Italian pastoral

Businesswomen make their mark in agriculture

Brenda Dionisi
February 26, 2009

Think ‘farmer' and the image of a hefty, husky man with strong hands and a stronger heart comes to mind. Perhaps he is riding a tractor, taking livestock to graze or rebuilding a fence. Let's face it: in the popular imagination farmers are more often than not men rather than women.


In reality, women have long played an important role in agriculture throughout Europe's history, often toiling as ‘invisible workers'-farm hands or helpers who harvested crops. Today, Europe's agricultural sector is one of the areas where female entrepreneurs shine the brightest: women represent 37 percent of workers and owners in the continent's agricultural sector.   


In Italy, women in agriculture are among the most influential business leaders and decision-makers in one of the country's most important economic sectors. Whether farming has been their family business for generations or they are first-generation farmers, Italy's women in agriculture are among Europe's largest and most dynamic crop of entrepreneurs-‘pink' farmers who adopt ‘green' policies and promote the traditions of local and rural communities. They are also part of a new movement: currently, 51 percent of agricultural businesses are owned by under-40s. In 1999, the first the Associazione Donne in Campo (‘Women in the Fields Association') was established as part of the larger Italian Confederation of Agricultural Workers. A force to be reckoned with on the national level, the confederation boasts a Donne in Campo division in every region, each with the principal mandate of furthering equality of the sexes in agriculture and promoting females leaders in this historically male-dominated sector.


The regional chapters organize seminars, conferences, workshops, courses, food markets and fairs. They seek to advance greener and more sustainable agricultural policies that favor rural communities, maintain local traditions, improve rural living standards, and support rural development policies. They also work to ensure that more social services are available to working mothers in rural areas, like additional daycare centers, schools and improved public transportation. 


A major cause is reducing the time and energy it takes to get fruits and vegetables from their farms to fork. In fact, the first Donne in Campo association was born in 1999 in Turin's Piazza Carignano when a group of women farmers started holding a fruit and vegetable market where they sold their fresh, local produce directly to consumers at a lower cost.


The market in Turin was such a success that it spurred other women to start doing the same. From Latina, Ravenna and Parma to Bologna, Lecco, Mantova and Florence, the country's female farmers were among the first to anticipate Italy's more recent ‘return to the land' and to promote the consumption of environmentally sustainable and locally grown foods.


Tuscany's Donne in Campo association was born in 2001 and today its members represent all aspects of agriculture, ranging from grape growing and cultivating OGM-free crops to agritourisms and other forms of sustainable rural tourism. In Florence, members of the Donne in Campo are found in Piazza Santa Croce, where they sell their produce directly to customers the first Saturday of every month at the Mercatale di Firenze farmer's market. For more information on Tuscany's Donne in Campo, see


Celebrate Women's Day

with the Donne in Campo


On March 8, Donne in Campo farmer's market in Piazza Santa Croce celebrates Women's Day. Called L'altra metà...della terra torna in piazza, the market is a unique opportunity for consumers to learn about where their food comes from and how it was cultivated and for farmers to interact with the end-users of their locally grown  ‘zero-kilometers' foods.



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