ATHENS, Wis. – In the latest Census of Agriculture, the average American farmer was white, male and pushing 60. Consolidation continues as small- to mid-sized farms shrink in number while large-scale operations grow even larger.
Another trend is the increase in female farmers, including more women at the helm of their operations. Based on the latest Census of Agriculture, females comprise 36 percent of all farmers, a 27 percent increase since 2012.
Kat Becker hails from New York City; she has a diverse background in international agriculture and a master’s degree in sociology. She’s a former teacher who is now the sole proprietor of Cattail Organics, a 50-acre diverse intentionally small-scale certified-organic farm near Athens.
Megan Curtes Korpela and her husband, Kevin Korpela, have since 2006 owned Downtown Grocery in Wausau, Wisconsin. They’ve worked with Becker through the years and have built a relationship based on treating both their businesses fairly. Together they have a common goal of putting the most nutritious and environmentally responsible produce on people’s plates.
“Kat and I have communicated regularly in planning for Downtown Grocery’s produce needs,” Curtes Korpela said. “We brainstorm about value-added opportunities that help create a connection between individuals and the food they eat.”
Becker emphasizes “intentionally small” when describing her operation. Although she could manage a much-larger vegetable garden, she has chosen specific values such as short workdays when she has her kids four days each week. Her farm has grass waterways and open land as part of its model. She has 5 acres of vegetables, herbs and cut flowers; this year she hosted two flower workshops at her farm. She also markets mushrooms and maple syrup from the farm.
She farms with her kids, Maple, 5, Ted, 9, and Riley, 11. Also on the farm are three cats, two dogs, two steers, three pigs and 23 chickens. For several years Becker also shared space and meals with her mother, who in 2012 moved to Wisconsin from New York City. Her mother has since moved to her own space on the property.
Sharing farmland as well as Becker’s heart is Logan Brock of Growing Earth Farm, who offers his own community-supported-agriculture products, market vegetables and wholesale produce. The two were recently married.
Becker had 15 years of vegetable-growing experience and 12 years of farm ownership behind her when a life change made solo farm ownership a possibility. She was often surprised at people’s reactions, she said, as she transitioned to her new life.
“People assumed I was going to move on to a new career or return to teaching,” she said.
She thought it was offensive that people missed that she was very much a farmer on her first farm. And she was surprised by more reactions.
“People didn’t realize that I had made the choice to build a community around a farm and live in a deeply intentional way,” she said. “People often think of farming as a default or fallback profession, especially those from farm families – which I’m not. I chose organic (community-supported-agriculture) farming because of the specific economic and social organization it provides. I chose a lifestyle and focus for my family – one that brings in money and provides us with a daily connection to the land.
“I publicly flinched when someone introduced me as an over-educated farmer, which so deeply expresses a cultural bias around education and agriculture.”
Her entrance into organic farming was with a fairly nuanced understanding of the history of agriculture, the organic-food movement and the politics around it, she said. She possesses a love of the peasant food that comes from her urban Jewish background.
“Food is life and life is food,” she explained. “Cattail Organics is a community-centered form of agriculture where the relationship between eaters and farmers is in the forefront. In this system farmer-to-farmer education and sharing is central. (My farm represents) a place where the farm and its supporters can rebel against the isolation and commodification of industrial agriculture.”
Cattail CSA members, through paying the normal community-supported-agriculture share, pledge $2 each week to a food bank. Becker matches that, providing $300 each week to The Neighbor’s Place food pantry in Wausau.
One of Becker’s missions is to remain deeply connected to her community, which has historically been a dairy-farming region, she said. It’s now deep in the dairy crisis. Also she connects to communities in Athens, Medford and Wausau where to thrive she depends on friends, family, hardware stores, local restaurants and grocery stores.
“Farming is really about food and food is about farming,” she said. “Cattail Organics is focused on making those connections transparent and teaching eaters how to eat seasonally, organically, diversely and beautifully.”
Visit cattailorganics.com for more information.