Women have always farmed in Arizona, but left out of the agricultural narrative – a photo essay

Arizona has the highest proportion of female farmers – but conditions in this dry desert landscape aren’t easy, and rural isolation has created a tapestry of challenges

By Debbie Weingarten (words) and Audra Mulkern (photos) | The Guardian

y 9am, it’s already 100F (38C). In the desert afternoons, rain gathers on the horizon, teasing – and then it disappears. There is so much heaviness, so much waiting. I pulled on to the ranch of Anastasia Rabin with Audra Mulkern, a Washington-based photographer and founder of the Female Farmer Project. We were on assignment for a story and chasing a statistic: according to the most recent US census, Arizona is the state with the highest proportion of female farm operators.

Despite the fact that women have always farmed, they have been left out of our agricultural narrative. An incomplete story has real consequences: women have been left off land titles and bank documents; they have been denied federal loans and training opportunities; and until the 1982 census of agriculture, female farmers were not counted at all.

At Anastasia’s, we shadowed her on her daily chores – as she milked the goats and then walked them out on the range to browse the desert brush. And she introduced us to Jo Geerdes, her 78-year-old neighbor and mentor. At the confluence of their stories, we felt the pull of possibility: the potential for mentorship between female farmers and the return of a much-needed business for southern Arizona. And we felt the harsh clip of reality: the human cost of food production amid an arid landscape being sucked dry of its groundwater.

For Audra and me, their story has lingered.


Anastasia Rabin
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