As we celebrate International Women’s Day on the North Fork, some of our readers have written to celebrate the success and sacrifices of some of the great women in our community. Others have written to seek advice regarding opportunities and potential careers for their daughters, and all of this has started a dialogue about our responsibility to the next generation in the agricultural and maritime community we call the North Fork.
The role of women farmers is a global one as approximately half of the agricultural workforce worldwide is now made up of women. However, very few of them have any type of ownership or control. The United Nations Food Programme (WFP), promotes farming for women as a vehicle to end hunger and promote gender equality. The challenges that women face in developing countries are not dissimilar from some of the struggles of women in communities such as ours. Issues ranging from lack of access to capital, insufficient role modes or professional duties on top of primary responsibility for child care and housework are all some of the obstacles. Making it in the agricultural business is not just about farming the land but nowadays, it is about the innovation and enormous flexibility required to make a business of farming.
Here, on the North Fork, there is a plethora of women in farming. Generations of farmers out here have been women and many of those names you will recognize as you pass the acres of vineyards and other farmland. Farm stands bearing the names, Hallock, Latham, Krupski, Sepenoski, KK’s, Catapano, Harbes, Schmitt, Wickham, are among the many; but today we are discussing the backgrounds of a few female members of our farming community and their innovations.
Carol Sidor, farmer, innovator and entrepreneur, North Fork Potato Chips
Her story is an important one as the future of farming will not only depend on our sustainability initiatives but also on our willingness to innovate and accept change when it necessary for survival. No one knows this better than Carol and her family as their farming roots go back to 1910. Carol married into 3rd generation of potato farming started by her husband’s Polish grandfather. Many years later, as they ran their 170 acre farm, they began to feel the change in American eating habits when the Atkins diet craze villanized carbs and along with that, the Long Island potato. This phenomenon threatened their family’s legacy as potato farmers and forced them to innovate in the direction of the unknown, making potato chips with the very crop their family had been growing for generations. Not only did Carol lead the research effort as they explored going from potato farm to potato chip manufacturer but she is also involved in every aspect of the business including the sourcing machinery to driving the truck when irrigation pipes are being set.
Karen Lee, farmer, entrepreneur, innovator, Sang Lee Farms
Karen Lee is another innovator in the agricultural community as she spring-boarded the family farming business founded by her husband, Fred Lee’s family , to a full culinary experience for consumers who shop on their farm. Her line of Loca*Lee® prepared value-added products, made in their Certified Organic kitchen, was started with dressings and dips that could be purchased along with their vegetables. Now the line includes Pestos, pickled products, jellies, fermented vegetables, vegan soups, cooking sauces, roasted veggies, vegetable packs and prepared salads. The ability to create ready to eat food products and condiments that complement fresh farm produce has given way for Sang Lee Farms to provide a complete farm to table experience for locals and tourists alike. In 2006, Sang Lee Farms launched a CSA Program and in 2007, Sang Lee Farms received Organic certification by the Northeast Organic Farming Association.
Holly Browder, farmer, entrepreneur, innovator, Browder’s Birds
Holly Browder is another farmer who has understood the need for consumer to connect with the farm for a complete experience. If you have the opportunity to visit the farm you will see Holly’s chickens roaming among the fields — and the lambs. The passion she expresses for the care of her chickens and eggs is infectious. Her business acumen, may be attributable to her years spent at the world renowned consulting firm, McKinsey & Co, but something tells me its in her DNA. It is evident in Holly understanding the need of merchandising her farmed goods on the bottom-line and she started a line of cash-and-carry products such as mayonnaise and quiches that she sells at the Riverhead Farmers’ Market (which she helped found) along with dry rubs and brining salt for her delicious Browder’s Bird chickens. Not only does she represent her brand in her own on-site shop and farmer’s markets but she also publishes a newsletter and cross promotes businesses who use her products. Holly is a member of the Long Island Farm Bureau Board of Directors and served as Vice President of the Greenport Farmers’ Market Board,
These women, along with so many others, have transformed the concept of farming as we know it and their knowhow will spur the dreams of many future farmers, women and men alike. Next time you are on the North Fork, stop by one of these farms or farm stands and experience the labor of these great women as you celebrate International Women’s Day tomorrow.