If you’ve ever considered starting your own hobby farm, Karen Lanier’s “The Woman Hobby Farmer” is the resource you’ve been looking for.
Women are joining the farming community at unprecedented rates, with more than 1 million in the United States and Canada describing farming as their primary source of income and many more incorporating elements of farming – from gardening to husbandry and more – into their lifestyles as a hobby or pastime. This is the world that Lanier explores in her most recent book, with a view towards inspiring other women to get involved and become part of this growing female farming community.
Featuring interviews with a host of woman farmers from a variety of backgrounds, the book delves into important elements of hobby farming, including assessing your resources, taking care of yourself while you take care of the land, and the diverse ways in which a hobby farmer can perceive a profit.
While the book’s title references “hobby farming,” an early review in the Library Journal noted that this was “somewhat deceptive” because the book referenced farming, not as a hobby, but rather as a profession. Indeed, many of the women in the book make farming their full-time career, and many of the resources offered in the book pave the way towards this sort of lifestyle.
However, the decision to use the term “hobby farming” is an interesting one in terms of scale: while these farms often pay for themselves – and even make a profit for the women or couples running them – none of the farmers featured in the book run commercially-sized or industrial farms.
Lanier doesn’t exactly explore this line between hobby and professional farming in the text, but she and the women featured illustrate how one can walk it quite successfully: a naturalist, documentarian, teacher, artist, and gardener, Lanier spends most of her time working the land, but she is not a professional farmer. This is the difference – and this is what creates the almost-utopian reality described throughout the book.
This is a world of people who work the land who rely on regular bartering to make ends meet, a world of people who graze their horses on their neighbor’s land so that he doesn’t have to mow. This is a world defined by community. And while the book at first glance targets an extremely specific part of the population – women who want to start their own hobby farms – the stories are intriguing even for someone for whom farming is a far-off dream that may never become a reality.
The book’s approach is less “how-to” and more an illustration of the stories of several women who have succeeded in farming – with a variety of definitions as to what constitutes success – interwoven and organized based on general themes. Nevertheless, the book offers a host of activities and surveys to help the reader work out her own farming goals, from exploring financial restrictions and resources to discovering what our own bodies are capable of (and when they’ve had enough).
The book’s organization is unfortunately a bit haphazard, especially at first: the prose feels guided by the stories featured in the interviews rather than by Lanier herself, which means that it can jump from topic to topic with seemingly no transition. More troublesome is this same theme reflected in the organization of the book itself: the first 40 pages encourage readers to think about the specific land that they are working with before a section on renting versus buying (that is to say, the acquisition of this land) is even discussed.
These small structural issues aside, this book is not only brimming with concrete resources for women interested in farming as a profession or merely a lucrative hobby, but it is also an inspiring tome exploring just how far women have come in farming today.