TRUE GRIT

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Three local women reap rewards on the farm. by Alexia Gawlak

Farming is tough. The risks are great, but if a farmer can find success, the reward of earning a living by producing that which is tangible is immense. Farming takes resilience, patience, dedication and a lot of hard work.

These Central Florida women are farmers who are involved intimately with the day-to-day decision-making, operations and physical labor that goes into making each of their businesses successful. Liz Dannemiller’s farm is known mostly for top-quality organic produce, Jodi Anderson raises chickens and Imogene Yarborough oversees the cattle ranch that has now been in her family going on six generations. The women have different specialties, but share a sense of responsibility for bettering their communities. Each of them has her personal mission carved out and is committed not only to her own individual success, but also to making the world in which she farms a better place.

Liz Dannemiller of Green Flamingo Organics

It’s impossible not to get excited when Liz Dannemiller of Green Flamingo Organics talks about her chosen profession. The enthusiasm in her voice is palpable—and it’s contagious. She founded Green Flamingo with a friend in 2009, but now farms alone on 10 acres in Oak Hill, south of New Smyrna and north of Titusville. Dannemiller grows a diverse range of vegetables and raises pastured laying hens. She is working on getting USDA Organic certification for the farm.

Dannemiller grew up in Florida and began farming as an intern seven years ago. She credits her father, a landscaper, for helping develop her strong work ethic. “There’s this whole underground culture for working on organic farms—you have to be willing to work hard in order to learn,” she says. When asked if farming is more challenging because she is a woman, Dannemiller acknowledges that her gender has been both an obstacle and an advantage. “As a woman, you have to figure out how to make things work with your body size: how to fix things, how to move heavy stuff—things that are traditionally men’s roles. I had to figure out how mechanical things work, how to use leverage, how to be efficient physically.” She adds that women are great at multitasking, which is helpful in farming “because you have to be thinking about ten things at once.” For Dannemiller, farming is all about putting systems in place to find the greatest efficiency. Her experience has taught her that good systems are not gender specific and can be applied to all nature of tasks in life.

When Dannemiller is not busy on the farm, she is a devoted youth educator. “I can teach [kids]simple things about how things grow and how things taste—about cause and effect.” Dannemiller tends organic gardens at three elementary schools and helps the students grow their own veggies. She feels that her community appreciates the work she does with the kids and on her farm: “They look at me as someone who grew up here and is now bringing something back.”

Jodi Anderson of Bear-Wolf Ranch

A seventh-generation Floridian, Jodi Anderson grew up with ties to the orange groves that her family still owns today. She knew she wanted to follow in her family’s farming footsteps, but she chose to pursue a legal degree first. Anderson practiced law for 16 years, but ultimately closed her practice to return to agrarian life. She points out that it is no longer uncommon to see former professionals that have gone back to the land, and adds that these are people who want to make a difference. “We are trying to use our corporate knowledge to do something better for the world.”

Anderson’s legal background has proven to be an important resource. Last year, aided by the Weston A. Price Foundation’s Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, she used her know-how to work a loophole in the system to get a small poultry processing plant inspected and approved by the USDA. Anderson says that the loophole was a technicality that only a lawyer could have caught. This work represents an important victory for small farmers in the area. The USDA’s regulations “are geared toward industrial food. There are committees trying to change the rules, but it’s slow going,” says Anderson.

Bear-Wolf Ranch is home to the Cornish Cross Hybrid hens that Anderson raises in order to make a living, but her real interest is the preservation of heritage poultry breeds. Hybrid birds have been bred to have a physiological makeup that makes them more desirable to the modern consumer, but this breeding produces top-heavy birds that Anderson says are not ultimately sustainable. Her dream is to reintroduce heritage breeds to the mainstream and “bring the community a healthy alternative for their bodies and the environment.”

Imogene Yarborough of Yarborough Ranch

When Imogene Yarborough married her husband, Ed, in 1954, he was already the third generation tending his family’s land and cattle on their 8,000 acres in Geneva, Fla. The Yarboroughs have four children, three of whom are still involved in the daily operations of the ranch. Ed’s death in 2000 left matriarch Imogene in charge of the family and the ranch, but, she stresses, she’s never had to go it alone. “This is not a one-woman or one-man show—this is a family unit working together.” When asked to name her greatest triumphs as a farmer, the first thing she mentions is the satisfaction she gets from watching her grown children run the ranch as they were taught to by their father.

Land stewardship is something that has always been important to the Yarborough family. “We know that this is not our land, it’s God’s land—we’re just the caretakers,” says Yarborough. This philosophy led to the family’s making deals with and donating land to the state of Florida as well as the St. John’s Water Management District. Today, more than half the ranch’s original acreage is conservation land, although the Yarboroughs still use it based on a lease agreement with the state.

Yarborough is a leader in her field as well as a leader in the community. Over the years, she’s put in countless hours giving back to Central Florida by volunteering with local church organizations and the 4-H and Girl Scouts. She served a 12-year term on the board of directors of the National Cattlewomen’s Association and is a founding member of the Florida Agricultural Museum. The Yarboroughs maintain a strong relationship with the University of Florida and the Institute of Food and Agricultural Science Extension and happily open their ranch to visitors several times a year. “We strive to keep our property a healthy, enjoyable place that is a pleasure to visit,” Yarborough says.

For More Info

Green Flamingo Farm produce, pastured raised poultry, and eggs are available at the New Smyrna Beach Farmers Market, Wickham Park Farmers Market in Melbourne, and through their Community Supported Agriculture Program.

Free-range chickens from Bear Wolf Ranch are available at the Audubon Park Community Market in Orlando and can be pre-ordered via bear-wolf-ranch.com.

A variety of agricultural events take place at the Yarborough Ranch year round. Sign up for our monthly e-newsletter at edibleorlando.com for details on upcoming events.

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