American Grown: Women in Agriculture

A new episode of American Grown: My Job Depends on Ag highlighted women in agriculture on Wednesday, June 29.

Women in agriculture was the focus of Wednesday’s episode and the two women highlighted in the episode were a dairy farmer named Stephanie Nash and Christine Gemperle, an almond grower in Turlock who advocates to bridge the gap between environmentalism and agriculture.

Closing the gap between environmentalism and agriculture through the process of regenerative agriculture practices, which is the practice of applying management techniques to restore systems to improve productivity more specifically to improve the soil used in crop land and livestock pastures according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), is a goal Gemperle achieved on her ranch in Turclok and hopes other producers will implement.

Gemperle’s background in agriculture started when her father immigrated from Switzerland in the early 1960’s when they started growing almonds and poultry farming.

In the episode, Gemperle recalled an occasion when a member of the California water boards state resources control board was speaking to her and during the conversation Gemperle said she felt he was coming from a “metropolitan standpoint” according to Gemperle. Gemperle said her initial reaction was that the representative wasn’t understanding that they needed to “work together”.

“The whole idea is working together or allowing each other to coexist,”Gemperle said. 

In an attempt to bridge the gap between environmentalism and agriculture Gemperle was inspired by the bumper stickers that use different religious symbols to spell out coexist, Gemperle did the same but using symbols that were meaningful for agriculture.

“We can have ag, we can have environmentalism, we can do this together. We just have to want to, we just have to listen to each other and we have to be able to give as much as we want. We need to be able to give, and that goes for both sides. Let me reiterate, both sides.” Gemperle said

In hopes of bridging the gap, Gemperle has implemented the practice she calls “agrimentalism”, a blend of environmentalism and agricultural practices.

“The new buzz word now is regenerative ag and it’s all  about putting things back into the soil and keeping the soil really healthy. It’s about all the microbial organisms in the soils and how that benefits what you’re growing there,” Gemperle said. 

An example of how Gemperle has implemented regenerative practices on her ranch is providing a cover crop that serves an alternative purpose.

Cover crops, according to the USDA, are crops that have the potential to prevent soil and wind erosion, improve soil’s physical and biological properties, supply nutrients, suppress weeds, improve the availability of soil water, and break pest cycles with various other benefits. But Gemperle wanted her cover crop to serve another role.

“When I originally put [the cover crop] in, I specifically put it in to benefit my beekeeper and his bees,” Gemperle said.

Bees are often used to increase our nation’s crop value each year by $15 billion dollars according to the USDA, however bees have been in serious decline for more than three decades in the United States.

The decision behind using a cover crop that would benefit the bees is a decision that Gemperle said helps keep the pollinators strong and will also allow the bees to pollinate her crops well.

“It ended up having all these other benefits to it. I mean first of all, all the bees did love it, they did do great. The bees had great pollination this year, no competition.” Gemperle said.

Nash was one of the two women of agriculture highlighted in Wednesday’s episode. Nash’s story of being a third generation dairy farmer from the Central Valley was unique because of her family’s decision to leave California because of the cost to farm.

Growing up with a singing background and learning about the advocacy side of agriculture while attending college and while living in Nashville, Nash started making country music that advocated for agriculture.

Her first single was “Time Changes”, which Nash said was inspired from her time in California during the construction of the high speed rail.

“I actually recorded it because of the bullet train going through California and I saw that a lot of farmers were not getting paid for the land that was being taken up,” Nash said.

Nash’s family relocated to Tennessee and said that the decision to move wasn’t easy.

“It was a big change because growing up I showed cattle at the Fresno Fair and I was a part of everything agriculture growing up and I really loved the richness of the valley,” Nash said.

Nash’s father Steve, said that the idea to relocate came to be because of constraints from regulations and fees in California that made it hard to be sustainable.

“As I continued to watch the bills come out of the legislature that became laws and all the licenses and fees  that changed when they couldn’t add any new taxes, it just became obvious that it was going to be very difficult for my kids to make a living in the dairy business in California,” Steve said.

Going forward good policy is what is going to make or break farmers, Gemperle said.

“The question is what’s good policy, and who is it good policy [for]. Again, you’re talking about people in metropolitan areas, you’re talking about environmentalists, you’re talking about agriculture. We’re all on different pages and at some point we need to get united and figure this thing out together,” Gemperle said.

Nash said since moving to Tennessee, they have built a creamery and established a community around their diary that they are proud of.

Nash has established opportunities for internships on the dairy and currently has three young women interning for her where they help Nash with advocacy work and tours.

“They will come on to my dairy farm and they will learn what I do, my advocacy, selling cheese at the farmers market, [work] events at the creamery, and at the end of their internship I will write a letter to the job or college of their choice in furthering their education in agriculture.” Nash said. 

To watch more episodes of American Grown: My Job Depends on Ag, visit their Youtube Page  at American Grown Youtube channel.

Adam Ricardo Solis has written for The Collegian as a staff reporter covering a variety of topics and transferred from Fresno City College to Fresno State where he majored in agriculture business. He is excited to incorporate what he has learned about the agriculture industry in the Central Valley into future articles while also covering a variety of other community matters.