Urban Farm Feminism

Recently an essay in the New York Times Magazine introduced me to a new word. Evidently, if you are a highly educated woman who left the workforce to be a stay-at-home mom, and you keep chickens and grow a garden, you are a “femivore.”

The writer, Peggy Orenstein, is responding to a new book, Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture by Shannon Hayes, who suggests that the still-blooming interest in sustainable living has provided, as Orenstein puts it, “an unexpected out from the feminist predicament, a way for women to embrace homemaking without becoming Betty Draper.” Hayes’s book, she writes, is “a manifesto for ‘tomato-canning feminists.'” Then Orenstein snarks, “Apparently it is no longer enough to know the name of the farm your eggs came from; now you need to know the name of the actual bird.”

It’s not her sarcasm that troubles me. It’s her cynicism. Orenstein almost — but not quite — uses the word “precious” to describe the endeavors of living more simply and sustainably. Ultimately she warns that the chicken coop can become like the gilded cage — just as much a trap. If the femivores are doing all the work and their husbands aren’t carrying their share (Hayes seems to think they do, while Orenstein sounds skeptical), there goes all our hard-earned freedom.


I am a tomato-canning feminist. But I’m not married, I don’t have children, and I have a busy professional career doing things I enjoy. Which, I suppose, knocks me out of the “femivore” category. But I keep chickens, grow a garden, preserve my produce, knit, make my own laundry detergent, and bake my own bread because I love doing those things, I love good food, and I’m as much an environmentalist and a cheapskate as I am a tomato-canning feminist. I don’t think Hayes is questioning your feminist cred if you don’t do them. I would still be a feminist even if I didn’t can tomatoes.

I can’t speak for stay-at-home moms (in my neighborhood, I like to think of them as the Powermoms, and trust me — they are awe-inspiring), but none of it feels like a trap to me. It feels like freedom. Empowerment, even. Mastering skills, lessening your environmental impact, and achieving greater self-sufficiency have that effect on some people.

And it’s an act of renunciation of a certain sort of consumer culture, as Hayes advocates. That, to me, also feels like freedom and power. While Orenstein implies — but again, doesn’t quite say — that my pursuits make me a kind of agrarian dilettante who “dabble[s] in backyard farming,” until the City of Decatur makes it legal for me to keep a herd of goats in my backyard, it’s what I can do, and it’s what I want to do. I’m grateful that I am able.



Filed under Community and Citizenship

5 responses to “Urban Farm Feminism

  1. Caroline

    Amen sister.

  2. Is there an emoticon for a standing ovation? I’m so sick of presumptions and assumptions. I am married and stay at home and gasp! “uneducated” because I put completing my own degree on hold so my two eldest daughters could complete their educations, and now I’m raising my two youngest sons, one of whom is special needs. I personally feel every woman should have the right to seek any goals or achievements, professional or otherwise that make her happy and feel fulfilled, for equal pay if that applies. But that doesn’t seem to keep other people from constantly judging what I and many others are doing. And yes, my husband is an equal partner, changes diapers, vacuums, folds laundry, builds bookshelves AND mows the lawn and takes out the garbage AND picks up my slack when I need it or ask him to. If being a feminist means having the kind of cynical, negative and sarcastic attitude Ms. Orenstein has, take me off the list. I’m sure Ms. Orenstein wouldn’t even put me on the list to begin with. She might find me just a little too quaint and meek.

  3. Amen is right! I too, have walked away from a holding a regular job as a dental hygienist making $41/hour to be home with my sons. People say, “But you could be making a huge amount of money each year!” I’ve been criticized for putting my career on hold for the sake of being there for the boys. “You’re so intelligent and good at dentistry! Why leave that to be home?”

    We live just on my husband’s paycheck, live debt free except for the mortgage and really want for nothing that is really important. We spend summers camping with our boys and showing them beautiful parts of this country. Can a paycheck buy back these years?

    No, I don’t sit on my bum, watching soaps and eating bonbons all day. I garden, can, tap maple trees, knit, crochet, quilt, and bake and cook for 3 growing boys. I work hard. I realize that no one looks upon my career as a real job. Not real enough to put a value on it and give me social security credit or allow me to put more money away into an IRA or Roth or anything like that. Instead, I’m building up my boys’ mental savings. Someday, when I’m gone, they’ll have an invaluable mental storehouse of wonderful memories and time we spent together. They’ll remember that I counted them as more valuable than cash and the ‘stuff’ that cash buys.

    What makes someone criticize our (mine and my husband’s) decision to have me work hard at home, stretching the dollars and making ends meet so I can take care of our home and our children? Is it jealousy? I hardly see myself as tearing down the feminine movement! If anything, I see myself as more feminine! I can split wood, build stone walls and do almost as much physical work as a man but still tenderly clean a little boy’s skinned knee, be a beautiful and supportive wife and have a voice and a vote in this country. I am more woman than ever before.

  4. Esther

    Yet another AMEN!!! from a lawyer turned stay at home mom and radical gardener/ chickenkeeper. I love my life and my feminism. I’m determined to blaze my own trail and create new options – as a lawyer and as a homesteader. And it’s so fun!

  5. Finally! I am been searching for other homesteading feminists…and here you all are! While relatively new to the homesteading movement, it never once occurred to me that it would mean giving up all that I have worked hard to achieve, including my equal partnership in my marriage. However, after joining other homesteading groups, I found they were obsessed with this idea of being a submissive wife, where the husband makes the decisions and I get back to the traditional role of house cleaner, child bearer, and that’s about it. Women have made such amazing strides in being able to choose for themselves what they want to be….why are so many in such a hurry to throw it away?

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