Women in Agriculture

There’s no question that Hemstead helped pave the way for women in agriculture with her tenacity, kindness, and modesty. (Or that Ralph exemplifies these traits herself.) Over more than 25 years at Organic Valley, Hemstead dedicated her animal and food science expertise to overseeing all operational aspects of the cooperative, from product research, to quality assurance, organic certification, production scheduling and logistics, all while caring for her family and helping her husband on the farm.

“I’m still kind of in awe of what she did,” Ralph said.

Of course, this awe comes from a woman who holds a master’s degree in agroecology, gets up before 5 a.m. to milk cows on the organic dairy farm she runs with her brother, and is raising two young children with a third on the way. Like mother, like daughter.

Ralph’s admiration for her mom’s accomplishments is clear, but she’s not trying to make her own life an exact replica of Hemstead’s either. In fact, she’s carrying on her mom’s legacy in the most fitting way she can: by continuing to challenge double standards, make changes, and empower other women to follow suit.

“My mom worked very hard at her career, she worked so hard,” Ralph said. “She would help milk cows in the morning, go in and work all day, go to our sporting events or whatever we had going on when we were in school, make supper, milk cows, then work late at home on her laptop, and do it all over again.”

In contrast, Ralph is trying to teach her children to balance more, to not push quite so hard. “Because,” she sums it up, “women shouldn't have to prove themselves more than men.”

Empowering Female Farmers

In addition to teaching her daughters that hard work speaks for itself, Ralph hopes to pass along the values she and her mom—and all Organic Valley farmers—share in regard to building a sustainable agriculture system. In a video honoring her contributions to the cooperative and the industry, Hemstead said it simply: “Organic Valley has always been about the next group of farmers.”

Ralph, a part of this “next group,” echoes her mom. “Being a steward of the land and taking care of what is there for future generations, not just for ourselves but for our children and grandchildren, is one of the most important things I can pass on,” she said.

While her daughters are still young, teaching them to care for the land looks a bit more playful than serious. Ralph loves watching her children “finding joy in being outside—finding joy in being in the woods, and playing outdoors in the stream.”

The family at Lazy Daze Acres organic farm.

Generations of the Hemstead family are seen at their organic farm, Lazy Daze Acres.

U.S Census of Agriculture: Female Producers Information from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.

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