In celebration of Women’s History Month, we are highlighting a different leading woman in agriculture each week. This week, we profile Lindsey Lusher Shute, founder and Executive Director of the National Young Farmers Coalition.
Lindsey is dedicated to advocating for beginning farmers and helping them overcome hurdles as they start their own farm businesses. In addition to leading the National Young Farmers Coalition, Lindsey and her husband, Ben, are raising two daughters while managing Hearty Roots Community Farm in New York’s Hudson Valley. Lindsey was also selected as a White House Champion of Change and participated in the White House women’s dialogue this past fall.
Lindsey talked about how she juggles her kids, her reading list and her farm; and how she sees women leading the charge among the upcoming generation of farmers.
How do you start your day?
My one-year-old daughter Eleanor likes to wake up around 2 in the morning, so that’s technically when my day starts. But I can generally coax her back to sleep until around 7 when her three-year-old sister is starting to stir. I get the girls ready for their day while my husband Ben does morning livestock chores and meets the farm crew when they arrive. There is a lot of coffee involved.
If you could host a dinner party with anyone – living or dead — who would you invite and why?
My grandparents. I would love to know more about their lives and see their reaction to the fact that I’m a farmer. My Grandmother Lusher would be required to do the cooking because my whole family still raves about her food. I could also use her canning recipes.
What are you reading?
I have a pile of books that I’ve been reading, including “The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet” by Nina Teicholz and “Family Farming: A New Economic Vision” by Marty Strange. Both are must-reads, and particularly the former which encourages everyone to eat bacon! Doesn’t get much better than that. “Family Farming” is an important book that explains the ups and downs of family farming over the past thirty years. As new farmers take on credit and look to purchase land, it’s important that they understand the forces that led previous generations of farmers into foreclosure and crisis. The book also describes how the farm community can work together to put farmers on better footing moving forward.
What’s the view outside your window and how does it influence your work?
At home, I look out onto our vegetable fields; at the National Young Farmers Coalition office in Hudson, New York, I see a city undergoing massive change and rebuilding. It’s nice to have a view of both of these worlds: knowing an active farm in every season and also being part of the fabric of a small city that depends on what we’re growing at home.
Do you consider yourself a woman leader in agriculture?
Yes! There are so many incredible women who are leading organizations, businesses and even government agencies in food and farming and I’m proud to count them as peers. We need more women to step up and join us.
What advice do you have for women just entering agriculture?
Get going. It is much easier to start a farm business when you’re young and have fewer financial and family responsibilities. If a young woman can pour herself into a farm career early, she’ll be better positioned to start a family down the road. In these last few years, we’ve needed a lot of support from our farm’s managers, local child care support and family.
Who are your heroines in agriculture?
Representative Chellie Pingree of Maine, who also describes herself as an ‘excellent eviscerator of chickens,’ is one of many who come to mind. Rep. Pingree, a farmer, took her experiences running a small farm to the state legislature and eventually to Congress where she has become a champion for family farms. I’m also a big fan of Elizabeth Henderson, who popularized the CSA or Community Supported Agriculture model in the United States. Her book “Sharing the Harvest: A Citizen’s Guide to Community Supported Agriculture” built a movement that eventually helped our farm and farms like ours achieve economic viability. Liz is now leading Food Justice Certified, a new effort that certifies farms with fair treatment of workers, fair pricing structures, and fair business practices.
What is the most important myth to be busted about women in agriculture?
That women aren’t part of agriculture already. Although they might not be listed as principal operators, women own more than half of rented land in the United States. What’s exciting now is that many young women are becoming the principal operators of their own farm operations and are stepping into leadership positions as business owners. There are as many — if not more — young women in the National Young Farmers Coalition as men, and women lead most of our local chapters.
In 7 words or less, what is some advice you would offer to the next generation of women in agriculture?
Help each other!
From farmers and scientists to policy makers and communicators, women are at the forefront of agriculture. Check out previous Conversations with #womeninag with Anne Alonzo, Administrator of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service and cattlewoman Minnie Lou Bradley of Bradley 3 Ranch. You can continue to follow our conversation with #womeninag on Storify.
Is there a leading women in agriculture you would like to hear from? Send us your suggestions using #womeninag or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.