“Just the idea that women can farm is new to our psyche in America even though women have been farming forever” — Harper Kaufman

Photo credit: TwoRootsFarm.com

Here’s a report from The Aspen Times (Scott Condon). Click through and read the whole thing and to check out the photo gallery. Here’s an excerpt:

Working the Aspen farmers’ market booth last summer for Rock Bottom Ranch, agriculture manager Alyssa Barsanti was chatting with a customer who couldn’t believe she was one of the farmers responsible for growing the vegetables he was about to buy.

“He asked to see my hands,” Barsanti recently recalled with a snicker.

She’s used to the doubters, most of them Doubting Thomases. But make no doubt about it, the resurgence of small farms in the Roaring Fork Valley is coming largely on the backs and biceps of women.

Rock Bottom Ranch in the Emma area has an all-female team of six working its fields and livestock pastures this year.

Two Roots Farm co-owner Harper Kaufman hired two women to prepare soil, plant seeds and young plants, weed and harvest land leased from Pitkin County Open Space and Trails near the Emma schoolhouse.

Entrepreneurs such as Vanessa Harmony are finding ways to cultivate their passion for a niche in agriculture into a business. Harmony hopes to turn a sidelight venture selling fruit trees and eligible perennials into a full-time job.

“Just the idea that women can farm is new to our psyche in America even though women have been farming forever,” Kaufman said…

The Edwards native got interested in farming while attending the University of Montana.

“After college I really wanted to go somewhere where I could get my hands dirty,” she said.

She also believed in agriculture’s ability to ease climate change through practices such as carbon sequestration rather than contributing so much to carbon emissions.

After first working at a farm in Northern California, she landed at Rock Bottom Ranch where she served for two years as agriculture manager. That solidified her desire to get into farming on her own. She and Christian LaBar, her life and business partner, started Two Roots Farm. They rented land for two years in Missouri Heights, then earned a 10-year lease from Pitkin County at the fertile Emma property last year. They grow vegetables on 3 of the 22 acres they lease and have expansion plans in mind.

Kaufman, 27, said she loves their decision despite “hard work, low pay and risky business.”

“My understanding of farming has definitely evolved,” she said. “I came into it with a lot of naivety.”

In the Roaring Fork Valley and an increasing number of areas around the country, farming isn’t economically viable because of high land costs. Initiatives such as Pitkin County Open Space’s purchase of land to preserve agriculture will be vital for the future of farming, she said.

“It’s such small margins and such hard work,” Kaufman said. Any number of factors — drought, hail, pests — can “really cripple a farm.”

Nevertheless, she’s encouraged that farming is attracting a lot of young, passionate newcomers and that many of them are women. She estimated that 80 percent of applicants for job openings at Two Roots are women. She senses greater interest among women in connecting to food and learning where it’s coming from.

“Even at the farmers’ market, we tend to sell to women,” she said…

Like Rock Bottom Ranch, Kaufman is working to encourage people to get into farming. She founded the collaborative Roaring Fork Farmers & Ranchers five years ago as a resource for people to share ideas and resources.

“Farming is hard enough,” she said. “We don’t need to be competing and keeping secrets.”

Kaufman said the number of farming-related, start-up businesses that have sprouted in the Roaring Fork Valley in recent years has encouraged her. Women head many of them.

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