Women Dig and Chop Their Way to the Top in North Carolina’s Food & Ag Sectors


In North Carolina, women are leading the way in an exciting cross-section of food and agriculture related professions. Kim Severson’s article in The New York Times, “The North Carolina Way: A Food Sisterhood Flourishes in North Carolina,” published earlier this week profiles several of the pioneering restaurants and agricultural businesses run by women that are spicing up the food scene in the state.

NCWOMENFARMERSNorth Carolina boasts a diverse network of chefs and farmers (of all genders) who contribute to a lively culinary culture. And both groups have great potential to benefit from and contribute to its status as an emerging leader in locally-produced fresh foods and fine dining. A seemingly unusual situation has arisen in North Carolina compared to both neighboring states and the country at-large where women are at the forefront in the operation of a wide variety of food and ag businesses. As Severson notes:

“The North Carolina food sisterhood stretches out beyond restaurants, too, into pig farming, flour milling and pickling. Women run the state’s pre-eminent pasture-raised meat and organic produce distribution businesses and preside over its farmers’ markets. They influence food policy and lead the state’s academic food studies. And each fall, the state hosts the nation’s only retreat for women in the meat business.”

My co-workers and I at the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) have had the privilege of working with many of the women interviewed for Severson’s article, and it was a real pleasure to see this group of hardworking innovators receive national attention for their efforts. We encourage further media coverage of the countless unsung women farmers, farm workers, chefs, and business-owners who help make our food system and our cuisine so flavorful and fascinating.

At RAFI, we have provided technical support and awarded grants to a great many female farmers and agricultural entrepreneurs over the years through our grant program, the Agricultural Reinvestment Fund, which is now in its 18th year. (Formerly known as the Tobacco Communities Reinvestment Fund, the fund is supported through a generous grant from the NC Tobacco Trust Fund Commission.)

We’ve gathered together a few articles on women who have been awarded grants in the past through the program. These profiles highlight aspects of their farms and grant projects, and of course, their hard work and accomplishments.


About Jean Willoughby

Jean Willoughby currently serves as RAFI's Communications Manager and Project Director, overseeing our grant program for entrepreneurial and innovative farmers, the Agricultural Reinvestment Fund. She created the Growing Innovation website as an online library to document the Fund's nearly 20-year history of awarding grants to 600+ food and farm businesses.