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14 Women (You've Probably Never Heard of) Who Work Every Day to Improve Your Food

United States Sustainability
by Cathy Brown Feb 11, 2016

ACCORDING TO THE U.N. FOOD and Agriculture Organization, women represent 43 percent of the world’s agricultural labor force and 47 percent of the global fisheries labor force. They produce more than half of the world’s food, despite being less than half of the labor force, and account for 60 to 80 percent of food production in developing countries.

While we unfortunately can’t recognize all of the hard-working women in agriculture, here’s just a few of the influential women who are working diligently to better our food systems around the world.

1. Chellie Pingree

She is an example of government done right. Chellie Pingree, a native of Maine, is a democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives and serves on the United States House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies. She sponsored landmark legislation to preserve small business opportunities in Maine. She also oversaw Maine’s largest land bill initiative, Land for Maine’s Future. She’s a champion of local food and farms, and has achieved many legislative victories that support farmers’ markets and allow SNAP users to purchase local produce.

2. Kathleen Merrigan

Merrigan doesn’t stop. She’s the Executive Director of Sustainability at the George Washington University, leads the GW Sustainability Collaborative and GW Food Institute, is a professor of Public Policy, and serves on the Board of Directors for the Stone Barn Center for Food and Agriculture and Food Corps. Merrigan also served as the U.S Deputy Secretary and Chief Operating Officer of the U.S Department of Agriculture, created the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, and was involved in Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign. Not a bad resume.

3. Severine Von Tscharner Fleming

Based in Chaplain Valley, NY, Fleming is an activist, farmer, founder and director of The Greenhorns, a grassroots cultural organization that advocates for a growing movement of young farmers and ranchers in America. Fleming founded the Society for Agriculture and Food Ecology (SAFE), which advocates for sustainable farming practices, then she went on to create Agrarian Trust, which builds a national network to support new farmers, as well as Farm Hack, an open-source platform for farmers to receive affordable farm tools and technologies.

4. Brenda Hastings

Based in California, Hastings and her husband founded Hastings Dairy, where her family and employees milk about 560 happy Holstein cows kept in free-stall barns. Hastings served on the Ohio Dairy Producer Association as the only female member on the board of directors and she’s now one of only two women on the board of the American Dairy Association-Mideast.

5. Diane Hatz

Founder and executive director of Change Food, she’s dedicated to bringing awareness to problems in our food systems. She was the organizer, host, and founder of TedXManhattan’s “Changing the Way We Eat,” which brought together experts in food and farming to discuss changes that need to be made in the American food system. She also directed the Glenwood Institute for Sustainable Food and Farming and started the Sustainable Table Program while working for GRACE Communications Foundation.

6. Tengiwe Cristina Kaba

Back in 2001, she was recognized as South Africa’s Woman of the Year. In Cape Town, Kaba serves as the Executive Director of Abalimi, where she introduces urban gardening strategies to the townships of Cape Town. She also founded the Community Supported Agriculture initiative Harvest of Hope to distribute fresh fruits and vegetables grown in community gardens to families and schools throughout the city.

7. Dinnah Kapiza

In rural Malawi, Kapiza works as the founder and CEO of Tisaiwale Trading, a chain of farm supply stores. She turned US$113 in savings into her first farm supply store and hasn’t stopped since. She now serves more than 6,000 small scale farmers. She was recognized as Malawi’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 2011.

8. Debra Eschmeyer

Executive Director of Let’s Move! and Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition Policy at the White House, Eschmeyer in her limited free time also managed to co-found FoodCorps. “For more than a decade, Deb has been leading the way in teaching kids about the importance of healthy eating,” said First Lady Michelle Obama. Eschmeyer placed 200 service members in schools in 17 states during 2015 alone, promoting healthier eating through school gardening, cooking, and better food offered to kids through the schools.

9. Monica Lozano Luque

Luque founded Sea Soil, S.A. in Bogota in 2006. Sea Soil helps companies transition to more environmentally sustainable strategies, and imports technology to improve the fertility of soil and plants. She offers consulting services to producers to improve natural resource management. Before launching Sea Soil, Luque led a national organic farming program in Colombia.

10. Michele Merkel

Merkel is co-director of the Food and Water Justice Project at Food and Water Watch. She works hard to bring transparency and accountability to the practices of factory farming. Merkel also used to be the Chesapeake Regional Coordinator for Waterkeeper Alliance, as well as Senior Counsel and co-founder of the Environmental Integrity Project.

11. Lustia Nkhoma

Nkhoma serves as an Anchor Farm Project field officer in Malawi. The Anchor Farm Project has helped more than 56,000 smallholder farmers with access to inputs, farm knowledge, and markets. She trains local farmers in setting up female farmer clubs to help increase womens’ roles in decision making.

12. Denise O’Brien

O’Brien is the founder of the Women, Food, and Agriculture Network (WFAN) and has been farming in southwest Iowa for approximately 40 years. She was the president of the National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC), worked with the Iowa Farm Unity Coalition, and directed the Rural Women’s Leadership Development Project. In 2011, she was appointed a U.S. Department of Agriculture advisor in Afghanistan. O’Brien advocates and promotes topics involving domestic and international women’s and agricultural policies, organic farming, women’s relationship to farmland, sustainable living, and food security. She currently works on the board of Sustainable Iowa Land Trust (SILT) and Pesticide Action Network.

13. Susana Chaves Villalobos

In Costa Rica, Villalobos works as an agricultural engineer. She founded IBS Soluciones Verdes, which helps small-scale farmers with production strategies, communication, certification, and marketing. She also runs the Yo Como Verde (I Eat Green) campaign, which promotes healthy eating in Costa Rica. In her spare time, she trains and certifies organic farm production.

14. Karen Washington

A farmer and community activist based in Bronx, NY, she’s on the Board of Directors of Just Food, New York Botanic Garden, and the NYC Community Gardens Coalition. She co-founded the Black Urban Growers, and helped found community gardens in Bronx including the Garden of Happiness and La Familia Verde. In 2012 she was voted one of Ebony magazine’s “Power 100” of influential African-Americans and now writes for Rise & Root Farm.

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