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Fostering Sustainability and Innovation in Agriculture

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Women in Farming: Cyndy Beck and Judy Dauson on Returning to Farming and the Food Movement

November 1, 2015 |

Photo courtesy of Judy Dauson. Beck (left) Dauson (right).

Photo courtesy of Judy Dauson. Beck (left) Dauson (right).

Cyndy Beck and Judy Dauson returned to farming in mid-life and founded the CSA Peace by Piece Farm on Boyd Run in Waterford, Pennsylvania. Dauson worked in the technology industry for 28 years. Beck worked in airline catering then went back to school for her MS in Biology and a Ph.D. in Environmental Science and Public Policy. She taught for ten years at George Mason University and headed the Biology department before departing in 2009 and returning to her family farm in Pennsylvania.

The CSA is a response to Beck’s experience living near Washington, DC and the inundation of negative news surrounding the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. She adopted the idea of making “peace” one “piece at a time, such as a bushel of sustainably raised vegetables.” Beck shared her idea with Dauson, and together they started the CSA.

Seedstock: You came to farming after having other careers. Was farming always part of your life?

Beck: I grew up on this farm. We moved away when I was young but always spent vacations and holidays here. I have had and do have several careers. I currently teach biology courses online for George Mason and Northern Virginia Community College, which allows me to support my farming habit. For me, farming is not a career, it’s just a way of life.

Dauson: My parents had a garden when I was young. My grandmother also grew much of her food. Summer included time for taking care of the garden, canning and freezing food for winter. I continued to have a garden after I settled down with my family and continued to can and freeze a winter food supply.

Seedstock: What is your reception as a woman in the farming community? Obstacles or Advantages?

Beck: There is a very steep learning curve when you take up farming at age 52. Using sustainable practices has been like doing science: trial and error.

Being a relatively small older woman is a bit of an obstacle: farming equipment is made for 250 lb men! It takes much swearing and a big hammer to get tillers, brush hogs and haying equipment on and off the back of a tractor. Guys can just muscle it. None of the equipment is designed with finesse to make it easy to use. A loader on a tractor is a woman’s best friend (next to the big hammer).

As for advantages, I think the way women view the earth is one: as something we need to take care of. Also, maybe because of my strong background in biology, farming is about being in harmony with nature, using the natural biological systems and not trying to beat it all into submission with big equipment and chemicals. That goes for the way I care for my animals as well.

Dauson: The stumbling blocks are more about getting people to address consumption of healthy food rather than “manufactured” food. I’m not sure if the conversation I am trying to start would be different if I were a man. It does seem that more and more women are involved in bringing the message of sustainable farming practices into the public arena.

Seedstock: Are issues like food security and local farming linked to issues like community building and social justice for you?

Beck: Absolutelythe key though is education! Many people in the US are blissfully unaware of the issues with food security: Monsanto, seed security, declining genetic diversity, the threat GMOs pose, control of food by a few large companies. They have no idea what is in season or the carbon footprint their supermarket diet has.  

As for social justice, by working with the Little Italy farmers’ market nearby in Erie, I have become more aware of the lack of options and information available for folks in certain urban food deserts.

Dauson: Community is the center of the current food movement for me. I attend the PASA conference at Penn State. The focus is planting, growing, harvesting in a sustainable manner. It still seems that success is measured by how big the operation is. I am beginning to see success by the number of people having a box in their backyard where they can comfortably and easily grow their tomatoes and peppers and then share them with the neighbor growing radishes and onions.

Seedstock: How do you see the face of farming changing?

Beck: In my community, I see it changing very slowly. But since we started our CSA, there has been a steady increase in the number of CSAs, awareness, and other models for obtaining local food.  

Dauson: I believe the current food movement is a revolution. It’s a quiet one where people move forward learning new ways of growing food sustainably. I think people hope to improve their chances at good health by eating well, so there is a conversation developing about what that means. And it seems more young people are getting involved and want to bring good food—growing and eating—into their lives.

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