Women of the Land Gather to Share New & Old Traditions

Kentucky women recently gathered to explore how their relationships to land, food and agriculture support identity and autonomy, but the get-together quickly revealed bonds that transcend all differences.

by Rachael Dupree
PHOTO: Courtesy Weasie Gaines

There are times when the urban exodus can seem isolating. As a born-and-raised city girl, daily communion with the natural world is radically refreshing as well as oddly lonely to me. But in those sweet moments when I get to connect with others, particularly over all things nature and agriculture, the resulting bond is so much more deep and meaningful.

Recently, I attended a gathering of Kentucky-based women farmers who sat down to share a meal and their experiences of being ladies of the land. We came together as strangers participating in the research project of Jenna Farineau, a senior at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine, who came back home to learn more about how Kentucky women use their relationship to land, food and agriculture to claim identity and autonomy—but it quickly didn’t feel like that at all. As we each began sharing stories about our love for this state, its soil and its wilderness, we found a spark of kinship that united us despite our varied backgrounds and approaches to food and farming.

Some of the women hold the tradition of farming Appalachian soils in their blood while others, like me, are embarking on new traditions for their families. Some of the women own land while others don’t. Some teach children. Some market their products. Some are food activists. Some are brilliant chefs. I became particularly struck by how these women, regardless of their differences, approach their calling to the land with such passion and humility.

The deep, fervent abidingness these women have for the soils that nourish their families and their communities cannot be embodied in the few words that I write here because it’s like nothing I’ve ever witnessed. Their ties to the farm aren’t mere avocation—jobs they hustle through to make ends meet. No, these women live close to the land because they can’t imagine life any other way.

One woman talked about her sacred experiences of catching salamanders on her family’s farm as a child, and how she now wants to open up the land to children who have never known that way of life. We talked about how in order to teach kids to conserve the resources of this one and only Earth, children need to love the earth first.

Another talked about leaving the family farm and traveling to a state far away, only to have Kentucky’s farmland call her back when she had a child of her own. And others of us felt that same pull, never having grown up here at all. It’s almost magnetic.

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I get a little teary-eyed thinking about how lucky my daughter has been, born into this sorority of soil sisters. She gets to learn the hard stuff with me, and maybe when she’s older, she’ll become her own brand of farm woman, plowing new grounds. Or maybe she’ll leave this place only to find out her heart belongs here after all—and that would be OK, too.

This farming thing, it opens up new pathways for us. Pathways of inspiration, faith, friendship and devotion. Throughout much of the year, we tend our land as individuals, yet collectively, we move toward something great. Thanks to these women of the land, and women of land all in different states and nations, this world has become a better and more lovely place.

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