Women in Agriculture
Kendall Kunelius ’15 is a poultry enthusiast. She can be seen demonstrating how to pick up a chicken on Extension’s Facebook Live video “Chicken Chats” by gently scooping up a black-feathered silkie and securing the wings under her thumbs.
Kunelius watches over two flocks at her home in Pittsfield, N.H. She grew up on a farm in Vermont, earned a degree in equine science from UNH and has garnered global recognition competing in professional lumberjack sports.
No stranger to hard work, Kunelius is using all this experience in her role as an Extension field specialist to help women become confident, knowledgeable farmers.
Creating New Spaces
Kunelius explains that although some farmers come from multi-generational families, not all women have the same opportunities and access to learn hands-on skills.
“This program is vital for many reasons, but the foremost of which is providing safe spaces for women to actively learn and participate in workshops,” she says.
Extension’s Women in Agriculture program offers workshops taught by women, for women, with topics like trucks and trailers, sprayer calibration and safety, ergonomics and how to farm while pregnant, disabled or chronically ill.
Sessions are designed to encourage interaction and discussion by fostering an inclusive and supportive environment where it’s okay to make mistakes. Tools and facilities are well- maintained, and instructors are experienced in teaching with the equipment.
Erin Maynard is an example of a new farmer who jumped right into the deep end. She operates A.O.R. Farmstead with her husband John in Sutton, N.H. They moved around the country for two decades while he was in serving in the U.S. Air Force (A.O.R. is a military term for Area of Responsibility).
They often talked about operating a small farm and, upon his retirement, they made it happen.
“We’re trying to see what works best for us and what works best for the land,” says Maynard.
They raise sheep, turkeys, chickens, pigs and geese, grow cider apples and maintain a personal garden. They’re also starting to grow kiwiberries from UNH’s kiwiberry breeding and research program — part of the NH Agricultural Experiment Station.
“The interaction with animals has been the biggest joy for me. We decided early on that we wanted to have friendly animals, so I spend a ridiculous amount of time with them,” she says.
Maynard took an Extension class for women on how to drive a tractor and although it is still not her preferred task, the class helped her not be so anxious about using the tractor. She also participated in Extension’s New Farmer School program. She says the field trips to visit other farms were the most beneficial aspect – interacting and learning from fellow farmers. “Farming is more of a community than your typical work life; you have to know people who know people in order to be successful.”
Maynard doesn’t think she’ll farm forever, but this time in her life has given her immense gratitude for the people who produce food and raise animals. “I appreciate farmers even more than I did before.”
Knowledge is Power
Extension has designed programs specifically for women for several years through Annie’s Project, a national nonprofit for educating and empowering women in agriculture. Kunelius joined Extension in 2022 and is collaborating with food and agriculture program team leader Kelly McAdam ’97 to expand offerings.
Beyond learning about the logistical aspects of running a farm, women farmers must also learn about finances. Extension offers business management programs that address the numbers side of farming, including planning for risk.
Kunelius says, “There is little more gratifying than seeing participants in our workshops interact, network and form friendships while learning to do things like drive tractors and trailers and operate chainsaws.
Interested in learning about future programs? Email Kendall Kunelius at email@example.com.