Women Farmers Drawn to Mother Earth

Tilling Mother Earth traditionally has been thought of as a man's job. But as the business of farming has changed, so has the face of it.

While the number of American farms has dropped 14 percent in the last 25 years, the number of farms run by women has increased 86 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

On Cheryl Rogowski's family farm in Pine Island, N.Y., five of the seven field hands are women.

"I've never been so happy as I am being back home on the farm, getting down in that dirt and getting it under my nails," she says.

'Makes You Whole'

Rogowski believes women are naturally suited to farming.

"I think one of the biggest reasons that women are good farmers is the sensory nature of it," she says. "To know that you took that tiny, little thing from that process of putting it in the ground and bringing it to full maturity, it's so tactile. All your senses are involved. You smell it. You taste it. You feel it. You hear it. It makes you whole."

Many of the women now becoming farmers are especially interested in organic farming -- growing healthy food in a way that's healthy for the environment, too. Women account for more than 20 percent of organic farmers today, according to the Organic Farming Research Foundation.

At The Rodale Institute, an agricultural research center in Pennsylvania Dutch country, all 10 of this year's interns are women.

"Women in organic farming, we tend to think more holistically and systematically," says Kelly Grube of the institute, "as opposed to narrow approaches of, you know, 'what can we spray that will fix this problem tomorrow?'"

Rogowski says women farmers also do well at establishing relationships with customers, from restaurant chefs to community markets.

"Farmers' markets are very intimate relationships," she says. "It's one on one. To have that one-on-one input, it's immediate input. You put the product on the table. You know if it's good, it's bad, what their reaction is. And you can take that home and use that to build your business going forward."

It may not be an easy way for a woman, or a man, to make a living. But for a growing number of women, it's a genuine labor of love.

ABC News' Betsy Stark originally reported this story for "World News Tonight" on Dec. 4, 2005.