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Female Farmers Sprouting: More Md., Va. Women Lead Farms

According to recently released figures, women now run one of every 10 American farms.

Eight years ago, Jeanne Dietz-Band made a deal with her husband: She'd quit her job at a local biotechnology firm if they would buy a home in the country. Now Dietz-Band, who has a PhD in molecular biology and genetics, heads her own start-up, Many Rocks Farm in Keedysville, Md., where she raises about 200 Kiko goats. She sells meat, sausage, goat milk soap and lotions at farmers markets across the area.

Dietz-Band, who grew up in Kansas, had no farming background. And her husband, born and raised in Boston, had no idea what he was getting into when the family moved to the 40-acre spread in Washington County, she said. Like many farming spouses, he kept his outside job as an electrical engineer to guarantee income and health coverage. He leaves the farm work to Dietz-Band -- with some exceptions.

"If it involves the tractor, he's there," she said.

Dietz-Band chose goats because they were small and she figured she could handle them. Her background in genetics has come in handy.

"Even though I walked out of one career into a totally different one, everything came together," she said.

Others follow a more traditional route: inheriting their farm. Martha Clark's farming roots go back to 1797, when her family first settled in Howard County. Her father, former Maryland state senator James Clark Jr., thought Clark's brother would inherit the family farm. Instead, her father started his dairy farm and Martha took over more than 420 acres along a stretch of Route 108 in Ellicott City, where she raises livestock, corn, tomatoes and other crops. Her daughter Nora Crist, 21, recently graduated from the University of Delaware's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and might be the next generation to run the family farm.

For her part, Stinar always loved the country. After the birth of her son, she and her husband bought the 132-acre spread in rural Washington County that would eventually become Evensong Farm. She started with a vegetable garden and some mail-order chickens. Then came the cow, who had the calf they dubbed "Dinner." Those were followed by the homeless three-legged pig, who was recently joined by five piglets.

Once a week, she drives to the Saturday farmers market in Silver Spring, where she sells an assortment of vegetables, herbs and eggs. Stinar chats easily with customers, and her passion for her work is evident as she bags fresh kale and offers samples of the spicy greens. ("Isn't that great?" she says to one woman. "I love them on sandwiches.")

She breaks into a smile when one of her regulars pulls a bulbous green vegetable out of his weekly vegetable basket and looks at it, puzzled.

"It's kohlrabi," she says. She points at the bulb portion. "You peel it and eat it. You can even combine it with apples. The flavor is mild."

The man takes it all in and with a nod says he's game for something new.

By 11 a.m., the fresh eggs are sold out, as is the last bunch of bok choy. Customers are already asking about the Poulet Rouge chickens, which Stinar says will be ready in July.

"It's a great feeling to be able to grow food and to be able to share it with people," she said. "Being outside, growing food -- it's just a great way to live."

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