This spotlight is the first blog in a new blog series we’re launching highlighting female farmers and their experiences. We interviewed Sonya Perrotti, who owns and manages the Coyote Family Farm with her husband in Penngrove, California.
Could you tell us about your farm and products?
Coyote Family Farm is an intensive market garden where we grow a diverse variety of produce and cut flowers.
How did you get involved in farming?
I majored in sustainable agriculture at UC Santa Cruz many years ago but as a city kid, I couldn’t quite find my way to jumping into farming as a profession. I kept thinking it would be isolating and too difficult and nor did I want to be an agricultural scientist or advocate. After several years working in food service and spending most of my free time gardening or volunteering for urban garden projects and small farms, I got into permaculture-based landscape design and natural building. Eventually, I circled back around to farming as growing food, sharing it and connecting with nature have been the main constants throughout my adult life.
How long have you been farming and selling at farmers markets?
The farm is in its 7th season and we’ve been selling at farmers markets for 6 years.
What do you enjoy about working with farmers markets?
We appreciate the direct connection with customers. We also have a farm share (CSA) program, which is a connective experience as well but honestly, we see farmers market regulars face to face more often than we see most of our farm share members! We get direct feedback about what we’re growing, what people are excited about and how they use it. And of course, it’s great for us that the whole retail price of the produce goes straight to the farm.
Could you describe your efforts to work with the native ecosystem at your farm?
We purposely grow on only a small part of the property. Growing intensively allows us to leave extensive native habitat and avoid a lot of disturbance. Consequently, we have a lot of wildlife on and around the farm. We have a native plant hedgerow along one long border of the farm field that creates habitat for native species, including predatory insects that help us with pest control.
What do you consider is the most rewarding part of farming life? What are some common challenges?
Getting to spend most of each day outside in a place that I love and doing something as clearly essential as growing food that will be enjoyed by my community, is an immense and rewarding privilege. Seeing my children understand plants and soil and nature effortlessly, even though they don’t spend that much time in the field with me is also pretty great. Though living where you work has many advantages, I think the most challenging part of the farm for me is not having enough separation between the parts of my life: work time bleeds into family time which bleeds into free time (if you could call it that). My husband and I have had to work hard to create space for ourselves so that we can keep showing up for the relentless jobs of farming and parenting.
As a woman in agriculture, do you find that there are unique experiences or challenges you face?
To be honest, as a straight, white woman with a husband, I’ve had a lot of privileges that have shielded me from some of the issues that many women face in agriculture. Of course, I’ve experienced condescension and skepticism that I know what I’m doing, but for the most part I’ve found that my main challenges related to being a woman in agriculture are internal. It’s deeply challenging to take on the role of a boss, to insist on a fair price, to challenge myself when I know I might fail. I don’t want to generalize, but I also think that as a woman I am more constantly aware of the larger issues we face as farmers beyond making a living. It can be hard to live up to our values when it feels like many things we have to do to have a sustainable business are a compromise. Also, feeling the constant internal pressure to be a perfect mom can be a real impediment in also showing up for the farm.
Do you have any advice you can share for other women who may be interested in farming?
Get as much field experience and insight from farmers as you can. This will help you to decide if you really want to farm or if you just want to know more about farming and where your food comes from. Also, it’s of course empowering and helpful to learn stereotypically “male” skills like carpentry, engine repair, plumbing and electrical, however, you can still farm even if you hire out some of these jobs to people with more experience. Don’t waste too much time trying to prove yourself, just do what needs to be done, and ask for help!
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