Women in Agriculture: How Women Shaped Modern-Day Farming

Women in Agriculture: How Women Shaped Modern-Day Farming

  • Heather Decker

There is no denying that the advent of agriculture forever changed life for our species. The shift from a hunter-gatherer society was a critical one—and it was driven by women.

“I compare agriculture to bipedalism and fire. It changed completely the way we interact with the environment, the way we interact with ourselves.” 

—Hugo Oliveira, Geneticist at the Universidade do Algarve in Faro, Portugal

A groundbreaking 2017 study examined prehistoric bones from the Neolithic, Bronze, and Iron Ages. Bone density reveals that consistent, repetitive, and difficult manual labor was a regular part of women’s lives. The findings disprove long-held beliefs that our female ancestors shunned manual labor in favor of domestic work. In fact, women were responsible for the lion’s share of farming responsibilities in early agricultural societies.

Women in agriculture have been paving the way for advancements for centuries.

In contrast, men experienced significant reductions in upper-body bone strength throughout these periods. The changes suggest that prehistoric men engaged in predominantly intensive lower-body work, like running and hunting—leaving planting, tilling, and other agricultural duties to the women. 

These findings demonstrate that the tireless efforts of women propelled the early stages of farming. Ancient women worked the soil with unwavering determination, laying the groundwork for the agricultural revolution.

Prehistoric women in agriculture paved the way for modern women farmers.

As time progressed, agricultural gender roles shifted significantly. According to the 2022 census, only 36% of farmers are women. Data shows, however, that women are involved in important decision-making in upwards of 58% of farms. Their roles are mostly in record-keeping and financial management, making women vital to the success of farming as a whole. 

At The Transfarmation Project®, we have seen firsthand the achievements of women at our farms: Devvie Deany in Texas was the first member of her family to reach out to Transfarmation; her daughter, Morgan Salis-Deany, is working toward cut-flower production on her family’s farmland; Sokchea Lim in North Carolina plays a lead role in her family’s mushroom cultivation; Tammy Faaborg in Iowa is integral to helping her family transition from animals to specialty crops; and Paula Boles, a Farm Aid Farmer Hero, wears many hats on her farm.

Let’s never forget that women were the original pioneers of farming! Today, Transfarmation is proud to support so many women farmers through our work.