Student Stories: Feminism on the farm — dual-ag major redefining norms

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — What do farms, feminism and the future all have in common? Hattie Henderson knows the answer. With her interests in incorporating new techniques in the farm industry, she is changing what it means to be a female farmer.

"It's against the grain, so to say, and people outside can see that they don't have to be born into this — they can say, 'I'm not stuck in whatever I was born into,'" said Henderson.

A senior majoring in both animal science and agribusiness management, Henderson's focus on farming includes dairy, horses and goats. This year she was named one of Farm Credit's "100 Fresh Perspectives" for participating in a local farmers market. This summer, she wants to get more involved in growing her own produce and selling it herself.

During her five years at Penn State studying in the College of Agricultural Sciences, Henderson, from New Florence, Westmoreland County, also has studied marketing to prepare herself to run her own business. "I like the whole idea that I'm my own boss," she said.

Henderson wants her farm to embrace new ideas, challenge tradition and be on the leading edge of how things are done — and ultimately to be one of the best farms out there. For example, she might grow corn and soybeans together. Or she might have horses and goats graze together, benefitting the farm because the goats eat weeds that horses don't — and that helps the grass grow for the horses.

Henderson plans for her farm to change the public's general perception of gender roles in the industry. "There's an idea that farmers are old white men driving old tractors, and the woman's only role is as the farmer's wife," she said. "We're the ones running the operation, doing 'the man's job.'"

Her farm also will change the public's perception of conventional farming, she believes. Henderson's idea centers around a farm-to-table concept, so the consumer can meet the farmer, and they learn about this process.

"Conventional farming is the normal way to produce things, but scientific advancements are what allow us to produce more food with fewer resources," she said.

In the future, Henderson wants to run a farm with her cousin. She plans to start out with produce and then grow into goats and dairy, while implementing her ideas of reinventing perceptions of women in the farming industry, and the industry's methods as a whole.

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Last Updated May 25, 2016