Iwalani Farfour stands tall in her relaxed denim overalls. Her warm face is flanked by two thick, dark braids and marked by pensive eyes that exaggerate the composure of a wise woman. Her hands take care in movements, as if in deep thought, but their dusty tan reveals hard time spent with the sun and the earth—and all are better for it.
Iwalani is first and foremost a good steward to the land. Second, she is the manager of Full Moon Farm, an organic, family-operated farm in Winterville, Georgia.
Full Moon Farm was born of the local food movement in and around Athens, Georgia. In 2005, farm-to-table restaurant Farm 225 was supplied almost exclusively by the network of sister farms collectively known as Full Moon Coop. For everyone interested, you might say the farm system reached celebrity status, or at least the degree of name recognition for a farm that was unheard of 13 years ago.
Today, the restaurant has closed, but Full Moon Farm remains in abbreviated form as one acre of farmed land within about five acres of the property formerly known as Roots Farm.
“But we’re able to pump it out on this little space,” says Iwalani, manager at Full Moon Farm, especially with the combined power of her new multi-farm CSA, Collective Harvest.
Considering the population, Athens-Clarke County is surrounded and supported by a large number of small organic farms. Along with the Collective Harvest President Alex Rilko, Iwalani recognized the power of the cooperative model she had experienced in the past. Collective Harvest unites Full Moon Farm with Front Field Farm and Diamond Hill Farm to provide a larger bulk and a wider variety of vegetables, fruits and eggs.
“Our three farms are coming together to do this CSA to hopefully be able to serve more people and to make it a larger thing,” Iwalani says. “Alex…approached us all with this idea—why don’t we just work together instead of all three of our tiny farms trying to compete against one another.”
In March, just before the CSA launched, the field was empty save for a corner of covered crops and blackberries in the distance, already trellised. Much of a farmer’s work throughout the year involves strategic planning, especially in preparation for the bounty of spring and summer. In fact, farming outside of the industrial arena is fairly quiet. It’s a lot of cleaning and keeping organized.
“It’s pretty tedious work too, which is not your typical man’s work,” says Iwalani. “Farming is such a nurturing thing. It’s totally growing from babies, and there’s a lot of cleaning that happens.”
Her assistant Sarah Thurman echoed a similar experience—as a young girl, farming was never presented to her as a career option.
Sarah says, “When I went to Brazil and I was finally out of adults telling me what I could do with my life, I went (whispers) ‘I want to be a farmer’.”
Today, in the organic and small-scale market in particular, the number of women in agriculture has increased. According to the USDA, nearly one-third of domestic farmers, those that list farming as their primary occupation, are women. But nationwide, still, not a lot of women are farm operators and managers like Iwalani and Jacqui Coburn of Front Field Farm. The 2012 Census reports that 18 percent of organic farms are lead by a female farm operator, as compared to 16 percent in agriculture overall. You still see a lot more women as laborers.
“Men like to use the tools, but when it came to anything that had to do with being delicate…I was always seeding, I was always preparing the food to be sold. Making sure it looks good,” says Sarah. “If we were harvesting delicate things, I would end up doing the delicate harvests.”
To understand the value of organic and sustainable practices, there must be a drive to protect and improve land and resources for the future.
The Full Moon Farm property has been organically managed for over 20 years. Before Roots Farm even, the owners of the land had the foresight to avoid chemicals, put in trees and start a sustainable infrastructure.
“It’s just been building since then. We’re not certified organic yet, but this property has been managed in that way for a while, making it easy for us to transition,” said Iwalani.
And perhaps that’s where a return to small-scale and organic farming ties into a reemergence of women in farming.
Organic farming principles require a more intimate relationship with the land and the cycles of nature that then inform the cycles of the farm. It’s a hands-on approach to growing food and sustaining the earth that requires patience. It relies on a personal investment in the future.
“Knowing how to grow your own food is knowing how to provide for your family,” said Sarah. “We might struggle to get by or not make a lot of profit but I know my family can eat food or you know your kid has the best food in world and that’s going to give him what he needs to grow.”
Story by Erin Wilson
Photographs by Paige French