Agriculture touches our lives each and every day—whether actively farming and ranching, conducting research, or shopping at the grocery store—and women leaders play an increasingly pivotal role across the board.
The number of farms operated by women has more than doubled since 1978. Across the country, nearly 300,000 women serve as principal operators on 62.7 million acres of farm and ranchland, accounting for $12.9 billion in farm products in 2012. Countless more women live, work and raise families in rural America. At USDA, we support projects designed to help women in agriculture improve production, develop good business and risk management practices and transfer knowledge to other women agricultural leaders.
Parents from all walks of life care about giving their children the best possible start in life. USDA has helped make that a reality for millions of families. Last year, our WIC program helped nearly 9 million women and young children access healthy food, nutrition education and breastfeeding support. Our Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which gives families in need extra resources to purchase healthy foods, helped lift nearly 1.4 million households headed by single women out of poverty, including 600,000 households headed by women with children.
We’ve also made it a priority to foster new talent in research, science and technology, and support young leaders. For example, last year, USDA worked with the Girl Scout Council to host a day-long event for over 100 young women. At the event, young women leaders discussed conservation, forest management, and future careers in science. The attendees also created naturalist kits that were used during a week-long outreach camp for 700 girls, grades K-5, from underserved neighborhoods to encourage them to consider future careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
Better representation of women in agriculture means more than just an increase in the amount of food produced on women-owned or women-operated farms and ranches. It means expanded opportunity for today’s women agriculturists to access credit and grow their operations, assume leadership roles at the local, state and federal level, and perform cutting edge research that will help ensure the future food security of our nation and the world.
I am proud to work alongside strong leaders like our Agriculture Deputy Secretary, Krysta Harden, and countless other dedicated women who work on behalf of farmers and ranchers each and every day here at USDA. These women lead by example and inspire the next generation of women leaders, including my own granddaughter, to pursue careers in agriculture.
Tom Vilsack is the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.