As we celebrate women and their contributions to farm work, their enduring mark throughout history reveals the indelible link between women and agriculture – women as mother earth figures. Let us explore femininity and its profundity in agriculture throughout time and across cultures.

Gaia – Earth

In ancient Greek mythology, Gaia (GHY-ə) is the personification of Earth, “the first being that sprang forth from [sic] chaos”. Worshipped as the universal mother, she is the all-producing and all-nourishing source of the heavens, landscape, vegetation, atmosphere, and the first humans and Titans.

Emerging from the earth, Gaia delivers her son, Erikthonios.

The Gaia Hypothesis

The Gaia Hypothesis posits Earth as a living and sentient being. Gaia is greater than the sum of all living and non-living components on Earth. As such, there is a delicate balance – or order – that maintains its homeostasis. The steward of biodiversity, from microorganisms to ecosystems and everything in between, “these processes establish a global control system that regulates Earth’s surface temperature, atmosphere composition and ocean salinity

Pachamama – Earth Mother

To the Aymara and then Incan culture, Pachamama is present in all nature: plants, land, animals, water, and so forth. In Quechua, pacha meaning earth and mama, mother, this earth mother is revered for her omnipresence in nature. She is a key element with deep cultural significance that embodies the mountains, represents abundance in harvests, and precipitates the cyclical nature of birth, growth, death and rebirth. A testament of her inveterate status, ritual offerings of coca leaves and chicha beer have endured to ensure favorable agricultural conditions.

Phosop or Mae Khwan Khao – Mother of Rice Prosperity

Rice is so deeply interwoven into Thai culture that it is, “not only a staple food or just a grain, but it is believed to possess sacred spirit.” Referred to as Phosop or Mae Khwan Khao, Rice Mother is inherently linked with prosperity, sustenance and righteousness.  Although her story of origin varies, as one oral tradition goes, Mae Phosop’s symbiotic relationship with humanity stems from her estrangement from and ultimate reconciliation with mankind. Mankind’s dependency on rice and the propagation of a bountiful harvest is conditional on demonstrating sincere gratitude and acknowledgment to Phosop.

As one of the world’s largest exporters of rice, Thai rice farming is accompanied by rituals and ceremonies; children are implored to ‘give thanks’ prior to eating a rice meal; offerings of banana, citrus, and sugar cane are made to ensure a thriving crop yield; and the start of the rice growing season is marked with rites, including the Royal Ploughing Ceremony. Prosperity is on the line for those who criticize or disparage Phosop’s offerings.

Of course, there are many more examples of agricultural deities. For those tending the fields today, the unforgiving conditions of exposure, insufficient PPE, and few breaks, put workers at risk of various short- and long-term health problems. For female farmworkers, not only do they have to protect their own health and safety but that of their children and children to be. Pesticides are highly toxic.

Chronic exposure can have serious health implications, including tumors, blood disorders, and birth defects in unborn babies. Among farmworker children in their formative years, there are increased, “incidence of neurodevelopmental delays, cognitive impairment, childhood brain cancers, autism, attention-deficit or hyperactivity, and endocrine disruption.” 61% of farmworker family households consist of two to three dependent children. The way a farm cannot function without the workers, a family cannot thrive without its key components. As Phosop’s story goes, “as our provider, we must, promise to treat her with respect forever after. In return she promises to bring abundant crops to mankind. Man keeps his word and so does Mae Phosop.

AFOP Health & Safety Programs focuses on the occupational health and safety aspect of agricultural work for farm workers but during this week it is important to stop and acknowledge the burden placed on farm worker women as well as the hazards they encounter from direct exposure or because of a partner working in farm work. For more information on how to join our efforts or learn more about the topic, check out our page on NFWHW.