Influx of young women changes the face of California farming

Katie Fyhrie, 25, begins her day recently by harvesting nectarines with Cloverleaf farm owner Emma Torbert, left, on a stone fruit orchard at the Collins Farm in Davis. The two women are among a wave of young people who are breaking into agriculture, an industry typically viewed as male-dominated.

Katie Fyhrie, 25, begins her day by harvesting nectarines with Cloverleaf farm owner Emma Torbert, left, on a stone fruit orchard at the Collins Farm in Davis. They are among a wave of young women who are breaking into agriculture, an industry typically viewed as male-dominated.

Written by By Edward Ortiz for The Sacramento Bee

On most mornings, Katie Fyhrie, 25 and Emma Torbert, 35 meet at dawn at their Davis fruit farm.

As they scramble up ladders to pluck fruit and later sort it into delivery bins, they embody a demographic shift underway in agriculture: young, beginning farmers, many of them women, are entering the field at an increasing rate.

So far, the influx hasn’t been enough to offset the demographics of existing farmers, who are mostly older men. The median age of American farmers is 59, according to the last U.S. Department of Agriculture census in 2012.

But times are changing. The 2012 USDA census found that the number of new farmers between the ages of 25 and 34 had grown 11 percent since the previous census was taken in 2007.

The number of women farming in California has steadily increased over the past three decades. The 1978 USDA census counted 6,202 women who listed farming as their main occupation. By 2012, there were 13,984.

These new farmers are embracing different delivery methods that don’t involve bulk commodity sales to food processing companies. They’re peddling produce directly to consumers through farmers’ markets, farm stands and subscriptions for produce boxes. Those sales methods increased 8 percent from 2007.

Fyhrie and Torbert sell their peaches and other organic fruit directly to subscribers in Davis and also to stores such as the the Bi-Rite market in San Francisco’s Mission district.

Neither woman comes from a farm family, and neither inherited land. Both are college educated and found their way to farming from other pursuits. Torbert holds a Bachelor’s degree in physics from Princeton University, and Fyhrie recently graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, with a degree in biology.

Both are crazy about farming.

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