Q&A: Audra Mulkern - Modern Farmer

Q&A: Audra Mulkern

This agricultural photographer is the artist behind The Female Farmer Project.

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Mulkern started to notice that many of these farmers were quietly providing vegetables to the local food banks and under-privileged daycare centers, and that many of them were women. In 2012, with a borrowed camera, she began her ongoing photo series The Female Farmer Project. She now has her own camera and has traveled all over the U.S. and Europe documenting agricultural subjects.

She says one of her most memorable experiences was photographing JÁ³hanna Bergmann ÁžorvaldsdÁ³ttir, of HÁ¡afell, Iceland, which we featured here on ModernFarmer.com. “Her story broke my heart; her farm and goats were just breathtakingly beautiful,” Mulkern says. “She has single-handedly saved the Icelandic goat breed from extinction. Each farmer and farm brings yet another layer to the story of where our food starts – everyone’s history and story is so rich that I am endlessly intrigued.”

The farmer pictured in Mulkern’s winning entry, Chandler Biggs, of Hayshaker Farm, runs his farm in Washington’s Walla Walla Valley, entirely on horse power.

Modern Farmer: Why do you consider yourself a modern farmer?

Audra Mulkern: Well in a way, my schedule resembles a farmers’: I am busy from spring ’til fall, trying to stay ahead of the drought, always watching the weather, up early in the fields. But instead of food, I harvest stories. During the winter I too have my fallow season where I do my writing and planning for the coming year.

MF: Why is it important to you to support local agriculture?

AM: For me it’s simple: Local farms are my local business. I want to keep as many dollars as possible in my local economy. But also that means I am eating primarily within my foodshed. The Pacific Northwest is home to a bounty of vegetable and grain farms; incredible dairies and cheesemakers; orchards and vineyards; beef, pork, chicken farms; and of course salmon. We have it pretty good here.

MF: If you could grow or raise any food or animal, what would it be and why?

AM: I have a large vegetable garden at home and grow apples, pears, plums, and berries. It would be fun to add chickens some day, but in the meantime I have great farmer connections for the rest.

MF: What’s your favorite vegetable? Why?

AM: I really enjoy purple sprouting broccoli. It overwinters in the fields and is the first vegetable to be harvested here in western Washington. It is the harbinger of spring for me.

MF: If you could give other modern farmers any advice, what would it be?

AM: Tell your story. It’s important that your customers understand who you are and what you are doing. Farmers represent only 1 percent of the nation’s population; tell the other 99 percent why and how you grow their food.

MF: Do you have a farming/agricultural hero? Why do you admire them?

AM: I have learned so many things from the farmers I document. Lynn of Glendale Shepherd taught me the power of quiet observation, Michaele of Growing Things taught me tenacity, Suzanne of Haw River Ranch taught me about passion. But Karen Washington is probably my biggest hero and teacher. For the last 25-plus years she has been turning empty lots into community gardens in the South Bronx. She is the food justice hero. And just this last year, at the age of 60, she taken up farming full-time and is one of the six women who own and operate Rise & Root Farm.

Want a chance at an interview with Modern Farmer and other cool prizes? Just post a picture or a video on Twitter and/or Instagram with the hashtag #iamamodernfarmer and you’ll be entered for a chance to win. Every week, we’ll choose one winner to be profiled on ModernFarmer.com. Every month, one of the weekly winners will be picked to win $100 in Modern Farmer swag. One of the monthly winners will also win the grand prize: A VIP trip for two to the Farm Aid 2016 concert!

Added bonus: If you purchase an “I am a modern farmer” t-shirt, you’ll stand in solidarity with the hardworking men and women who produce our food. You certainly don’t have to don the shirt to post and have a chance to win, but with sales of these tees, Modern Farmer supports independent farmers with a donation to Farm Aid.

Need inspiration? Check out all the #iamamodernfarmer posts from across the country – and around the world!

See official contest rules here.

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