Local women leaders in organic industry celebrate International Women’s Day

Santa Cruz Sentinel
SANTA CRUZ — As the rest of the world celebrated International Women’s Day on Tuesday, a group of women, some with Santa Cruz roots, noted their own personal milestones as leaders in the organic agriculture industry.

Miars, Wilmot, Bushway & Boykin

Maureen Wilmot, who took over as executive director of the Santa Cruz-based Organic Farming Research Foundation in January, will be recognizing several of her peers who have taken up similar leadership positions at an annual luncheon Thursday at the Natural Products ExpoWest in Anaheim.

“This is a happy coincidence,” Wilmot said, referring to the relatively recent occurrence of several women directors of national organic-related nonprofit organizations.

Peggy Miars, former head of the Santa Cruz-based California Certified Organic Farmers, is the chief executive officer/executive director of the Organic Materials Review Institute in Eugene, Ore.; Joan Boykin is the executive director and a founding member of The Organic Center, a research agency in Boulder, Colo.; and Christine Bushway is the executive director of the Organic Trade Association in Greenfield, Mass. Also at the national level, LaRhea Pepper is co-founder and senior director of Textile Exchange formerly the Organic Exchange.

“There are more women organic farmers every day,” Wilmot said Tuesday.

Wilmot had just finished up a meeting with her board of directors at which the president, Deirdre Birmingham, an apple farmer in Wisconsin, presided.

“In the last three years, the boards of all four organic organizations have chosen the best and the brightest to lead the way, and it just so happened we were all women.”

About 22 percent of organic farm operators are women, according to the 2007 census by the U.S. Department of Agriculture — where the deputy secretary of agriculture is Kathleen Merrigan. That only includes a tiny percentage of the overall farms, however. Women have a growing presence in the agriculture industry, but while the number of women who were the principal operators of a farm or ranch increased almost 30 percent between 2002 and 2007, women were the principal operators of just 14 percent of 2.2 million farms in the U.S.

“Because women are the backbone of most families in America, it is not surprising that women lead key organizations in the organic community,” Miars said. “Women have led the way in buying organic for our families, advocating for production practices that protect the environment, and ensuring that organic laws and regulations uphold the integrity of organic products. As a baby boomer, I remember when women’s rights were still young, so it is very gratifying to see this leadership transformation in organic.”

Bushway, the third female executive director for the Organic Trade Association, said, “Mutual respect between men and women in the sector bodes well for the future and vision of organic agriculture as it continues to grow.”

The organization also has a female board president.

This article appeared here.

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