Women across Michigan contribute greatly to the state’s agriculture industry, with more than 24,000 female farmers operating nearly 3 million acres of farmland and creating a $232.2 million economic impact.
As women continue to grow their presence in the industry, the United States Department of Agriculture launched the Women in Agriculture Initiative, designed to support women as they take leadership roles both on and off the farm. That support is encouraging more and more women to get involved, which is evident in Michigan as women are taking the lead on family farms.
Like Mother, Like Daughter
In Climax, the Leach family – husband and wife, Larry and Brigette, and their daughter, Kelly – operate Avalon Farms Homegrown, which began in 1932. The farm now raises crops using hydroponic technologies, greenhouses and high tunnels, and the family operates a farm market with fresh produce grown on the property as well as items from family farms across Michigan. The Leaches also sell their products at area farmers markets, to local restaurants and via their Share of the Farm CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture program, where members buy a share of the crops produced by the farm each season.
Although Brigette married into the family business, she was no stranger to the agriculture industry, and she quickly embraced the lifestyle that goes with running a farm. Along with contributing to Avalon Farms Homegrown, Brigette has participated in agricultural leadership programs enabling her to travel the world, and has served on the Michigan Farm Bureau Board of Directors for several years.
“Looking back, my experiences as a woman in agriculture have been positive, and this career has given me many opportunities that I probably wouldn’t have had if I’d chosen another path,” Brigette says.
Working on the farm was a natural fit for Kelly, too, who majored in agricultural communications at Michigan State University. Since returning to the farm in 1998, Kelly has taken on various roles, and she currently handles the operation’s accounting and employee-management tasks while managing the greenhouse/ produce enterprise. In addition, she is serving her fourth term as president of the Kalamazoo County Farm Bureau Board of Directors.
“The agriculture industry may still be male-dominated, but there’s a lot of respect for female farmers in Michigan,” Kelly says. “I would encourage any woman who’s interested in agriculture to get involved; there are a lot of jobs available for us, and this is a very welcoming industry.”
After their uncle passed away in 1981, sisters Abby Jacobson and Katrina Roy joined their mother in taking charge of the day-to-day operations at Westview Orchards & Winery, originally established in 1813. The sisters became sixth- generation farmers, and today they operate the 188-acre property in Washington Township with the assistance of Abby’s husband, Bill.
Since taking the reins, the sisters have made several changes and enhancements to the farm, particularly in the agritourism sector. Abby and Katrina developed a large U-pick operation that includes strawberries, cherries, raspberries, apples and pumpkins, as well as a corn maze and other attractions that have helped Westview Orchards & Winery become a top destination for families in nearby communities and beyond.
“We realized people wanted to have farm experiences,” Abby says. “They wanted to see how the crops were grown and to get a feel for the farm, and that’s why we decided to get into agritourism. It’s now an incredibly popular part of our operation that we’re very proud of.”
In addition, Abby and Katrina expanded an existing building on their property to create a bakery and a cider press, and they now have a winery with varieties ranging from sweet to dry. The sisters also manage an on-site farm market that offers fresh produce grown on the property, along with baked goods, jams, jellies, honey, salsas and more.
“Agriculture is in our blood, and it is part of our heritage,” Abby says. “Katrina and I feel lucky to continue this legacy on our farm, and we’re fortunate that we complement and balance one another so well.”