Doermann lives alone in her farmhouse perched atop a hill in Anamosa, Iowa. Now in her 80s, Doermann became the sole farm owner when her husband died suddenly some 40 years ago.
“I was teaching, one girl was in high school, one in college,” she said. “We had the funeral. Gathered our parts up and went on.”
Doermann quickly found a renter, someone whose family she and her husband had worked with before. Because part of the farm is quite hilly, Doermann and her husband had put in contour strips —planted rows running along the hillside designed to prevent erosion.
Doermann explained to her renter that he needed to farm along the contour strips, not just plant up and down the hill. But he ignored her.
“He planted up and down the hill — I told him not to do it again the next year,” she said. “We had big rain in the night; he was feeding cattle, saw me in nightgown — looking where water going under road. He knew he’d been had.”
The rain had washed out the soil and the corn he’d planted — the next year, he gave up on corn and seeded with oats, as Doermann suggested.
In her own way, Doermann worked it out with her renter.
In October of 2001, nine of the approximately (at that time) 150,000 women farmers in the US filed suit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture for discrimination against women farmers in the administration of USDA farm loans.
Rosemary Love (center in the photo), who had grown up on a Montana farm and then became a rancher herself, had applied for a farm loan in Montana after a series of natural disasters during the economic recession of the 1980s. Although male ranchers all around her were being given loans by the (all-male) FSA decision-makers, her applications were repeatedly denied. When a loan was finally approved, it was with the imposition of the harshest of conditions, among them, that she must liquidate her ranching operations. She was the only rancher upon whom such loan conditions were imposed. She developed cancer, and during her treatment, she was hounded by USDA authorities about completing the liquidation. At one point, 48 hours after she had undergone cancer surgery, an FSA supervisor visited her in the hospital demanding that she comply or agree to the filing of yet more government liens against her property. She could not run her farm, her animals were going without food as she lie ill, and finally, she sold her sheep and livestock to male ranchers in her area and declared bankruptcy. She was left with nothing but her land. She went to work at a grocery store as a sales clerk. Continue reading
Gene Logsdon is a long-time writerly-farmerly hero of mine. Decades ago I bought, devoured, and re-devoured his wonderful books, Homesteading: How to Find New Independence on the Land, Two-Acre Eden and Gene Logsdon’s Practical Skills. I still have the books and they still inspire me. He’s written many books since on the practice, the science and the art of farming and agriculture. From a recent (kickass) post on his Contrary Farmer blog:
“The most obvious and promising sign of the new agriculture is the leadership that women are taking in the movement. Women have always played the key role in farming but at least in the last two centuries in America, they have rarely gotten credit for it. Farming is a man’s world, American culture wants to believe, and, as is true of all culturally-treasured myths, no amount of plain everyday evidence to the contrary matters..
“Farm Journal felt the best way to handle the situation was to have a Farmer’s Wife section to appeal to the women with recipes and folksy charm about farm life. The real hardcore business of farming went in the front of the magazine. Amazingly, no one seemed to see the dreadful prejudice on display. I asked one time what would happen if we put a section in the back of the magazine designated as The Farmer’s Husband. All the men editors laughed, thinking that as usual I was making jokes. The women editors did not laugh.”