Women in Agriculture: A talk with Sarah Dukeman on being a young woman in agriculture today

March 7, 2024

What does it take to get involved in farming when you weren't born into it? What interest do young people have in the future of agriculture in Lancaster County?

In honor of International Women's Day, we visited a young woman who worked her way into her agricultural community and is dedicated to the legacy of Lancaster County farmland. Sarah Dukeman is a 21-year-old farmhand working at a Mount Joy, PA, dairy operation. We visited her (bright and early, of course) on the farm to get a feel for an average day of work for her.

Sarah starts her day around 6 a.m. to care for the calves. While her days vary, working with calves is her specialty on the farm. The day we stopped in, she spent the morning feeding them, washing out bottles and buckets, and performing routine checks. Unlike many young farmers, Sarah did not grow up farming with her family.

"I didn't grow up in agriculture," she said, "but was exposed to it through my friend's family farm and surrounding community…The work ethic, dedication, and lifestyle of farming drew me in. I like working hard, using my hands, and seeing the benefits of my work."

As a high school student, Sarah began working at a local orchard, where she first discovered her love of agricultural work. While there, she connected with the family at Shelmar Acres and began helping them care for their calves. Sarah fell in love with working with and caring for animals, which would evolve into the job she currently works in. While being involved as a farm hand, Sarah is pursuing a degree in elementary education at a local university.

So, will she give up farming when she becomes a teacher? Sarah doesn't see it that way. "I'm excited to invest in kids, but I will always want to invest in my community through farming," she told us. "Lancaster is where my roots are, and I love the community. When I think of Lancaster County, I think of agriculture. Without our farmland, Lancaster would be lost."

We had to ask about her experience as a young woman in agriculture, as the industry is predominantly male. While she loves the agricultural community, she notes that women can often be overlooked. "In Lancaster County, I feel like you don't hear a lot about women in agriculture. They're the wives or the daughters, not the farmers."

However, she also feels that women are becoming more recognized in the field as younger generations step into larger roles. While she never participated in programs such as FFA or 4H herself, she strongly recommends them to other young people hoping to learn more about farming and get connected to the community. She believes agricultural education is crucial to maintaining the health of the agricultural industry.

"I think ignorance is the biggest roadblock in farming. People are scared to ask questions and don't always understand. Young people can overlook the possibility of getting involved in the agricultural community in Lancaster," she noted. She hopes that through more agricultural education, future generations will understand the importance of farming and get more involved. "I have never met someone my age who didn't grow up on a farm and was actively working in the field," she observed.

She had four main pieces of advice to share with other young aspiring agriculturalists: ask questions, adopt a humble heart, listen, and connect with the older generation of farmers.

Sarah's dedication is an excellent reminder to all young women that you don't need an agricultural background to get involved, learn more, and seek potential career opportunities. At LFT, we support farmers of all backgrounds and advocate for the success of the next generation of Lancaster's farmers. If you're interested in agriculture, be brave and get connected. In Sarah's words: "Don't be intimidated by taking a risk in trying something you never have before!"

If you want to learn more about Shelmar Acres, subscribe to them on YouTube! To learn more about ways to get involved with Lancaster Farmland Trust, be sure to follow us on Instagram and Facebook or subscribe to our email newsletter.


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