Meet the DC-area women farmers who produce your local food


It’s no longer old MacDonald’s farm. The people behind your market tomatoes and steakhouse dinners are as diverse as the seeds they sow and the animals they raise. And while farming is still a male-dominated industry, women are a growing force shaping the way you eat. The latest USDA Census of Agriculture, in 2017, found that women made up 36% of the country’s 3.4 million producers, an all-time high, and that more than half of all farms had at least a producer. Other takeaways: These women tend to be slightly younger and more likely to be beginning farmers. In other words, the future of agriculture is female. “Historically the idea has been that the man is the farming and the woman is the canning, right? Which is annoying. But I see that changing,” says Deb Dramby, goat farmer and communications manager for local sustainable agriculture organization Future Harvest. “There’s a real movement there, and it’s empowering.”

Lovettsville, Virginia

East. 2012

Casey Wisch’s three children accompany her every day as she collects eggs, supplies the farm store and does other chores.

In addition to chickens, cows and pigs, Casey Wisch and her husband, Justin, raise three children under the age of five on their farm in Loudoun County. The children accompany Wisch in his daily tasks, from collecting eggs to supplying the farm shop. “There are a lot of dangerous things here,” she says, “so you really have to be careful with, you know, the grain ladders, for example. The flip side is that it’s so much fun to watch them interact with animals at such a young age. They know very well how to handle chickens or how to approach livestock, or they’re so comfortable around a group of, like, 30 big pigs.

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Brookville, Maryland

East. 2018

Fajingbesi mainly manages the business activities of the farm, from accounting to marketing.

Tope Fajingbesi was an accountant and financial consultant before she and her husband, Niyi Balogun, both immigrants from Nigeria, started farming in Montgomery County. Beyond typical mid-Atlantic crops, they introduce consumers to lesser-known produce such as African spinach and spigarello (heirloom broccoli leaves) while supplying local food banks. Fajingbesi also teaches agricultural business courses at the University of Maryland.

Farming as a black woman in America comes with the heavy legacy of slavery. But Fajingbesi came to see it as a source of pride: “To cultivate like a free person who keeps my profits, who decides what to grow, who can introduce the seeds that my ancestors had to hide in their hair. . . . I am the answered prayers of these ancestors. I am the person they cried and hoped existed.

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Sperryville, Virginia

East. 2000

Bynum’s love of farming grew out of his interest in the environment – it was his college major, after all – but connecting with people who care about food has been his “hook”. .

Based at the Takoma Park and Arlington Farmers’ Markets, Rachel Bynum and her husband, Eric Plaksin, grow everything from kale to cantaloupe to more than 20 varieties of tomatoes on their eight-acre vegetable farm. Bynum particularly loves their fresh herbs and flowers, which she has planted over the years with the help of her two now-teenage sons. “I think professional women can make tough choices in terms of balancing family and business,” she says. “It’s nice to have a business where our kids can be there and be a part of it.”

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Vienna and Purcellville, Virginia

East. 1962

Hiu and her daughter Hana employ around 45 people in high season, the majority of them women and “many of them”.

Nestled in the middle of the McMansions near Tysons, Potomac Vegetable Farms has been a hub for tomatoes and community vibes for the past 60 years. The place was founded by Hiu Newcomb and her late husband, Tony, a former federal government economist and “utopian,” and is now overseen by their daughter Hana, who raised her three children there.

“It took me until I was around 35 to realize that it’s a good thing I’m doing, and I should be proud instead of embarrassed that I didn’t think of what else. do,” says Hana, 62. “The reason I’m here is because I get to be who I am. . . the person who makes things happen.

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Bluemont, Virginia

East. 2017

Dramby met her first goat while building a community garden as a sustainable agriculture student at the University of Maryland. She now has 29 goats, or 116 hooves.

Deb Dramby jokes that her spirit animal is a nervous racehorse: “They travel with pet goats which calm them down.” She raises a small herd of goats – Bruce, Sparky, Mr. Burns, to name a few – which she hires out to graze land as a sustainable form of vegetation control. She also welcomes families of military veterans to spend therapeutic time with the animals and brings them to children’s summer camps. The farm is actually a side hustle — her day job is a communications manager for Future Harvest, a nonprofit supporting sustainable agriculture in the Chesapeake region. Says Dramby: “Just kidding, for me, 40 hours a week is a part-time job.”

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Delaplane, Virginia

East. 2015

“I feel like an explorer, really, an explorer. It’s a limitless frontier,” says Young. “I love sharing that with people when they come.”

Andrea Young, who has worked in conflict resolution and leadership coaching, says she and her husband, Dendy, a tech entrepreneur, aren’t ones to retire. So, in 2015, they bought abandoned land and started growing certified organic produce; raising heritage cattle, pigs and sheep; and run Airbnbs. She confesses they “didn’t know anything” about farming before, but have since worked to build a legacy of improving the way people eat, turning Hidden Creek into a model for regenerative farming practices. “I’ve never felt more connected, helpful, helpful, and mentally stimulated than here,” says Young. “It’s a constant action.”

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Gaithersburg, Maryland

East. 2015

“Growing up in Zimbabwe and then coming here, I just wanted to have that natural taste of food that I was used to,” says Doka-Spandhla.

Tanya Doka-Spandhla grew up gardening as a child in Zimbabwe. But after her husband suffered a stroke in 2009, it became a productive distraction that she said had big health benefits for her family. Doka-Spandhla still works in IT for a defense contractor, but in 2015 she started a business growing Zimbabwean maize, horned melons, spider flower leaves and other products from her birthplace. The one-woman operation has built a dedicated following of African immigrants and expats mostly by word of mouth: “Some of them, they start calling in January asking if the maize is ready, and I haven’t even started to plow the land”.

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Upper Marlboro, Maryland

East. 2016

Motroni (second from left) with her mother, Chantal Brooks; his daughter, Neliya Motroni; and pre-vet interns Nadia Khan and Lilly Conteh.

Roxann Brooks Motroni is a large animal veterinarian working for the USDA. So when her parents, both doctors, retired and bought a large piece of land next to her house, she offered to raise cattle together. “I think everyone was just kind of like, ‘Sure, why not? We have to do something with this land, don’t we? ” explains Motroni, 37. Today, it’s a multi-generational operation also involving Motroni’s husband, daughter, two older brothers and their families, as well as volunteer farm vets in training. “You know how much it takes to have a pound of ground beef on your plate,” she says. “You don’t take it for granted when you’ve been out there in freezing temperatures, picking up hay and breaking the ice so the cows can drink.”

Special thanks to the American Farmland Trust who helped connect the photographer with these women farmers and their stories.
Farm Icons by Michelle Shin.
This article appears in the September 2022 issue of The Washingtonian.


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