Social Issues

Farming with Pride: LGBTQ-Led Farms and Organizations to Support

12 min read

Not all US farmers fit into the stereotype of an old white man in flannel and overalls. There is a growing queer agricultural contingent seeking increased inclusivity and community. LGBTQ+ farmers challenge historical barriers in agriculture, while also leading the way in envisioning (and bringing to fruition) a more equitable and sustainable farming future, where anyone can grow healthy food, and everyone can thrive.

Editor’s Note: There’s a lot of controversy around LGBTQ+ issues in mass culture today, and it’s become something of a flash point politically. But however you identify, and whatever your political perspective, I hope there’s one thing that we can agree on: Everyone deserves to feel safe, whether at home or in their workplace. Unfortunately, for a lot of people in the LGBTQ+ community, threats of violence, homelessness, and food insecurity are a regular fact of life. In this article, we’ll take a look at the LGBTQ farming movement, and some of the farms and organizations that are working to address this problem. If you’re so moved, you may even want to support some of them.

A quick word about words here. You might be surprised to see me using the word “queer,” as it could sound derogatory to some. But in modern contexts, “queer” has been reclaimed by the LGBTQ+ community as a term of empowerment and inclusivity, representing a spectrum of sexual orientations and gender identities. And as we’ll see, the verb “to queer,” in an agricultural context, refers to wholly reimagining the act of farming in ways that promote equality and sustainability.

“Old MacDonald had a farm…”

When you imagine Old MacDonald, what do you see? A Google Images search on the term mostly returns drawings of an elderly white male with a bushy beard, red shirt, and denim overalls or jeans. And that’s the picture many of us have in our heads when we hear the word “farmer.”

And to be fair, it’s a statistically reasonable stereotype. In the US, 96% of farmers are white, and only 36% are women. And the average age of a US farmer is 57 ½ years.

But this begs the question: Why? After all, the US population is roughly 25% BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and other people of color) and more than 50% female.

Ultimately, there are inherent underlying causes of this imbalance, including historical, cultural, social, and economic factors. It’s no secret that throughout history, it’s been a struggle for women and, in the US, for BIPOC folks to own property, including land, either through inheritance or purchase. And people who don’t identify as heterosexual and cisgender (meaning their gender identity corresponds to their sex assigned at birth) face an added layer of obstacles.

Minorities face more challenges in many aspects of economic life due to discrimination. That’s not unique to farming. Workplace harassment, stemming from sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, and other biases is, unfortunately, widespread.

But queer and transgender people face additional challenges to participating in commercial agriculture. And while they may not be as visible as other demographics, they do participate.

What Are the Obstacles to LGBTQ+ Participation in Agriculture?

Lesbian couple with LGBT flag on a cropped field

Two things make agriculture a particularly challenging occupation for members of traditionally marginalized communities. Rural areas trend religiously and culturally conservative. And discriminatory lending practices and other transactional aspects of owning and running a farm tend to disadvantage farmers who don’t look or behave like a stereotypical version of Old MacDonald.

After all, the majority of farms in the US are considered “family farms,” a wholesome-sounding description that unfortunately doesn’t include many LGBT farms, at least according to the official definitions used by the USDA and the American Farm Bureau Federation  (AFBF). The USDA defines a family farm as one “owned by an operator and any individuals related to them by blood, marriage, or adoption.”

And the AFBF — the most powerful agricultural lobbying organization in the US — insists in its 2022 resolution that “family should be defined as persons who are related by blood, marriage between male and female, or legal adoption” [emphasis added].

However, LGBTQ individuals, in particular, may be cut off from their families, causing them to lose access to land and intergenerational wealth. Despite stereotypes of wealthy gay and lesbian professional couples with two incomes and no kids, many people in the LGBTQ+ community struggle to obtain food and adequate housing, let alone own property.

Despite these obstacles, many LGBTQ+ identifying individuals still want to farm. And their reasons for doing so vary as widely as their identities. Some, themselves products of rural or farming backgrounds, aspire to create and participate in queer communities outside of big cities. Others seek an alternative way of life on their own terms. And many are motivated by a desire to contribute to building a better world by growing food that supports healthy people and a healthy planet.

