By Curt Peterson
For two years, JuanCarlos Gonzalez, who lives in Plymouth, visited farms in Vermont, taking pictures of women owning and/or managing their enterprises. Billings Farm in Woodstock will be exhibiting 45 of his images in their historic barn from Aug. 19 through Oct. 31.
Gonzalez has gathered the best of his photos in a 140-plus page hardcopy book titled, “Vermont Female Farmers,” with a forward by Vermont Sen. Becca Balint, a farmer in the past.
Growing up in Maunabo, Puerto Rico, Gonzalez visited his grandmother’s small farm every weekend. She did all the work, he told the Mountain Times, including harvesting and butchering chickens and pigs, tending her small produce garden, providing food for her family and selling a small amount of products in her tiny farmstand.
He became very familiar with the challenges facing woman-owned agriculture, including the public perception that farmers are men.
Fifteen years ago, Gonzalez visited friends in Woodstock and enjoyed a tour of Billings Farm. The combination of experiences inspired his project, which took him all over Vermont, talking to women in farming and taking pictures.
“I took about 3,000 photographs,” he said, “but to me, the stories the women told were as important, some sad and some historically relevant. Every woman was unique, and had her own passion, her own story.”
“But,” he said, “for these women their farming isn’t just their passion — it is their real job too.”
Gonzalez’s general impression of the women he photographed is, “They are resilient, and they have total commitment to both their passion and the quality of their products. They all are powerful, strong women.”
“Farming is such hard work, but not one of them had a sad face. They still smile,” he said.
Kathy Emmons of Cloudland Farm in Pomfret, and her daughter Meg, were subjects of Gonzalez’s project. He visited their farm twice in 2022 to take photographs and once for dinner in their on-farm restaurant.
“One of his visits found me harvesting vegetables in our garden, and I was feeding pigs the second time he came,” Kathy Emmons told the Mountain Times. “He was very nice, personable and easy to talk to.”
Emmons said she is very excited about Gonzalez’s project and about visiting the exhibit. “We have a coffee table book by Peter Miller called ‘Vermont Farm Women.’ I’ll be interested in how the books compare,” Emmons said.
Not all the women featured in the exhibit are farming “solo”, according to Gonzalez. About 60% have at least some male help from spouses, family members or employees, but the women run the show. About 40 % of the women farm on their own.