Being a girl in this world has its own hurdles, and its own gifts. Growing up from a girl to a woman is a challenging opportunity. Becoming a woman in the world of agriculture is a special kind of blessing. Learning how to come to terms with that blessing may not be easy, but it is rewarding.
Every generation finds that one path becomes easier and another a bit more treacherous. So women, through the years, have found some roads more difficult while finding others newly paved thanks to those before them. Agriculture is no different, and while farming has never known a time without women it is increasingly becoming a world where women are not only present, but in charge.
The women of Cabot Creamery Cooperative are no exception and Cabot is a bit exceptional when it comes to women. Founded in 1919, Cabot was born at the same time that women’s suffrage in the U.S. made its official debut on its way to being law. In 1987 the Visitor’s Center in Cabot, VT was dedicated to “Farm Women Everywhere”.
“ In grateful acknowledgement of their often unheralded role in the history of farming…as partners, farm managers, equipment operators, mechanics, onsite veterinarians, gardeners, cooks and nurturers, women on the farm share a rich, proud history. From the soil to the family table, their endeavors have sustained and enriched the life of the farm community throughout history.”
Born generations after her great grandmothers were afforded the right to vote, Cabot Farmer Allison Akins of Five Mile Farm in Lisbon, NY is a twentysomething example of the latest women to make their mark on agriculture. She was raised on her family farm, still returns to work there, as she did while in school and now as an employee of Cabot, and started a beef and sweet corn business in her younger years to help pay for college. From the get go she did what she could “to keep up” with an older brother and all her cousins and because she was raised as a child and not in a “boy v. girl manner” she believed she was a boy until the age of 7. No longer a a child “walking around with my shirt off and playing in the mud with a stylish 90’s mushroom haircut” Allison appreciates the way she was “taught to pull my own weight and…go back and fix my mistakes.” but sees that “women are limited in the “real world”, especially in agriculture.” Despite her young age she respects the strides and distances women have traveled through the years and like every generation’s modern woman she understands perfectly the delicate balance between perceived roles and reality, believing that “chivalry is the way to my heart – the doors do get too heavy sometimes.”
One of those women who have paved the way for Allison and her generation is not too far ahead of her. Joanna Samuelson Lidback has only a little over a decade’s more time on Earth than Allison but she has made use of every single day. Finding her way at an early age, through her love of cows, to the life of the dairy farmer she was always meant to be, Joanna is driven, passionate and the consummate Cabot Farmer. When it comes to gender she never thinks trapped inside that box, rather she’s “always just gone through life being me and doing what I do.” Now, a mom to two lovely, young boys and a spirited little girl she has a “different perspective” that she feels has influenced her voice. A voice she has not been afraid to use whether it be on social media, face to face with customers, or even seated in front of the House Agricultural Committee testifying about technology and her beloved way of life. Part of what makes her perfect for such a role is due to being a woman and a mom because it defines her in a way that allows her to “ share many of the same challenges and rewards that any mum does, regardless of occupation or way of life.” Couple that with being a Cabot farmer, she and her husband raise beef and milk their herd at The Farm at Wheeler Mountain in Westmore, VT, and she feels she has a “first hand understanding of food production and a propensity to better understand various marketing label claims of specific Ag practices.” than a non-farmer mom.
Both of these women are of different times and with different formative backgrounds but they both see a kinship, a sisterhood of and for women in their daily lives and in agriculture. For Joanna motherhood has provided that sisterhood “where women have experienced many of the same things- being puked on, pooped on, or hearing “mum” murmured by this tiny human who is completely dependent upon you for the first time.” Allison has “sisters all over the country” as part of the Alpha Sigma Alpha sorority where they “truly have each other’s backs when we need it.” And despite her young age she easily spots the similarities between her Greek sisters and her Cabot sisters, “although this comparison sounds crazy, female farmers are truly similar to my sorority; we “pledge” to be advocates for women in agriculture and supporting each other when we get discouraged. “
It’s not about being on the same page, or sharing all the same opinions. Being a Cabot farmer who happens to be a woman means being able to be all the imperfections and all the darn near perfections that a woman naturally is…but more. For Allison, all the “diverse female farmers” create a sharing of ideas that help farmers improve and provide a comfort that comes with talking about what you love with your peers. Her role models within Cabot include the coolest grandma around, Beth Kennett who “not only positively promotes agriculture but allows for everyone to experience life on the farm (at Liberty Hill Farm in Rochester, VT)”. It is not surprising that Joanna includes Beth in her lengthy list of influential Cabot women and role models, a list that includes women dairy farmers from almost every generation.
There must be something truly special about being a woman; about being a dairy farmer. This way of life that we live on our farms is all about strength, intelligence, resilience, beauty, dreams and hard work. Being a member of the Cabot family means being supported, having an extended family clad in plaid, and being a farmer first and a woman always. It’s never an easy road, being a woman, but neither is being a farmer-that must be why there are so many fields, tractors, barns and homes where you will find a woman who proudly calls herself a dairy farmer.
Originally Published in the Fall 2015 Issue of Perspectives Magazine