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Rural Reads

By Staff | Feb 20, 2015

Audrey Levatino’s soon-to-be-released book “Woman-Powered Farm” is subtitled “Manual for a Self-Sufficient Lifestyle from Homestead to Field.”

It’s a long subtitle. But Levatino’s book covers a lot of ground, from a farm history of women, to her own desire to live in the country; from how to operate a chainsaw (complete with photos) to how to keep mind, body and spirit happy and healthy.

“As long as there have been farms and homesteads, there have been women farmers,” Levatino writes.

She cites the 2012 farm census that shows women run about 14 percent of the nation’s farms, but adds that many small farms are undercounted.

“University researchers have estimated that more than 200 million acres of farmland in the United States will change hands by 2027, with women potentially owning a majority of the land,” Levatino writes.

The book is peppered with set-apart, easy-to-read quotes from famous and not-so-famous women – along with anecdotes from their lives.

The profile on Temple Grandin, animal science professor at Colorado State University, who is also a best-selling author and a consultant to the livestock industry on animal behavior, says that being a woman was more of an obstacle to breaking into agriculture than being autistic.

Quotes from Helen Keller on the fallacy of security and from homesteading legend Helen Nearing on enriching life through aspiration and effort break up the narrative on how to succcessfully pull off this thing called farming.

Plenty of well-intentioned people told Levatino why she couldn’t make it as a farmer with tales of too much work and too little profit. “There might be as many failed farm businesses as successful ones,” Levatino writes. “But the only failed farm is the one that’s been sold to a developer. Just the act of buying land and preserving it is a victory. You do not need to plant one tomato or raise one sheep to be an essential part of the environment.”

Owning a farm (says Levatino, who does indeed make money from her farm), provides quality-of-life benefits that don’t come with a price tag. But, she’s quick to point out, it’s not an easy life.

In the chapter, “The Healthy Farmer,” she has a quote from Kristin Kimball that refers to a farm as a “manipulative creature.”

“There is no such thing as finished. Work comes in a stream and has no end. There are only things that must be done now and things that can be done later. The threat the farm has got on you, the one that keeps you running from can until can’t is this: do it now, or some living thing will wilt or suffer or die. It’s blackmail, really.”

And, Levatino is OK with letting others learn from her mistakes.

Levatino describes how she, after 24 hours of rain, had to check on the pond drain. Although married, Levatino’s husband is frequently away on business, leaving her with the day-to-day operation of their farm. Her anecdote, she writes, is a cautionary tale.

“It is easy to read through and list all of the mistakes I made” -including setting out on the water when she was the only person around, not wearing a life vest and wearing heavy boots and clothing that made it harder to escape the cold water.

She explains how the expression “throw like a girl” can be used as motivation to avoid injury and suggests that using the right tool the right way can be as easy as reading the owner’s manual.

In the chapter on finding a farm, Levatino offers a chart on determining how much land is necessary for ventures ranging from cattle or hay to hydroponic greenhouse crops or beekeeping.

“If you are looking to make approximately $50,000 a year. or what we’ll call ‘a living,’ there are some general rules of thumb for the amount of land that will take.” However, she also breaks down the numbers for those who expect their farms to provide only a second income or small-scale sustenance.

The book is written for those who are new to farming or are still thinking about it. It offers encouragement and empowerment for women who have never changed a tire, disinfected a well or raised plants or animals on their own. It is educational and inspiring. It’s also just plain fun to read.

Of course, it’s impossible to learn everything about farming from a single book. Levatino knows that and offers lists of other sources for those who want more information on specific topics.

Levatino is a former English teacher who, for the last 13 years, has been running a 23-acre farm in Virginia. She and husband Michael are the coauthors of “The Joy of Hobby Farming.” Since writing that book, she has taken over the primary responsibility for the farm and now runs a cut flower, herb and vegetable farm business.

“Woman-Powered Farm” will be available for purchase for $21.95 from Countryman Press in May.

Wallace Hughes is managing editor of Farm News and lives in rural Callender. Reach her by e-mail at bwh@messengernews.net.

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