These Female Farmers Are Feeding New York
By Bridget Shirvell - Photos by Syd Woodward
To say that Amber Tamm Canty has a strong work ethic is an understatement. The New York farmer is up before 6 a.m. for a workout of crunches, plank poses, push ups and sun salutations before heading to the farm in Brewster, New York where she works to grow a plethora of flowers and produce. Her days on the farm often don’t end until 7 p.m. or later. And yet, despite the long hours, Canty seems incredibly joyful when speaking about her work.
“I love the silent sound of a seed falling into soil, the smell of chamomile flowers in the morning, I love the blue green brilliance of the rye grasses, the sacred world I go into when peering into the center of a peony. I love the snap sound of harvesting a head of lettuce, I love the layer of dirt that forms across my skin, almost like a layer of sunscreen, a natural form of protection,” Canty says.
Think farmer and your mind probably goes to a sun weathered, older white male but that picture is slowly changing. Canty is one of a growing number of female farmers across the country (and right here in New York) that are changing the way we think about farming. According to the USDA’s 2017 farm census, women now make up about 36 percent of the country’s farm operators nationwide- that’s triple the amount there were 30 years ago. In addition to this, the Bureau of Labor Statistics have reported that, as of 2017, female farmers are also outearning their male counterparts.
For women farmers like Canty and Corinne Coe of New York and Atlanta-based Terra Nova Compost, farming is much more than a career, it’s a way of life that helps them feed mind, body and soul.
“You can grow food on a patio, you can grow food on a concrete backyard, to be able to feed yourself really is freedom,” says Coe, who founded Terra Nova Compost six years ago.
Through Terra Nova Compost; an international compost education and consulting organization, Coe teaches workshops related to composting, helps install and manage ons-site composting systems, and assists in the development of farm to school composting and garden education programs.
“I talk about why composting is critical, how it affects our food, climate change, air quality, water quality, and most of all for me it’s really a tool for growing stewardship and reverence for the earth,” says Coe.
Through their work, many female farmers focus on growing community and teaching the next generation of female farmers but it hasn’t always been like this. 2019 marks the 50th year women that have been allowed to join the National FFA, the nation’s largest student organization for young people focused on the future of food, farming, and natural resources. And while the average farmer is white, rural, and pushing 60, of the nearly 700,000 FFA members nationwide, young women hold 57% of leadership positions in FFA.
They’re also teaching types of farming that are still considered to be relatively new. Seven years ago, Yemi Amu started Oko Farms in Brooklyn which to date remains the only space in New York City where the public can watch an aquaponics system in action.
Canty spends her days harvesting for the market and CSA members, walking around the farm, creating a list of things that need cultivation, beds that may need to be restored, and seeding.
“I love the way farming carves my body, giving me muscle in all the places needed to facilitate food to the people. I love knowing that most of the land I work on once had enslaved black folk working it and now [it has] me, the free black farming woman,” Canty says.
From Rooftop Farms to Aquaponics Nationwide, Here are just a few of the other New York women farmers inspiring us:
Anastasia Cole Plakias and Gwen Schantz of Brooklyn Grange Farm: Two of the co-founders of one of New York City’s first rooftop farms, which grows more than 80,000 pounds of organic produce every year.
The Women of La Finca del Sur Community Garden: In the South Bronx, this urban farm (which was founded by Ginyard and Nancy Ortiz and is run by women of color) works to connect the surrounding neighborhood to food. Produce from the garden is sold at the South Bronx Farmers Market and the public is welcome to volunteer at the farm or rent a plot of land for the growing season.
Nancy Lee Paul of Edgemere Farms: After her husband passed, Nancy Lee Paul started volunteering at Edgemere Farms. Years later, she is now a partner at the farm, which sits on an acre of land in Far Rockaway Queens and grows vegetables, fruits, hops, flowers and more.
Olivia Gambler of Rabbit’s Garden: Olivia Gambler is the current farmer in residence at Staten Island Urby apartment complex’s 5,000 square-foot farm, Rabbit’s Garden. The farm grows vegetables, herbs and flowers which are sold to CSA members, farmers markets and wholesale.
Come To Life , Women Who Farm, Rob Greenfield and We Are Wildness are excited to partner with us on our #RegenerativeMovement campaign.
This summer, we’re exploring stories of new urban food systems along with Guayaki who will be hosting a series of events in NYC. For a chance to be featured, share your story and tag #RegenerativeMovement.