Female farmers cropping up in Wisconsin

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BROWNTOWN, Wis. (WMTV) -- Census information released by the United States Department of Agriculture shows an uptick in Wisconsin’s female farmers.

The statistic shows a 22 percent jump in the number of female farmers, between the years 2012 and 2017. That accounts for an additional 38,509 women farmers in the Badger State.

NBC15 News reached out to several female farmers, and experts on the topic.

“We’ve got all our transplants that are going to go in the garden,” Katy Dickson says, showing off one of her two hoop houses.

Dickson and her family farm seven acres of land, of tillage, organize vegetables and fruit.

She grew up across the street from her current Browntown farm, but it took a few years for her to realize farming was her true calling.
“I just wanted to get out of here and see the world,” she says.

When she decided to come home to Christensen Farms in 2007, Dickson trod down the path of becoming a farmer.

“It grew in to, ‘Hey I can run a business and be a ‘bread winner’ also for our family,’” she says.

Back then, Dickson says she didn’t often see other female farmers. Now, it’s become a more accessible field.

“Farming was this big thing with big equipment, big fields, and now its's something a lot more manageable that you can do on your own with a small property,” Dickson explains. “A lot more women farmers than I started knowing.”

Dickson’s observation seems to hold true, as the number of female farmers in Wisconsin skyrockets.

But agriculture experts tell NBC15 News those female farmers have likely always been there.

“There have always been people farming who are women, who identify as women. What has changed is that we’re doing a better job now capturing it,” says Jaclyn Wypler, a PHD Sociology student at the University of Wisconsin.

Wypler says the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s census didn’t start showing gender until 1978. In 2002, the USDA gathered demographics for multiple operators on the farm, thus increasing the count of women in the industry.

Wypler believes the recent increase in numbers is likely because the census was reformatted, making changes to the language, to allow multiple primary operators on a farm.

While the results are more accurate now than they have been in the past, Wypler says there’s still room for improvement.

“Although it's very exciting to see the growth, there are lots of women who are still needing further data collected on them, so that their experiences can be known,” Wypler says.

Right now the Department of Agriculture’s census doesn’t account for undocumented female farmers, or farmers who are LGBTQ. Wypler hopes in the future, the census data will give a more accurate representation.

Meantime, Dickson the group of female farmers is growing in a strong way.

“It’s a wide range of women in agriculture, just kind of supporting each other,” she says, of the organization Soil Sisters.

Soil Sisters is one of several groups in Wisconsin, focusing on the female contribution to farming. Dickson says it’s a great way to get your feet wet, or your hands dirty, if you’re hoping to try farming.

A Soil Sisters weekend of farming takes place this August 2-4 for women hoping to learn more about the field.