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In Sebastopol, focusing on women’s key role in agriculture

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As in the rest of the world, Bay Area women play a key role in agriculture. They’re farmers, ranchers, food justice activists and academics.

Their varied work weaves together the unwavering foundation of the local and sustainable food movement. But, according to Caiti Hachmyer, a farmer activist in Sebastopol, their voices are still overlooked.

“Women are really doing a huge portion of the work in this industry,” she said, “but the prevailing voice that represents the movement is so often male.”

Hachmyer, who runs Red H Farm in Sebastopol and teaches agro-ecology at Sonoma State University and the Farm School at the Permaculture Skills Center in Sebastopol, will bring these voices to the forefront on Oct. 15 at the Foundations and the Future Conference — a celebration of women’s leadership in the food movement in the greater Bay Area.

Her goal is to gather women of different backgrounds, generations and experiences to “bridge the gap” between what’s happening on farms and in advocacy and academic circles. The conference aims to create an “intergenerational and cross-sector dialogue” that, Hachmyer hopes, will not only recognize women across the spectrum of the movement, but also spread the word about their work and foster productive networks and collaborations.

Many of the participants are also concerned with transforming systemic injustices in agriculture — like the way race and class influences how people engage with the food system and the fact that many new farmers cannot afford to own their land — something Hachmyer believes is a “house of cards.”

“We’re building a new model on something totally precarious that I don’t think is sustainable in the long run,” she said.

Hachmyer chose the speakers and panelists from an overwhelming list, she explained. “For every speaker slot, there were 100 women that could have filled it.”

Participants include women who have been working in agriculture for many decades, such as Wanda Steward, an urban farmer and educator who runs Obsidian Farm in Berkeley, Paula Downing from the Sebastopol Farmers’ Market, Vivian Straus of Straus Family Creamery and Gail Myers of Farms to Grow, Inc., a nonprofit that works with under-served sustainable farmers around the country.

It also includes a newer generation of leaders in the food justice movement, including Trisha Chakrabarti, program and policy manager at Mandela MarketPlace in Oakland and Suzi Grady, who runs Petaluma Bounty. There will also be a panel of farmers, including Layla Aquilar of Bi-Rite Market Farm in Sonoma, Libby Batzel of Beet Generation Farm in Sebastopol and Michelle Dubin of Foxhole Farm outside of Freestone.

Then the first female director of the Biodynamic Association, Thea Maria Carlson, will speak about the lateral leadership structure of her organization.

And the day’s moderator will be Miriam Volat, a trained soil scientist who is director of the Farm School at the Permaculture Institute and, as Hachmyer explained, a great example of a woman at the heart of the movement who has not been adequately celebrated.

The sliding scale tickets include lunch and a happy hour reception showcasing food and ag-inspired art from local artists like Rosalie Z. Fanshel, Leonor Hurtado and Chelsea Wills.

The cross-section of participants is also meant to draw a diverse audience and, despite the fact that all the speakers are women, Hachmyer stressed that it is not an event just for women.

“I hope to God men come!” she said.

“If there are no men there... that fact alone would be part of the problem. Everyone should want to celebrate everyone!”

For more information and tickets, visit: foundationsandthefuture.wordpress.com.

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