Crackerjack Henhouse: Women in Charge on the Family Farm

WC: 1509
By: Roben Mounger

Bio: use previous bio

Bob Dylan said, "I was born far away from where I was supposed to be." His words reflect the history of women and farm work until not so long ago. In 1913 the US Department of Agriculture acknowledged the frustrations of American farm housewives with a nationwide survey. They asked: "How madam, can we better meet your needs?" The response was as prophetic as it was specific. In Tennessee a woman responded: "We do not claim all wisdom in doing things, yet our knowledge surpasses our strength to do the many tasks incumbent upon us in farm life." In Arkansas another woman said: "If we had time out of the cotton patch to learn how to can fruit for the market so we could can fruit as it ripened, even if we only got pay for our labor, we would be no worse off and the world much better." What a difference one hundred years makes.

Pam Bartholomew of Bartholomew Family Farm - Decaturville, Tennessee

"We've had pigs on the farm since my grandfather," says Pam, a former FFA State Officer and Agriculture Education graduate from the University of Tennessee at Martin. "When I was growing up, my father, Larry, called me his 'little shadow," she says. Goal-oriented from the beginning, Pam thrived on farm chores: watering pigs, feeding goats, gardening and checking on the cows. Her grandparents gifted their grandchildren a cow whose calf would benefit individual college funds. "I was eight years old and asked that if the calf was a girl, could I keep it and then have more?" she says. Pam's parents mentor love for the farm and showcase their Hampshire pigs in five county fairs. "Still, I always understood that farming was hard work - sleet, snow or rain - if you don't see about the animals, no one else will," says Pam.

These days she spends two days a week and weekends on the farm. They produce sausage, tenderloin, ribs, ham and bacon for market and online sales. The rest of the week is spent in Nashville at the Department of Agriculture in the Market Development Division. She promotes agritourism, farmers' markets, social media and Pick Tennessee Products. "Women have always had a large role in agriculture, she says, but it was never publicized. My grandmother, Vernie Mae worked on our farm with the chickens and geese."

Pam calls today's farm women "more vocal," and certainly her recent purchase of 88 acres of the family farm, with plans for a house, highlight that women are taking a lead like never before. "My father is a great man; he listens to what I have to say. He does the feeding and I attend to the animals' health and genetics," says Pam.

The thrill that coursed through little Pam, riding atop her father's tractor, informs the farmer she is today. "We cherish the memories that we make on the farm each and every moment," she says.

Wendy Williams of 3 Sisters Farm - Cookeville, Tennessee

As the mother of three home-schooled girls, Wendy says, "Whatever you love, you will make money doing." Although she did not grow up on a farm, she recognized the value of its teachings. "The only spinach I got from my mother was out of the can." As an adult, Wendy has always had a garden.

"We bought a small farm in Cookeville, partially to be close to Tennessee Tech where two of my girls are now in college," says Wendy. After a wintry Saturday at the Cookeville Farmers Market, she extols the beauty of a family raised on the farm. "We sold 60 bags of spinach, kale and mixed greens - in no time at all," she says. At work, in the field or at the market, the girls receive a stipend. Wendy has always made sure that the work is connected to the well-being of all. Although, "hand weeding" serves up tough love, to be a part of the family, everyone works. "More than anything, the girls have learned that you reap what you sow," says Wendy. She believes school science has been exceptionally handy in the process.

The work schedule is the monthly posting on the refrigerator: laundry, dishes, floors, baths, goats and chickens. Individual interests evolved into 3 Sisters Farm specialties: flowers, herbs and vegetables. "The girls and I put up two hoops houses. We work to be sustainable and use heirloom seeds, when possible," says Wendy. As college and high school educations are in process, the sisters' heads are spinning with possibilities. "I know that they will be, in some way, farmers on their own or at least farmers at heart," says Wendy.

Susan Ingraham of Tap Root Farm Event Center - Franklin, Tennessee

When Susan was 2 years old, her father, an attorney in Nashville, established Tap Root Farm and farmed after work to mine a childhood love of farming. "We've been working here for 50 years," Susan says. They produce beef, grass, hay and row crops. Susan cherishes memories of riding their tractor at night with her father. She, also, remembers gardening early mornings before the heat came on. As a teen she would cling to the inevitable fun that was mixed in, such as riding horses.

"In my day, girls couldn't join FFA," she says. With determination, she majored in Home Economics at the University of Nebraska gathering minors in agriculture. Later as a single mother, Susan traveled the country as a corporate trainer. One day, she realized that life on the farm would deliver to her family in more ways than one. "I wanted my children to have the sense of integrity that farm living brings - knowing purpose on a grander scale with selfless notions that come from seeing the full circle," she says.

Coming home to Tap Root, Susan brought her father a new goal for the farm. "The concept of 'value added' changed everything for farms. Women know how to maximize what they sell. We are the users of the end product and we care about quality ingredients," says Susan. She is an example of a new and powerful farm ideal - dwelling on the product, instead of the toil and labor. The solid business practice of her father selling beef at auction each year has given way to Susan's open sense of possibility. She sees not only a hayfield, but also an event space for birthday parties and horse lessons.

"I enjoy farm meetings with my father and the farm manager each week - we speak of row crops to beef to horse breeding," she says. Today, we'll post summer canning lessons - online."

Anne Overton and Karen Overton of Wedge Oak Farm - Lebanon, Tennessee

"The farm started with my grandparents in 1904. They grew small grain, corn, hay, had chickens, a few cows and some pigs," says Anne. During the depression, the Wedge Oak women made "hen money" by taking their eggs to market.

Serious farming business for mother, Anne, and daughter, Karen, during the last decade brought a change of vocation for both. As a teacher at the close of her career, Anne sought the beauty of the large farm - the birds, the landform, the vegetation and the quiet. Karen, a daughter with proclivities in archeology and art installations, turned her energies to the family property. Together the women put up electric fencing. Karen is more hands-on in the farming operation and often works with local chefs. Anne works retail sales and wholesale deliveries. "I was seeking ways to make a viable business. We want to keep the farm young in order to serve the future," she says.

Katie Satterwhite of Sun Due Farm - Columbia, Tennessee

Twenty-three year old Katie grew up doing scads of farm chores that included a Columbia farm trip tradition. The Satterwhite Christmas Tree Lot is proof of a farm family's willingness to diversify. Katie says, "I have love for our farm and want to "keep it in the family." She reports to her father, John Satterwhite, each morning and receives orders. "Technically, I work for him," she says.

An early memory places her on the tractor while he "worked" the cows. Her biggest project currently involves planning the 2nd annual October Farm Festival on Sun Due Farm. Last year she observed a new possibility at the UT Center for Profitable Agriculture's agritourism bus tour bringing John a fresh idea. With his blessing, Katie designs activities for the festival that highlight fun she had as a child. "We have a corn box, hay maze, face painting, fake steer and hayrides to the pumpkin patch," she says, "I like to show the children how great a farm really is."

The women share duties aided by strong dialogue with each other and with the animals. Karen says, "The way we farm is tuned to the environment. We do not bend the animals to our will; instead we recognize that they have their own force and get many ideas with their lead." This is a team effort.