Female Farmers

Fresno They've proven a woman's place is on the farm.

Rolinda: "if you don't like the outdoors and the dirt. and long hours in the heat then you're not gonna have fun."

Claudia Sersland picks what she plants cleans it herself and then sells it at the Downtown Fresno Farmers Market.

"Here's baby spinach and turnips, radishes."

Gena Nonini is constantly on the move at her 80-acre farm in Rolinda.

"Here see this, that's not what you want to see. That's not our first choice no."

Hail damage to her oranges is taken in stride.

She faces bigger challenges. Nonini and Sersland are two of the Valley's few female farmers.

"Dad wasn't too keen on it but he got used to it."

Gena Nonini, Rolinda Farmer: "Girls aren't supposed to farm. I sent you to school. You're supposed to get a good job and press on. The beauty about farming is the freedom that goes with it. The downside is the lack of security."

16 years ago Nonini left her job as a Commodity Trader. Now she grows 40 kinds of vegetables, almonds, oranges and grapes.

Both Claudia and Gena are comfortable on farm equipment.

Nonini recalls the first time she bought a tractor.

Gena Nonini: "First thing he says to me aren't you gonna bring your momma or your daddy and I'm thinking no, I think I can do this one all on my own. Some of that mentality, I think alot of those older fellas I'm gonna say fellas because that's who've I dealt with. A lot of those guys have retired out and moved out of the mainstream of agriculture."

Claudia Sersland knows the feeling.

Claudia Sersland: "Its kind of funny because down at Farmers Market alot of times the more traditional males don't want to do business with me. They're looking around for the guy in the stand."

Claudia farms 60 acres with her husband Dave. Their asparagus is beginning to reach for the sky.

Sersland has a PHD in Agro-Economics but gave up teaching to farm a decade ago. It all started with a few tomatoes she planted for family meals.

Claudia: "I jokingly said one day. oh these are too good to give away. we need to sell'em. That kind of started the idea."

Not all men shy away from her booth, but Sersland easily connects with women.

Claudia Sersland: "The women who want to cook fresh and eat healthy. Instant conversation oh, what are you growing. I'm constantly giving them recipes."

"So if you want to make like collard greens you're just gonna use these without the middle. Uh huh then you can use a little bacon fat and onion and a little hamhock."

Gena Nonini: "if I wasn't farming I probably would have gone to chef school. foods always fascinate me."

Nonini spends much of her time educating people about lesser-known vegetables such as kohlrabi,

"You can grate it, put it in salad, steam it for stir fry."

The work is hard and the hours are long but that's what these women love about it.

Claudia Sersland: "It's a happy business because you're making people happy. They are delighted. They are delighted someone will do this hard work so they'll have fresh produce."

"Okay I want to try mustard this week."

Gena Nonini: "We're doing the lone ranger thing out here. the only other female farmers i know are back east and there are very few."

The produce Nonini grows is sold through community supported agriculture and is shipped to southern California as well as the Seattle area.

In addition to farming Valley women have also taken active roles in the cattle and dairy industry.

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