They weren’t born into the farm world, but they got there as soon as they could.
They got there not by marrying a farmer, not by starting their own farm, but through career connections that led them straight into the agriculture industry.
Much is made of women in agriculture who are farmers, but many women also dedicate their lives to ag careers off the farm.
They are career ag women working service provider jobs at Extension, nonprofits, departments of agriculture, agribusiness, and more.
Kim Rush Lynch, a University of Maryland Extension agricultural marketing specialist, and Amy Crone, executive director of the Maryland Farmers Market Association, are two such women.
“My family was so into food and food traditions, and I got into gardening through my parents,” said Rush Lynch, who grew up in Sykesville. “My dad grew the best asparagus, and Mom grew flowers and ornamentals.”
Rush Lynch was two generations removed from the farm when gardening piqued her interest as a child.
Rush Lynch also rode horses for about six years when she was young.
“I loved visiting the farms and riding,” she said, “but I eventually had to drop horseback riding lessons because they kept pressuring my dad to get me a horse and he said, ‘Oh, heck no!’”
At St. Mary’s College of Maryland, Rush Lynch studied plant and environmental sciences, and taught plant science classes to elementary school children.
After graduation, she decided to plunge further into the world of agriculture by going to work full time at an organic vegetable, herb and flower farm in Baltimore County.
When funding for the position dried up, she worked at the Washington Youth Garden at the National Arboretum.
“It was fun jumping back into working with kids,” she said, “but this time with my passion — gardening.”
Before she knew it, Rush Lynch was a founding member of the Greenbelt Farmers Market, in Greenbelt, Maryland.
“This helped me learn so much about my ag community — their challenges and opportunities for growth,” Rush Lynch said. “I really felt like I had a farm family, still do. Several producers have been there since GFM’s inception. I love how our Greenbelt residents have rallied to support various producers throughout the years.”
In her current Extension work, she’s motivated by her love of food.
“And my deep admiration and appreciation for the people who make sacrifices so that we can eat,” Rush Lynch said. “Staying involved in ag to some degree is the least I could do to thank the hand that feeds me.”
One of her current Extension projects focuses on preserving and improving the mental health of farmers.
Her future plans include helping urban farmers in Prince George’s County become profitable.
Rush Lynch is a board member for the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission, an active participant in the Farm Bureau, and an advocate for young farmers.
Gardening appears to be a convenient entry point to larger agricultural pursuits.
Crone, who heads the Farmers Market Association, was also introduced to agriculture through a garden in New Hampshire.
“For me it began in my aunt and uncle’s garden. They grew a lot of their own food, from vegetables to chickens, and spent a lot of time and effort preserving the harvest,” Crone said. “They were also connected to and part of their local agricultural community. That feeling of a community through food remained with me through my college years and early professional career.”
When she was in graduate school, Crone began working at farmers market to help make ends meet, and she met people who cared about food and helping others.
“While working at that farmers market, I went to the Maryland Department of Agriculture website to look something up, and came across a job opportunity,” she said. “I printed it out, and it sat on my kitchen counter until a week before the due date. My defining moment was when I decided to submit that job application and commit to leaving my current work in international development to shift to local food and agriculture.”
After several years, Crone left that job in 2012 to found the Maryland Farmers Market Association.
After surveying stakeholders in the farmers market community — farmers, managers and shoppers — she found that there was a need for a nonprofit to help the industry through providing technical assistance, funding matching programs at markets, and serving as an advocate for farmers markets.
The organization’s largest program is Maryland Market Money, which raises money to match federal nutrition benefits that low-income Marylanders receive so that they will have more money to spend at the farmers market.
“This is a win-win-win,” Crone said, “since participants get more fresh, healthy local food, the farmers receive additional revenue, and farmers markets are accessible to all Marylanders regardless of income.”
The association also provides an insurance program and resources on issues from starting a farmers market to cooking the ingredients that one can find there.
Crone said one of her favorite recent moments was when a farmer chased her down to tell her that her help in setting up food stamp and credit card processing had increased the farm’s sales by $1,000 in a month.
For Crone, it was a wonderful moment in which a lot of work, time and effort were confirmed to be directly helping farmers.
“The amazing people I get to work with in this community — they are the most generous, caring, thoughtful and committed people,” she said. “Whenever I am feeling down on any given day or about any particular issue, I know I have a phenomenal group of people I can reach out to for help or to commiserate and figure out how to move forward.”
Crone and her husband recently purchased and moved to a farm property in Anne Arundel County with their two children, and are working to get the farm business up and running.
“I pinch myself every time I get to say as part of my introduction that I am now farming too,” she said.