Will women fall for Corporate Ag? | Pesticide Action Network
Reclaiming the future of food and farming

Will women fall for Corporate Ag?

Kathryn Gilje's picture

Big Ag is on the defensive, and women are coming to the rescue. Citing Michael Pollan and Food, Inc. as two particularly large blemishes to overcome, large-scale agriculture commodity and marketing associations hired the PR firm Osborn & Barr (a regular for Monsanto) in search of a better image. They unveiled their approach in November: a woman-to-woman marketing campaign targeting urban and suburban women. Knowing that women control most household spending, Osborn & Barr is betting on farm women as messengers that offer a more palatable face for industrial agriculture, and who offer a relationship that is difficult to turn down. Amy Nuccio of Osborn & Barr commented, "Consumers don't want a slogan, they don't want an ad campaign. They want a real relationship, which led us to this strategy of woman-to-woman." They’ll have to be careful, though, because it turns out women oft dig past the hype when it comes to the health of our children. Witness a recent attempt to woo moms, Corn Syrup Lobby Courts Mommybloggers, Gets Spanked.

The irony of the Big Ag PR push is that women across the food chain are in fact acting au contraire, leading efforts to support organic, fair farming and to improve access to healthy, pesticide-free fruits and vegetables for all families. Iowa women, for example, want to see changes in farm policy to support conservation, diversified farms, local food and better nutrition. A 2001 study at Pennsylvania State University concluded that when women are the main farmers, they’re far more likely than men to eschew chemical-intensive production and use “sustainable” agriculture practices. The stories of these women are sprouting up all over, making an "industrial Jane" a particularly hard sell. Wisconsin farmer Lisa Kivirst (co-author of ECOpreneuring and Rural Renaissance) reacted to the PR push: "Talk about well-funded, slick guns capitalizing on the role of women in agriculture. Women in sustainable agriculture need to keep doing what we're doing to get our stories and passion for a more sustainable, localized approach to farming out there. Just wish we had a slice of their funding."

In the end, I'm betting that women just won't turn away from what the science says: industrial food is bad for our children's health. Just this year, the President’s Cancer Panel released a report showing that agricultural chemicals increase the risk for cancer in a nation where 41% of us will be diagnosed with cancer. Their message to consumers: "Exposure to pesticides can be decreased by choosing, to the extent possible, food grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers…. Similarly, exposure to antibiotics, growth hormones, and toxic run-off from livestock feed lots can be minimized by eating free-range meat raised without these medications." Mr. President, your cancer scientists say you should do something about cancer-causing chemicals in the food system. Please listen to them.

Check out these women who are changing the food system for good: Farmer Janes, the Women, Food and Agriculture Network, the MOSES Rural Women’s Project and Lideres Campesinas.

And take a peak below at the film, FRESH (and their femme-focused blog), an inspiring documentary by Ana Joanes coming to a community screening near you. As food and nutrition expert Marion Nestle writes: "FRESH is just that—an upbeat and wonderfully fresh look at our food system and how to make it work better for the health of humans and the planet. It’s a must see for everyone who eats."

Kathryn Gilje
Share this post: 


SylviaMBT's picture
SylviaMBT /
In public relations for over 30 years, and now a new grass-fed beef farmer, I've been watching this campaign to create a warm and trustworthy image for industrial agriculture. It's not surprising, and we shouldn't underestimate their sophistication, resources or possible reach. I agree with Lisa Kiverist, we have to keep doing what we're doing: sending out the messages of great taste, healthful diet, environmental stewardship, local economic impact, and community revitalization. Lisa, MOSES, and other organizations have begun a much-needed movement to help sustainable growers and processors be more active and more strategic in presenting the case to food lovers and policy makers. Can we team up with the growing movement of food crafters - sausage makers, bakers, chocolate candy mavins, picklers, jam makers, baby food makers - to tell an even deeper story?