thrilling to see biodiversity increasing. Birds, bugs, snakes, toads, frogs, native fruit and nut trees and warm season grasses are thriving,” she says. “Life is abundant, and that is exciting.”
Blue Rooster Farm’s products are available at the Hershey Farmers Market, the Broad Street Market, State College and Mifflintown. They also have a small buyers club in Lancaster.
Kathleen Stoltzfus-- Tulip Tree Hill Farm
Kathleen Stoltzfus, owner of Tulip Tree Hill Farm, in Holtwood, always enjoyed gardening and tending plants. After 25 years in the advertising world, she decided that she needed a change. She opened Tulip Tree Hill Farm in 2010, where she grows specialty salad greens and assorted vegetables including tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and squash on approximately four acres. During winter in her greenhouse, she grows cold-weather crops including kale, cabbage, arugula and blue oyster mushrooms.
Stoltzfus cites bad weather as the biggest challenge for any farmer of any generation. “And it’s always a struggle to keep ahead of the weeds,” she laughs. Yet the work is enjoyable and she loves watching things grow, and she believes that like most other occupations today, more women perhaps feel that they can do it.
In efforts to help promote seasonal and sustainable eating, Stoltzfus runs an internship program to encourage people to enter farming. Tulip Tree Hill Farm’s produce is available at Lancaster Central Market.
Aimee Herbert-- Herberts’ Heaven on Acres
Aimee Herbert and her husband own Herberts’ Heaven on Acres farm, in Barto. The couple practices organic, non-GMO self-sustainable agriculture. “We believe in letting animals stay true to their instincts, and we do that by raising them all on pasture, where they're free to roam, scratch, plow and fertilize,” Herbert says. They raise chickens, turkey and pork, all of which are fed 100 percent organic, non-GMO, soy-free feed.
They also grow several varieties of organic, non-GMO vegetables. Herbert emphasizes they never use chemicals, synthetic fertilizers, hormones, antibiotics or anything genetically modified.
When an aggressive cancer gene was discovered in Herbert’s family several years ago, she wanted to learn more about the food industry. Difficulty finding clean, local food prompted the couple to start a farm as a way to provide the community with healthy, local food. “I think there are starting to be more and more women in the agriculture industry because they bring a different twist to it,” she says. “From a personal standpoint, I know I've helped many of our clients learn more about their food, and I've helped them to understand the importance of knowing the source of their food, the ingredients and how it was grown or raised.”
Herbert loves the freedom that comes with farming, whether it’s seeing her animals happy; to grow and raise her own pure, whole food; or doing something important with the hope that one day, it may change into a movement, not just a lifestyle.
Sheila Julson is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and contributor to Natural Awakenings magazines throughout the country.