Our #GrowInspired series features our innovative and creative garden partners. Whether they’re working with two acres or 200 square feet, we are constantly in awe of their hard work and kick-ass gardens. These are some of our favorite growers and gardeners who inspire us to get out and play in the dirt.
Margo Candelario is the founder and force behind Young Female Farmers, a multi-generational farm focused on providing fresh produce to their community and educating on the benefits of self-sustainability and the importance of healing with plants. Started initially as a baking company to teach Margo’s daughters self sufficiency, it’s now a working farm with its own produce trailer, horses, and deep roots in the community. We had the pleasure of speaking with Margo about the evolution of Young Female Farmers, some of the challenges she’s faced, why women in farming are so important, and much more.
On How Young Female Farmers Began & Evolved
We started Young Female Farmers back in 2006 as a baking business. We baked sweet potato pies and pound cakes — no icing. Just something very simple. I was trying to teach my daughters the importance of self sufficiency. My father was an entrepreneur in the seventies when it was unfashionable, so it's always been in my blood to work smart, not hard. With me being a widow, I wanted my girls to always have something they could fall back on in the event that something catastrophic happened like it had to me. We started out in the local farmers market using my dad’s sweet potato pie recipe. But I don’t want to leave my mom out of this story, either — she helped in a big way by retiring and moving down to Georgia to help me raise my girls.
Our stand became very popular and we were eventually wooed away to another market because we started getting all kinds of publicity for what we were doing. Eventually Young Female Farmers turned into farming because my mom reminded me about our roots in the garden growing up around all of the agriculture I was exposed to in California. We had horses, cows, chickens, dogs, and rabbits while we lived there and I was an only child, so I learned to listen to, watch, and learn from older people. So eventually my mom and I decided that with Young Female Farmers we wanted to raise the girls on fresh vegetables and teach them how to farm.
It started out with a small vegetable plot and it just kept growing and growing. At first I didn’t want to do anything too big or too crazy, but now we’re at about 1,000 square feet which is quite a bit of space. It’s fenced in so we’re able to keep the deer out. We also have a pond that’s fully stocked on the property and two horses. I use the manure from our geldings in the garden and I catch fish and use them in the holes for the tomato plants. So although it started small, it’s becoming much bigger and blossomed into a brand.
Young Female Farmer’s Mission
Our mission is to teach people the importance of living off of the land. Even if you don’t have a big property, you can still grow in containers and feed your family fresh produce. It may not be the equivalent to shopping, but at least it gives you an idea that you’re in charge of what you put inside your body. Even if that means a couple of tomato plants in pots or herbs and greens.
Another part of our mission is growing and processing our herbs into tinctures to help heal the body, while also educating people on how to do this themselves. A lot of it is being able to properly identify what’s growing on your own property and what it can be used for. I’m not an expert or herbalist, so I really focus on what grows here on my land, and try to teach people that everything we need to heal the body is here on earth.
Why Is It So Important For Women To Farm?
Women are nurturers. We give birth; we feed people — we are the ones that really support the community because we’re raising the children. We’re the mothers; we’re the grandmothers; we’re the aunts, so it’s important that we remember the power we have in healing and growing our own food.
I was raised this way and then because of the circumstances of my life, I learned even more about the importance of being self sufficient. When my husband died I didn’t work, I was home raising our children, so when he passed away I was in shock. I had no idea what to do at first. So I want women to know that you can be empowered no matter what happens —because that stuff is going to happen — so be prepared. I especially wanted my daughters to know how to farm in case they ever needed it down the road, which they may not. One of my daughters is married and the other is in nurse administration and loves her job, but now that I have a granddaughter they’ve come back to realizing the importance of the farm again.
That’s what Young Female Farmers is about: educating people, empowering women, and empowering children.