“Queering” Agriculture

One of the common motivations of LGBTQ+ farmers is to “queer” agriculture, a term that means challenging and reimagining the traditional practices and structures within the agricultural sector through a queer lens. And this queer lens encompasses elements that can benefit humans and the earth, and potentially save us from the excesses and harms of conventional monocropping. It also means celebrating LGBTQ+ people and making agricultural spaces safe and inclusive for all.

Let’s look at a few of the benefits that could come from queering agriculture.

Queer farming promotes inclusivity and diversity.

Group of young activist for lgbt rights with rainbow flag, diverse people of gay and lesbian community Migliarini

Ensuring that the agricultural community is welcoming and supportive of LGBTQ+ individuals, and recognizing and celebrating diversity in gender identity, sexual orientation, and varying ways of living and farming.

Cooperative ownership and decision-making are preferred models of success.

Advocating for cooperative agricultural models where ownership and decisions about the land and its use are shared among community members, rather than centralized under a single owner. This model promotes equality and collective responsibility among farmworkers — and helps to build community and make a slice of ownership accessible to more people.

Sustainable and regenerative practices are championed.

Happiness children study learning to prepare the soil before planting vegetables.

Adopting farming practices that are ecologically sustainable and regenerative, rejecting large-scale monoculture and exploitative labor practices that are all too common in industrial agriculture. This may include paying a living wage, giving away food to those in need, and focusing on local community support.

Queer farmers work with mutual respect for the land.

Viewing a relationship with the land not as one of exploitation, where the land gives and humans take, but rather as a relationship of mutual respect and reciprocity. This involves learning from the land, understanding its needs, and engaging in practices that honor and rejuvenate it. Sometimes this focus takes inspiration from indigenous views and practices.

Predatory capitalism is challenged.

Male group of volunteers organising food donations onto tables at a food bank in the North East of England. They are working together, setting up sections of the room in a church. A group of women are drinking hot drinks out of focus in the background.

Critiquing and seeking alternatives to exploitative capitalist systems that sometimes dominate agriculture, especially those that prioritize profit over people and the environment. This might include questioning who controls capital and how value is distributed within the agricultural system.

In essence, at its best, queering agriculture means creating an agricultural system that is more equitable, sustainable, inclusive, and responsive to the needs of all community members, including those historically marginalized. It’s about creating a space where different identities and practices are not only accepted but valued for the unique perspectives they bring to farming and community building.

Another way to say it is that some queer farmers are looking to enhance community, food access, and even sustainable and regenerative agricultural practices to create a healthier and safer world for all.

Farmers of all identities are needed.

Whether you resonate with all (or any) of these perspectives, uplifting farming communities, no matter their identity, is important because, to put it bluntly, we need all the farmers we can get these days. After all, only about 1% of the US population and 2% of the European population live or work on a farm, and the number of farms is decreasing every year.

A Lack of Inclusion in Agricultural and Census Demographics

The lack of LGBTQ+ representation in agriculture is reinforced by the lack of inclusion of these categories in the agricultural demographics data collected by governmental and industry organizations.

The LGBTQ page on the USDA’s website, for example, lacks any specifics related to those communities. After assuring readers that the US government is committed to helping farmers regardless of “race, gender, or sexual orientation,” it blandly states: “No matter the size of your operation or the crop being produced, our programs can help you start, grow, and protect your operation.”

Not asking, and not counting, means that there are few programs that seek to dismantle the structural barriers to LGBTQ+ individuals’ participation in farming. Knowing who is farming in the US means these folks can get more direct and relevant resources as well as support.

The point here isn’t to give anyone a special advantage over anyone else. It’s to help folks who — for historical and structural reasons — are underrepresented and struggling to make inroads. In doing so, we can create a more inclusive society that works for everyone.

