About 50 women involved in the local farming industry — be it vegetable farming, viticulture or organic agriculture across Suffolk County — met with heads of a fairly new organization called New York Agri-Women this past Wednesday at to discuss ways to support women in their growing roles in the business and how to education the urban public on where their food comes from.
Members of the star-studded audience, in the realm of local farming anyway, included Barbara Shinn of , Monica Harbes of and Carol Sidor of .
Cari Rinker, a Manhattan-based attorney and founder of New York Agri-Women, said she hopes that females in the industry on the North Fork and throughout Suffolk County can develop strong networking and support through the group, which is a recognized state affiliate of American Agri-Women and currently has nearly 80 paying members throughout New York State.
Another purpose of the group, Rinker said, is to educate urban consumers on where their food really comes from.
“It blows me away how little New Yorkers understand agriculture when they have such a diverse and rich agriculture industry so close to them,” Rinker said of New York City. “So my hope is that we’ll be able to reach out to both rural and urban consumers — I know that people want to feel connected to the food that they eat."
Rinker told the audience of potential members of her group that New York Agri-Women does not favor organic farmers over those working in corporate farming.
“In order to feed our culture, we need big ag, we need small ag, and we need organic ag,” she said. “Majority always rules in policy making.”
Rinker added that though agriculture in New York is still a male-dominated industry, women tend to have a better understanding of the connection of farming to the consumers — a quality which can help in broader decision-making in the industry.
“We are the mothers, the caretakers,” she said. “We can convey a trust and a voice to bridge the gap between urban consumers and rural agriculture.”
Robin McCarthy, a 30-year-old co-winemaker at who also spent years working at in Mattituck and traveled the world studying the craft, said that she hopes that a group like New York Agri-Women can help portray women working in the field as a strong group — not as simply a bunch of farmers’ wives.
“We’re females in a male-dominated industry,” she said. “If a woman wants to have a baby, then she does have to take a break from drinking wine — but that’s unique to the wine industry. A woman does as much as a man in farming.”
Emilie Zaweski, a 57-year-old who has been growing herbs, vegetables and plants at Jamesport Harvest for 10 years, said that though she married into the industry from a career in accounting (which she still practices at the nursery) — she identifies herself as a farmer, not just a farmer’s wife.
“I’ll be both but I’m really a farmer,” she said. “And I love all the stuff I do as a farmer’s wife.”
Joe Gergela, executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau (and one of only three men in the room), said that he hoped New York Agri-Women would consider forming a partnership with the farm bureau to help focus issues in farming that relate to women specifically — because women do play different roles in the business of farming.
“I know that women are better communicators and are, for the most part, more patient and tolerant than most guys I know — myself included,” Gergela said. “I grew up on a farm out here, and my mother and grandmother kicked me out of the farmstand because I couldn’t tolerate people who would show up at the farmstand and say, ‘I could get this cheaper down the road.’ I would say, ‘Well, you better hurry up before they run out.’ So I knew I wasn’t the right person to have at the farmstand.”
Deb Schmitt, who’s worked in the business at for 30 year in Farmingdale and now in Riverhead, agreed that behind every male farmer is a great female partner.
“Women play more of a major role in the business these days,” she said.