Women of the land

By Posted on Nov 23 2015 | By

Fair farmers of the Piedmont

Women represent 30 percent of all farmers—either as operators or co-operators— according to the most recent 2012 United States Department of Agriculture census.

It’s a surprising number given the traditional view of farming as male dominated.

_DSC0942Here in Fauquier and Prince William counties those percentages track closely with national statistics. And yet, a woman’s role on the farm is seemingly hidden by the perception that only men drive tractors, plant fields and raise cattle.

Think again.

Women gravitate to working the land for number of reasons. Historically, a farmer’s wife always played an important role on the farm. Today, the urge to work the land is reinforced by an emphasis on healthy eating, a return to an agrarian lifestyle and the entrepreneurial spirit women have brought to other industries.

In addition, the growth of farmers’ markets has created venues for women to sell produce and other farm products directly to the consumer. In 1994 there were 1,755 such markets nationwide. Today the number exceeds 8,000.

“Farm to table” resonates because producers and consumers know the value of wholesome food. Women play an important role in the burgeoning movement.

There are a host of stories of women in agriculture in our region. Here are three typical producers.

Powers Farm
Melody Powers, 32, has always been interested in eating healthy food. She grew up on a hobby farm in northeastern Pa. and moved to Virginia as a young women. She held a few conventional jobs before moving with her husband, Kevin, to Fauquier County in 2013. They purchased a home on 11 acres.

“We always wanted to start farming,” Powers said. Kevin Powers still works full-time off the farm. She devotes all her energies to farming their small operation. Currently she tends an acre of vegetables and a quarter acre of hops.

The hops are sold to Old Bust Head Brewery in Warrenton. Her husband hopes to start a commercial brewery of his own in the future.

Her crops include tomatoes, watermelons, peppers, beets, celery, beans, winter squash and more. She markets the produce at the Manassas Farmers’ Market on Saturdays during the growing season.

This year she started a Community Supported Agriculture enterprise. CSAs are a system in which a farm operation is supported by shareholders in the local community who share both the benefits and risks of food production.

A full membership in her CSA costs $550 annually and entitles the buyer to a bag of fresh vegetables each week over a 20 week period. Half shares are also available.

“I look forward to growing my CSA. I really enjoy it. I use no sprays or chemicals” so the food embodies the best of fresh produce.

Her goal is to have two acres in production. She explains that every farm has a “microclimate and you always are experimenting to find out what grows best.

“I think local farms are really important to communities. I feel lucky I get to do this. It is hard work and takes perseverance but I enjoy being my own boss and watching plants grow,” Powers said.

Visit for a full description of the farm’s produce.

Harvester Farm

Restin' Easy

Restin’ Easy

Bethany Seal, 29, comes from a farming family and her parents still work the land. The family moved to their Nokesville farm when Seal was in middle school. She recalls seeing one of her neighbors raising cattle and thought to herself “I think I want a cow!”

Seal graduated from Virginia Tech in 2007 with a degree in Agriculture and subsequently obtained a degree in Veterinary Technology. The lady farmer has her bona fides.

Today she and her husband, Bradley, have a herd of 80 registered Black Angus cattle with the goal of growing it to 200 head. They artificially inseminate both their cows and heifers to obtain industry leading genetics.

As is often the case for aspiring farmers, her career began with participation in 4-H activities. She showed her cows as a teenager and continues to do so today. The family owns three different farms and rents a fourth for a total of 1,400 acres.

Reflecting on her work she explains she and her husband employ a “divide and conquer” strategy to each day’s tasks. In the morning they assess what needs to be accomplished and independently tackle the work, sharing experiences at the end of the day. They are both full-time farmers.

A typical day involves checking the status of the herd to assure the health of each animal. Particular emphasis is placed on brood cows that are close to calving. A brood cow and calf can cost as much as $4,000 so maintaining bovine health is critical to a successful operation.

Supporting work involves repairing fences, haying and rotating pastures so herds do not “eat it to the bottom”. In the fall, fields are planted to assure a hay crop for the winter months. Weighing between 1,200 to 1,400 pounds, each a cow is a virtual eating machine that must be catered to for maximize profit.

“If you want to farm you have to love it. There are days you’ll look in the mirror and wonder what you’re doing. It’s hard work,” Seal said. “Being a farmer is not for the faint of heart. You cannot be afraid to get dirty and sometimes you have to take one for the team and end up covered in manure.”

Another reason the consuming public owes a debt of gratitude to farmers.

Seven Oaks Lavender Farm
Deborah Williamson hails from a multi-generational Pa. farming family. During her teenage years the family moved to a farm in Catlett. It was a hobby farm with all the “Green Acres” suspects of chickens, calves, ponies, horses and a big garden. “It was a lot of fun,” Williamson said.

Nonetheless, by the time she was a young woman, she left the farm to seek her fortunes elsewhere; first in the Virginia Tidewater region and later in New York City. “I swore I’d never live in the country again. There’s not a whole going on there” for a grown woman.

But when her son, Lincoln, was two-years-old she realized she did not want to raise him in the Big Apple. “I wanted to raise him in fresh air and around my family so I moved back to the farm. I have three brothers and a sister and we all live within 15 minutes of each other,” Williamson said.

A trip to France with her mother and sister created the idea of starting a lavender farm. She researched the business and found there were few such farms on the East Coast.

Lavender has a long history of cultivation. During colonial times the flower was grown for a variety of uses including sachets for use in closets and drawers to scent clothes with its floral aroma.

It is also known for its calming and relaxing effect and as an aid for sleep. You can cook with it or just smell it to reap its calming benefits.

Williamson and her mother, Edith, jointly work the farm and have almost four acres of lavender under cultivation. Customers do most of the harvesting. In early June, the crop is ready to market and customers come from around the state to buy the flowers.

In season—June and July—an entrance fee of $4 for children and $6 for adults is charged in addition to 15 cents for each cut stem. The perennial plant grows up to six feet wide and produces 2,000 flowers each.

The farm was started in 2003 and opened to the public in 2006. Four years ago Williamson became a full-time lavender farmer. “It allows me to be the kind of mom I want to be because I get to work at home,” single parent Williamson said.

Her son is now 16-years-old and plays on the Kettle Run High School varsity football team.

“It’s been a struggle but with the help of my family we made it through. For the past four years we have been quite profitable.” She devotes full-time to the farm’s success.

For additional information on the farm’s operational hours and products visit


Published in the Fall 2015 edition of the Piedmont Business Journal.

Categories : HAGARTY TALES