The main USDA agricultural census, the NASS (National Agricultural Statistics Service — sadly, no relation to Lil Nas X, the gay rapper who defied genres by releasing a hugely popular country song along with Billy Ray Cyrus), doesn’t currently track LGBTQ-identifying people in agriculture. On the bright side, the organization is considering adding sexual orientation along with gender identity and disability demographics for the next survey in 2027.

(Queerness has been missing not just from agricultural data, however. Only since July 2021 has the Census Bureau been collecting information on the sexual orientation and gender identity of respondents.)

Queer Farmers and Farmworkers Exist — Especially Among Young People

The lack of data about queer farmers can make it seem like there aren’t any, which is another obstacle to LGBTQ+ individuals taking the leap into agriculture. A team from Iowa State University has been analyzing US government data to estimate the prevalence of queer farmers and has published some surprising results.

They identified 8,300 farms run by men married to men, which accounts for almost 1% of all two-producer farms. There were considerably fewer farms run by women married to women, about 3,500, which represents about 0.4% of all US farms. And it’s likely that these data points still significantly underrepresent LGBTQ+ participation in agriculture, as many domestic arrangements and group farms exist in addition to ownership under traditional marriage.

Although LGBTQ+ farm owners may be relatively rare (again, there are no good stats, so it’s hard to say), many LGBTQ+ folks do spend time working on farms, often doing extremely hard work for little compensation.

The times appear to be changing, however. While there aren’t many young farmers in the US, there is a growing trend of younger people wanting to participate in their local food systems, avoid the rat race, and develop a personal relationship with the land. And among young farmers, the LGBTQ+ population is rising; a survey conducted by the National Young Farmers’ Association found that around 24% of farmers under age 40 identify as “other than heterosexual.”

We still have a ways to go to create a world in which everyone, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, age, or skin color, has an opportunity to succeed as a farmer. But there are some brave, trailblazing organizations leading the way.

LGBTQ+ Farms and Farming Organizations Leading the Way

Agriculture, chicken and gay parents with girl in countryside for holiday, adventure and vacation. Lgbtq family, sustainable farm and fathers with child for bonding, relax and learning with animals Wackerhausen

We’ve selected just a few of literally dozens of LGBTQ+ farms and organizations to highlight here. Because their founders and members have put so much thought and effort into describing their philosophies and missions, I’m going to be very liberal in quoting their websites so you can hear their passion in their own words.

1. Finca Morada

Finca Morada is a South Florida-based organization dedicated to promoting urban farming, permaculture, and a deeper connection with nature through sustainable agriculture practices. As the founders write on the organization’s website, “Our mission is to nurture and support community and resilience by connecting people to each other, their inner self, ancestors, and nature through nature-based education, arts, & culture. At our heart-center is environmental, racial, LGBTQIA+, gender, social, & food justice, inspired by nature’s magic, radical interdependence, & wild diversity.” If you’d like to help them out, you can volunteer, intern, and donate in support of their mission and activities.

2. TransGenerational Farm

Located in New York’s Hudson Valley, TransGenerational Farm offers a CSA and market stand to make farm-fresh produce available to those with limited access and means to afford it.

Their goal is “to connect LGBTQ folks and others who are traditionally excluded from farming to agriculture. We dedicate ourselves to providing access to healthy produce, grown through responsible regenerative practices. We seek to do what we can to shake the yoke of capitalism that tethers us to our limitations so that our roots can grow deep and uphold one another.”

If you’d like to participate in their mission, you can donate via PayPal to help subsidize their offerings.

3. Rising Sign Farm

“Rising Sign Farm is a queer-owned and operated one-acre vegetable farm in Carnation, WA, on the ancestral lands of the Coast Salish people. We grow food that is good for people and good for the earth: Our veggies and herbs are selected for flavor and grown with regenerative practices. Rising Sign is dedicated to food sovereignty and justice, using growing techniques based in agroecology, distribution focused on access, and growth rooted in solidarity and care.”

However, Rising Sign Farm does more than simply acknowledge the Native heritage of the land they operate from; they also pay “Real Rent” to the Duwamish people, who have not otherwise been compensated for the loss of their land. Additionally, they offer CSA shares on a sliding scale to make their food as affordable as possible for as many people as possible.

