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Natural Foods Merchandiser

Temra Costa discusses women and agriculture and sustainable foods

Expo West speaker Temra Costa, nationally recognized sustainable food and farming advocate and author of Farmer Jane (Gibbs, 2010), discusses how men and women differ as change makers, what led her to focus on women and agriculture and how retailers can support sustainable foods and the local-foods economy.

Q: How do men and women differ as change makers?

A: Men and women have different ways of interacting and carrying out their visions. Not that one or the other is better or worse; they’re just different in their approach and their relationship-building capacity. Women tend to bring a care for the environment, a care for future generations, as well as the ability to listen and build community around different projects. Women are relationship builders by nature.

It’s not that I think women should take over the food system, but we need to rebalance it so it incorporates environment, nature, community and future generations into the equation, and doesn’t look only at production quantity. For so long, men have been in charge of the agenda, which has really pushed the industrial agriculture model. The large-scale industrial food system has really polluted our communities and environment and is negatively impacting the land. Yet we’re still subsidizing the monoculture crops that are some of the biggest polluters.

Q: What led you to focus on women and agriculture? 

A: Working in the nonprofit sustainable agriculture world for more than six years, I noticed that there are so many women doing great projects to increase people’s access to, and awareness about, local, seasonal and sustainable foods. It’s uncanny—[women’s influence reaches] from the public sphere through farm-to-school programs and political campaigns to the personal level at home, where women control 85 percent of household spending. I knew, across the board, women were really moving things forward. When the last U.S. Department of Agriculture census came out, it showed that women are the fastest growing demographic of farmer. I found that their stories weren’t being told, and that they had a lot of inspiring things to say.  

Q: How can retailers support sustainable foods and the local-foods economy?

A:Many local retailers do this very well. I completely understand how challenging it is to incorporate a local food-buying program and educational component in the produce department. Retailers should ask, “What infrastructure could I include in the store that would support and encourage local farmers?” That could mean incorporating butchery in the meat department or allowing farmers to do value-added processing within your facility, so they could come and make their products right there in your store.

At the chain-store level, allowing those backdoor deliveries is really important for smaller-scale farmers who don’t have the quantity to go through distribution channels. The bonus is your store will have a really unique product display that will draw in customers. We’ve lost so much diversity in our foods, and retailers should look to incorporate more unique varieties.

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