So happy to introduce Audra Mulkern and share with you her latest work “The Female Farmer Project”
avajane: Your new endeavor The Female Farmer Project shows me that Farming is being embraced in a way that it wasn’t before. I recently interviewed Spencer MacDonald on his documentary film project “Age of the Farmer” Here he explores how the average age of farmers in the pacific northwest is 65! You have found so many fresh faces to represent modern farming and new ways of connecting people to their food.
What do you see happening in the world today in how it relates to peoples connection to their food?
Audra Mulkern: I see that we are an entire generation, perhaps two generations of being disconnected to our food source. Many of us had grandparents who were farmers or maybe they were just gardeners that kept chickens and goat in the backyard. But then our parents may not have stayed on the farm, or grew a garden because of the rise of convenient food. As a result we have no idea of what it takes to grow and raise the food we consume. The labor required and costs involved, the constant battle of creating markets and getting paid a fair price. These are the stories behind shiny apples in a pyramid in your grocery store. We owe it to ourselves to understand the food system.
avajane: Farming is hard work, long hours, no vacations, it is rewarding though. Can you think of a moment in your journey when things were so hard but that the hard work turned into something amazing.
Audra Mulkern: That’s an interesting question because I actually try to never take shortcuts on this journey. I will take public transport and walk to many of the farms, if possible. For the first year, I used several borrowed cameras so I had to learn to use each one, and never in automatic mode. I eventually saved enough money to buy my own used camera about 18 months into the project. I have never sold any of the images, despite lots of offers for good money, because I wanted the collection of images to remain a canon of this very special time in history. I have stayed on folk’s couches and in tractor sheds along the way. While these things don’t come close to touching the hard work that the farmers do, they were not the easy way. I think collectively they are a part of what makes this project special.
avajane: You to me are someone that followed their passion and grew along the way into an accomplished person in a new field of agricultural story telling. I know it all started when you began photographing farmers markets in Washington and then put together your book Rooted in the Valley. I want more people to know your story and to feel inspired by your message from the Female Farmer Project.
Who inspires you in this moment and is there a way to feel more connected to these farmers?
Audra Mulkern: Each of these women have inspired me and taught me important lessons along the way. Lynn taught me the power of quiet observation and anticipation. She spends a little time each day just watching her herd of sheep – she said it’s the best way to know when someone is about to get sick. I have applied that to my life and work. Michaele taught me about fortitude. When she injured herself and had to take a year off – she came back the next year stronger but smarter about how to accomplish the physical work. Cheu taught me about adaptability – when she couldn’t make enough money to feed her family by growing food she switched to flowers. Now you can find her blooms in the stalls at Pike Place Market and the farm is being passed to the next generation. Rosy taught me to pursue your interests despite people’s insistence on putting labels on you. Her aptitude tests said she was best suited to be a flight attendant; she got her masters in soil science instead. Karen taught me to see what’s not visible to everyone else. Where everyone else saw empty urban lots, she saw opportunities to grow food and community. I saw the rise of women in agriculture despite the statistics – so I kept taking the pictures and sharing the stories till everyone started to see it too.
avajane: Have you considered documentary film work and capturing these stories in moving imagery?
Audra Mulkern: I think the imagery of farms and the women who farm really lends itself to film. Its something I have considered for a long time, but it has to be done right and it has to be done well and the complete story has to be told. So yes, I do see this as a multi-platform vehicle to capture and share these stories and am working towards that goal.
All photos that accompany this interview are by Audra Mulkern
for more information on Audra please visit her website:
Audra Mulkern is the author of “Rooted In The Valley: The Art and Color of The Snoqualmie Valley Farmers Markets” – a photographic essay highlighting farmers and artisans from the Carnation and Duvall farmers markets. Proceeds from book sales are donated back to the Sno-Valley Tilth, an organization and community of local farmers.
Audra also writes and photographs “The Female Farmer Project” – a chronicle of in-depth stories about the rise of women working in agriculture around the world. The Female Farmer Project has garnered international recognition, and has been featured in Huffington Post, Modern Farmer, grist and a number of magazines, was recently in exhibition at FarmAid30, TEDxManhattan 2015 and won the Cascade Harvest Coalition Wendell Berry award for 2015.
Readers Digest Country Woman Magazine had identified 45 “Amazing Women” in honor of their 45th Anniversary in 2015. Audra Mulkern was honored alongside Temple Grandin, Krysta Harden, Sandra Day O’Connor and many others who represent the movement in embracing and celebrating women and the country way of life. Dubbed a “Visionary”, Audra’s work to highlight the rise of women in agriculture and share their stories is also featured in the magazine.
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