On The Challenges Margo Has Faced
As a woman in the business of farming, it’s difficult because there is no woman farm club like there's a boys club, right? Men are traditionally the farmers; they can sit down with a couple of guys and have some beers, put a roof on a house, put a deck on the back in one day — have a barbecue and be done with it. Women don’t have those types of connections and cliques so we need more help. We don’t have a tractor on the farm, so trying to find someone to come over and do that for us is an arduous task. We’ve had people never show up or tell us that we don’t have a ‘real’ farm because we’re not farming, you know, 10 acres. There is definite sexism there. I've been told that I'm a gardener; I’m not a farmer, even though I’m running a business and doing all kinds of lecturing and have been featured on NPR — but no, I don’t get to be called a farmer. It’s frustrating.
There have also been challenges dealing with certain organizations for grants for hoop houses. I have attempted several times and was never denied the grant, but there were issues like people not wanting to take the hoop house off of the trailer for us. We’re a family of women; we don’t have the strength and need to coordinate when they would deliver it to try to get some help from neighbors. Things like that that most women don't think about, it’s very difficult. There are always some strings attached to money that's given to you from these governmental agencies, and I had to wait. I waited two years to get what I have built now and ended up doing it myself. As a woman — and especially as a black woman — everything has to be dotted and crossed. I did that; I don’t owe anybody anything.
What Margo Loves Most About Her Work
I think the freedom of not having to answer to anyone about what I do or why do it, and also being out in nature. When I’m out in the garden or in the greenhouse or outside talking to the horses, looking at the birds, I get to be always observing what's going on. I’m also a visual artist, so I love recalling things or taking from nature and incorporating it into my art. I also enjoy talking to people and helping them when I can; I don’t know everything but I feel a responsibility to share the knowledge that I do have. I’m not an informational hoarder; I don’t believe in that. I offer classes and do want to be compensated for my time but for the most part, if someone calls me up and has a question I am happy to talk to them about it.
On Young Female Farmers Evolution From Market To Produce Trailer
We don’t go to the farmers markets anymore; we bought a trailer so I could take my produce into the community that the farmers market was not serving. There’s a park close to my home that we set up at once per week.
We also go into the projects when we can because when we were at the farmers market, I noticed a lot of people getting bussed into the farmers markets from the projects. I understand that people didn’t have transportation so they were taking the bus, but it was almost like they were on display and they could feel it. There were a lot of vegetables the farmers had that they could not identify because, you know, people of color are creatures of habit. We eat what we’ve been accustomed to and we’re not really that interested in trying anything new because we don't have the funds to spend on something we know absolutely nothing about. So when I noticed that and I would often call people over to our stand; not just because they were black and I’m black, but because I understood what was going on and wanted to show them what I had, recipes for the vegetables, and show them how to prepare each plant.
We’ve become so far removed from the earth because of the negative stereotype or stigma with people of color and farming in the soil. They just know the history of African Americans and slavery and the connection to farming. So that that part is hard too; just because that guy next to me is a white man doesn't mean he grows his corn taller than mine. So I decided instead of having them being bussed to the farmers market, I would go directly to the source. So I started bringing my produce trailer to the projects and even if we spent more time educating than selling, it’s still something we do from time to time.
Recently, I stay more local to the farm and bring the produce trailer to the park nearby once a week. We also open up the farm on Saturdays where people can come and do farm tours and we offer lunch. We give out sheets of plants that grow on the property and people can go identify them and I talk about the benefits of each plant. 🪴
Goals For Young Female Farmers
Now that we have the greenhouse, we're looking to ramp up our production. This season I teamed up with a woman who worked on a farm for a couple of years and wants to start her own plant business in Atlanta. She’s met quite a few people interested in plant starts for container gardens in the city. So she is renting greenhouse space from me and also planning on doing some veggie boxes in the summer months as well. So that’s an exciting new project on the farm.
Another goal this year with Covid regulations is to do more Zoom classes and to educate as many people as possible on plant identification and farming.
Margo’s Advice For Women Interested In Farming
They should contact me! It’s so important to find a mentor, to find someone who has a love for farming. They don’t need to have letters behind their names or have a PhD; it’s all about a genuine love for nature, food, health, and an interest in empowerment. It’s also about having an interest in community and volunteering. If you do not ask, you will not receive, and that’s it. If you’re actually interested then get involved because we don’t want the culture of farming to die; because once it’s gone, it’s gone. We