Farmer Jane: Women Changing the Way We Eat
by Temra Costa


Gibbs Smith, 2010. ISBN 978-1-423-60562-1.
Reviewed by Judy King
Posted on 08/19/2011

Nonfiction: Active Life; Nonfiction: Nature/Place/Environment; Nonfiction: Food/Cooking/Kitchen

If you're interested in learning more about the sustainable farming movement/revolution, you'll want to read this book. Ms. Costa has portrayed over 30 women, their farms, businesses, and careers in this eye-opening collection. She has divided the book into sections including "Advocates for Social Change," "Urban Farm Women," and "The Next Generation of Sustainable Farmers," among others. In each section she showcases women in different parts of the country who are making contributions in that area, and tells the stories of how they got started in farming. At the end of each section she provides "Recipes for Action"—ways you can participate, whether you are an "Eater," a Farmer, or a Food Business. She chooses to use the term eater instead of consumer, as the latter word "has removed the social aspect of what we purchase and eat and has degraded us to mere purchasers of products."

Costa makes the argument that switching from mega farms producing a single or few crops to small, organic and diversified farms is not only desirable from the standpoint of providing safer, more nutritious, and more flavorful foods, but that it will become the only sensible way to produce food as more and more land is developed into housing areas and shopping malls. She also cites the educational impact of exposure to farming on a small scale that's possible when modern sustainable farms include outreach efforts in their communities as part of their business plans. Most of the farms featured in this book offer some type of hands-on experience opportunities to local schools as well as to their own members.

Most of the farms are are also supported by member/buyers who invest a certain amount for annual membership and receive a selection of the farm's products throughout the year. Many of these co-ops also include some type of "sweat investment" as part of their membership. Extra help is especially critical during peak seasons for planting and harvest on small farms that can afford few, if any, employees.

Costa doesn't just talk about small farmers. In her "Advocates for Social Change" section, she describes the work and life of Glenda Humiston, California's State Director of USDA's Rural Development Programs, and former USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment. Humiston has "logged nearly twenty years working at local, state and federal levels for farmland preservation, and improved natural resources management," and "has worked tenaciously to close the gap between the government and public."

In a similar vein, Marion Kalb, Co-Director of the National Farm to School Network, has spent more than twenty-six years working to create viable markets for farmers and educate the public about the "importance of maintaining and increasing our food production capacity. Without viable markets for selling produce, our farmers will cease operation; and without knowing how important fresh foods are for their diet, or knowing what a truly good ripe peach tastes like, people won't know why they need to support farms."

One of Kalb's projects has been to directly connect farmers with schools to ensure better nutrition for schoolchildren. Farm visits are included in several of the farm/school district plans. "Kids surprise us to no end with what they will and will not eat. If they have learned where a food comes from and how it is grown, chances are they will want to try eating it, too. If they get the opportunity to grow it or pick it themselves, it WILL go in their mouths."

In the section titled "Promoting Local and Seasonable Foods" I met the "farmer after my own heart." Jessica Prentice is an author, chef, and co-owner of Three Stone Hearth—a community supported kitchen that creates meals that people can take home, using local ingredients. Her goal was not to "feed into the world of convenience food and people not cooking, But I really think there are some people who are not going to cook, period." (That would be me.) "And for others, having a few things prepared actually moves them back into the kitchen."

I'll be the first to admit I've always been a lazy eater who never liked grocery shopping or any sort of food preparation work. I have always favored convenience foods, choosing to ignore the numbers and amounts of "mystery ingredients" and preservatives they contain. Much of my attitude stems from growing up in the feminist movement and considering anything that tradition called woman's work to be work that I did not want to do.

Reading this book has opened my eyes to new possibilities. I'm not young enough to start my own farm, but I'm not to old to learn a few new tricks to try and feed myself better.


Temra Costa is a nationally recognized sustainable food and farming advocate. Her recent book, Farmer Jane: Women Changing the Way We Eat, is the product of the past seven years she has spent working to promote a more vibrant local food economy in California and beyond. Visit her website.

(See another review of this book, here)

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