4. Two Mamas Farm

Two Mamas is a queer, women-owned maple syrup farm in western Massachusetts. They describe themselves and their mission as follows: “Our farm is queer in the nature of LGBTQIA; also queer as in we pursue and produce challenging and unique things. Our family (two mamas and three kiddos!) ticks many of the ‘otherness’ boxes, and we embrace that. We are a rainbow-encompassing, permaculture-oriented, disabled, gender-expansive, and neurodivergent crew. We bring these perspectives to our products and community.”

They differ from conventional maple syrup farms in their use of stainless steel and glass in place of plastic tubes and bottles, and in their interest in the welfare of the trees in their care. Rather than tap maple trees until they dry up and die, trees that appear to be struggling are “retired,” so that they may recover and thrive. They write: “We work each year to further our forestry stewardship plan — enhancing forest health, biodiversity, and invasive species control.”

You can shop for their syrup online, or support their sustainable forestry initiative by sponsoring individual maple trees.

5. Solar Punk Farms

This demonstration site was founded to show that a “pro-climate” way of life can be joyful, fun, and fulfilling. The founders write: “We engage the queer community, youth, and all others who want to help create a more ecologically-minded civilization. Through science, art, collaboration, and revelry — we aim to make the sustainable revolution seem irresistible by inviting others to experience what a life based on pro-climate values looks, smells, tastes, and feels like.”

They sponsor workshops and speakers focused on climate issues, events, educational tours, artists in residence, and fundraisers for their local community.

You can donate to support their mission here.

6. Steadfast Medicinal Herb Farm

Steadfast Herbs, in the Bay Area of California, grows herbs sustainably and offers them both freshly cut and in medicines — teas, salves, and tinctures — as well as distributing their herbal remedies in CSA (community-supported agriculture) format.

Lauren Anderson, the “radical queer herbalist” who both farms and makes medicines, writes that she “works from a ‘radical vitalist’ perspective… utilizing plants to support the body’s innate force, while working within a framework that is trauma-informed, body positive, and based in harm reduction.”

If you’d like to support Steadfast Herbs and your own well-being, you can purchase their medicines online.

7. Queer Farmer Network

The Queer Farmer Network is a “support resource for queer farmers that… help[s] build community & combat isolation among rural and queer farmers while interrupting heteropatriarchal, capitalist, racist legacies in agriculture.”

In addition to helping queer farmers connect and build community, the network also actively works to interrupt historical patterns of racism as they play out in agriculture. One example of this is their work supporting Black and Indigenous farmers. They explain: “It is essential that all farmers acknowledge the stolen land we currently occupy and how our food system was built on the stolen labor of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, and people of color.”

You can support the Queer Farmer Network directly by donating here.

8. Cultivating Change Foundation

This organization, dedicated to valuing and elevating LGBTQ+ people in agriculture, kicked off in 2015 with a Cultivating Change Summit that, in the organizers’ words, “started a long-overdue conversation to acknowledge and value the presence of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals in the agricultural industry.”

Through outreach, education, and advocacy, the foundation seeks to help queer folks in agriculture feel empowered and valued and to bring about positive change that makes agriculture more inclusive and equitable.

LGBTQ+ Farmers Matter for the Future of Farming

In the US and many other countries around the world, the landscape of agriculture is slowly but surely changing to reflect a more diverse, inclusive community for LGBTQ+ individuals and other minorities. And LGBTQ+ farmers and their allies are redefining what it means to be a part of the agricultural community. Efforts to create safe and inclusive outdoor spaces, connect with the land, and implement sustainable farming practices are crucial steps toward a future where everyone, regardless of their identity, can find belonging as farmers. The stories and successes of these farmers and organizations not only enrich what it means to be a queer farmer, but may also inspire future generations (no matter their identities) to embrace farming as a viable and rewarding way of life.

Tell us in the comments:

  • What surprised you in this article?
  • Do you know any queer folks in agriculture?
  • What are some ways you’d like to see agriculture change over the coming years?

Featured Image:

Read Next: