Women are crucial to the functioning of a healthy and sustainable food system. At Food Tank, we are continually inspired by the hard work and creativity of women farmers, entrepreneurs, policymakers, community leaders, and family members.
Despite making up roughly 43 percent of the global agricultural workforce, women worldwide receive a fraction of the land, credit, inputs, and training as compared to men. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has spotlighted the gender gap in agriculture as a key obstacle to sustainable development. If women farmers had access to the same resources as men, for example, the added yields would reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 100 to 150 million. That is a 12 to 17 percent decrease in worldwide hunger through supporting female farmers.
Beyond the fields, women are working to make every aspect of the food system more sustainable, equitable, and innovative. Whether it is researching new technologies to reduce food waste or founding organizations to better feed the hungry, women are working around the world to build the future of food.
While there are innumerable women deserving recognition, Food Tank is recognizing 22 women that are inspiring others and creating a better food system around the world. See Food Tank’s previous lists: 25 Influential Women in Food and Agriculture and 23 Women Changing Food.
1. Elisabeth Atangana
Chair of the Regional Platform of African Peasant Organizations and a farmer by profession, Atangana is a lifelong champion for rural rights and women’s empowerment in agriculture. Atangana served as President of the Pan-African Farmers Organization from 2010 to 2012, where she worked to create training opportunities throughout the food and farming sector. In 2012, Atangana was appointed as Special Ambassador for Cooperatives to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.
2 & 3. Jolanda Buets and Simone Heemskerk
Buets and Heemskerk are the co-founders of Por Eso! Peru, an organization that works with communities in the Peruvian Andes to start community gardens and improve local infrastructure. Por Eso! Peru is currently working with more than 1000 families in 11 villages, in which they have built 38 community greenhouses, planted 139 home gardens, installed 565 smoke-free kitchens, and much more.
4. Gabriela Cámara
A chef from Mexico City, when Cámara opened Cala in San Francisco she filled 70 percent of the staff openings with former convicts. Using this approach, Cámara continues to prove that if you treat your employees well, and pay them above minimum wage, the high turnover rates of restaurant staff will almost disappear. In addition to creating restaurant training and work opportunities, Cámara is dedicated to creating a cultural exchange through food that she serves.
5. Monica Garnes
Garnes is VP of Produce at Kroger, where she oversees more than 2,700 branches in 35 states. Garnes has prioritized relationships with local producers, providing consumers with clear information about where their food comes from, and expanding organic food options. As a result, Kroger has increased the number of local growers they buy from by 27 percent in the past five years.
6. Elise Golan
Golan is the Director for Sustainable Development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In this role, she manages programs that impact sustainable agricultural, natural resource, and community development including food security. Golan holds a PhD in agricultural economics, and her research has focused on land tenure in the Sahel and West Africa, regional food system models, sustainable land management in California, as well as food labeling and marketing.
7. Rachel Gray
Gray is the executive director of The Stop Community Food Centre in Toronto, Canada. The Stop is dedicated to building healthy, dignified communities through a broad range of programs including drop-in meals, a food bank, community kitchens and gardens, perinatal and family support, and youth engagement. Prior to joining The Stop in 2012, Gray worked nationally and locally with homeless youth and served as a special assistant to Ontario’s Minister of Health.
8. Wenonah Hauter
Hauter is the founder and executive director of Food & Water Watch. An expert in developing policy positions and legislative strategies, Hauter has worked extensively on food, water, energy, and environmental issues for nearly 30 years. Her book Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America examines the corporate consolidation and control over our food system.
9. Jill Isenberger
Isenberger is the CEO of Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture, a non-profit dedicated to developing more sustainable ways of growing food, and training farmers to implement those practices. For more than ten years she served as the chief of staff at The Nature Conservancy, the world’s leading conservation organization organization with more than 3,500 employees in 34 countries around the globe. Isenberger has previously worked for Harvard University, U.S. Senator Carl Levin, and an international architectural firm based in Cambridge, Massachussets.
10. Saru Jayaraman
Jayaraman is the co-founder and co-director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and a James Beard Leadership Award recipient. Her book Behind the Kitchen Door, which explores the struggles of restaurant workers in the U.S., was a national bestseller. Saru is the current director of the Food Labor Research Center at University of California, Berkeley.
11. Elizabeth Kaiser
Kaiser is pioneering a new standard of sustainability on Singing Frogs Farm in Sebastopol, California. Alongside her husband, Kaiser is constantly evolving a model of farming that is non-mechanized and no-till. Thanks to advocates like Kaiser, no-till farming is gaining popularity across the U.S. as a method to reduce inputs and increase yield per acre. Kaiser is also an instructor at the Permaculture Skills Center, where she works to empower the next generation of farmers.
12. Sieta van Keimpema
As president of the Dutch Dairymen Board and vice president of the European Milk Board, van Keimpema fights for dairy farmer livelihoods at a time when European milk prices have been in crisis. She is an advocate for effective policy that would keep production down and provide appropriate farmer relief during times of crisis.
13. Gabriella Lucas Deecke
Lucas is a farmer from Queretaro, Mexico, an agricultural engineer, and the founder and director of CIASPE Mexico. CIASPE works with women in rural Mexico to adopt more productive methods of growing their own food, with the goal of increasing both family and community-level food security. Lucas is constantly experimenting with new methods of organic farming on her own land in Queretaro, to share her knowledge and empower rural women.
14. Kathleen Merrigan
Merrigan is executive director of sustainability at George Washington University, where she leads the GW Sustainability Collaborative, GW Food Institute, and serves as Professor of Public Policy. From 2009 to 2013, she served as U.S. Deputy Secretary and Chief Operating Officer of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a $150 billion, 110,000 employee institution. Merrigan is deeply involved in numerous food and farming organizations, holding positions such as co-chair at AGree, member of the board of directors at Stone Barn Center for Food and Agriculture and FoodCorps, and senior advisor at the Kendall Foundation. In 2010, TIME Magazine named Merrigan among the “100 most influential people in the world.”
15. Ndidi Nwuneli
Nwuneli is a social entrepreneur and founder of LEAP Africa, a leading development organization aimed at empowering Nigerian youth through training programs on leadership, entrepreneurship, and employment skills. She is also the co-founder of AACE Foods, a food processing company that sources from farmers across Nigeria, and Sahel Capital, which consults with companies across the food sector. Nwuneli has been named on the Forbes list of “20 Youngest Power Women in Africa,” was an honoree of the Global Fund for Women, and was selected as a Global Leader of Tomorrow by the World Economic Forum.
16. Denise O’Brien
O’Brien is the founder of the Women, Food, and Agriculture Network (WFAN) and has been farming in southwest Iowa for approximately 40 years. She served as president of the National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC), worked with the Iowa Farm Unity Coalition, and directed the Rural Women’s Leadership Development Project. O’Brien has received awards such as the 2005 Practical Farmers of Iowa Sustainable Agriculture Award and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Iowa Farmer’s Union. In 2000, she was inducted into Iowa’s Women’s Hall of Fame.
17. Genell Pridgen
Pridgen is a ninth-generation poultry and livestock farmer, as well as an advocate for family farms. Through her work with Rural Advancement Foundation International in North Carolina, Pridgen was able to leave poultry contract farming and transition into pasture-raised chickens for local markets. Since then, she has been outspoken about the coercive contract farming system, recently penning an open letter urging the Trump Administration to adopt the “Farmer Fair Practice Rules” to protect family farmers.
18. Kavita Shukla
Kavita Shukla is the inventor and founder of FreshPaper, an antibacterial sheet that uses herbs to keep food fresh. Shukla aims to provide a food waste solution to the 1.6 billion people around the world that do not have access to refrigeration. After watching her Grandmother in India use fenugreek to fight off bacteria in tap water, Shukla spent years in research and development to harness those herbs to fight the bacteria that lead to food waste.
19. Lindsey Shute
Shute is the co-founder and executive director of the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC), and the co-owner and operator of Hearty Roots Farm in the Hudson Valley. The NYFC is a platform for young, progressive farmers to have a meaningful influence on the structural obstacles in the way of their success. In 2014, the White House named Lindsey a “Champion of Change.”
20. Karen Spangler
Spangler is the Policy and Operations Manager at Food Policy Action, a collaboration of national food policy leaders that works to keep legislators accountable on food issues. Spangler is working to further develop the National Food Policy Scorecard, which provides voters with detailed information on how their representatives vote on food and agriculture.
21. Nahoko Takahashi
Takahashi is the founder of Yamagata Girls Farm. Having grown up working on her family farm, Takahashi wanted to bring more women into agriculture. Women can apply to work on the farm, with the goal of sharing these crucial skills to increase the number of female farmers. Takahashi has built up an online following across Japan, where she strives to change the perception that farming in Japan is exclusively male work.
22. Rowen White
White is the co-founder of Sierra Seeds, an organization in Nevada County, California, that focuses on providing growers with regionally adapted seeds and the knowledge to sustain them. In 2016, White led a tribal seed project at the Hudson Valley Farm Hub, in which the organization collaborated with Akwesasne tribal members and SeedShed to grow a community garden using native seeds. White is Chair of the board of directors of Seed Savers Exchange.