Meet Kate Renner, Farm Operations Assistant Manager at Gaia Herbs

This Women’s History Month, we’re shining a spotlight on the women behind some of the biggest brands in the beauty and wellness industries. Today, we’re sitting down with Kate Renner, the Farm Operations Assistant Manager at Gaia Herbs, to learn more about how she devotes her days to caring for her Mother Nature.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey to becoming the Farm Operations Assistant Manager at Gaia Herbs!
I was born to parents who valued the great outdoors, served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in El Salvador, earned a Master’s of Science Degree in Nutrition with a focus on Sustainable Agriculture, and dabbled in various local food, economy, and climate impact careers. Gaia Herbs feels like the piece to my patchwork quilt of experiences that has made my journey symmetrical!

A predominant thread in this quilt originated seven years ago when my motherhood evolution began. Birthing two children without the use of any pharmaceuticals and processing a miscarriage in-between them (can this be less isolating already?) strengthened my awareness of evidence-based, transparent, holistic health. I am grateful and incredibly privileged to be on this journey. 

What does a typical day look like for you? 
There are many things I love about my job, but the fact that I don’t have a typical day is one of the tops. 

During the growing season, I salute the sun with the farm team, review the previous days’ accomplishments, and plan action items around the time remaining under that day’s light. Often there is a gathering of resources to support the team in accomplishing their tasks with attention to safety, quality, efficiency, and respect. All in the same day I could be on a tractor, behind a computer, helping in a harvest, driving a box truck full of seedlings, leading a training session, and dropping a donation of vegetables to the local food bank. Winter months are often filled with Excel, reviewing organic certification documentation, preparing for audits, and planning, planning, planning for the season ahead!

All workdays end with gratitude for the team that carries on in the field while I head out to fill car seats with my most precious cargo and savor the remaining waking hours with my family. 

One of your areas of responsibility is migrant farmworker health and awareness. Could you speak to this? 
Migrant farmworker health and awareness is not a listed job responsibility, but a personal ethos to advocate for dignified work and living conditions for those who play crucial roles. Like so many farms across this country, we could not produce what we do without such a committed, intelligent, and steadfast group of farmworkers. I am ridiculously privileged to be with my family at the end of a workday, so I'll do anything I can to show my respect and gratitude for the sacrifices our farm team makes to be apart from theirs.

Gaia Herbs supports my endeavors to provide monthly wellness-themed classes to our farm team. They also support my role as the President of the Board of Directors of a local non-profit, Vecinos, whose mission entails reducing access barriers to culturally-appropriate health and wellness services for migrant and seasonal farmworkers at Gaia and surrounding counties in Western North Carolina. Gaia also provides wellness products, free meals, organic vegetables, Gold Star Grower housing, and transportation to our team members, and is in the process of actualizing further goals around farmworker advancement and advocacy. 

In the US, about 36% of farmers are female. Have you ever felt any barriers or challenges being a woman in this industry? 
It's refreshing to see this percentage grow! Especially after challenges I’ve felt, like when I was serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Agroforestry sector in a Latin American “machismo” country. Women were typically not seen in the field but for delivering lunch, so I recognized that my boots first had to devote time to gaining family trust before venturing into the field. 

It was also during this time that I became a sponge to anything “sustainable agriculture” related and pursued an internship on domestic farms after my service. A farm I was particularly inspired by posted “not accepting females” in their application process. Their loss. Seriously. 

Have you noticed any recent change in attitude towards women in farming? What direction would you like to see the industry move in?
Yes! Over the last decade, I've noticed small ripples become waves, and the momentum that is growing is inspiring. Speaking with some peers about this question, many of us in our mid to late thirties couldn’t recall many women in agriculture when we first found our passion in this field, but the early 20-year-old on our crew said she has only worked with women in agriculture!

I am hopeful that this industry will continue to flow in the direction of greater equality and awareness towards not just women, but BIPOC and LGTBQ+ identities as well. Mother Nature demonstrates that diversity of species in the fields, forests, and plains helps generate the healthiest ecosystems. We need to see this in those tending these lands as well.  

What advice would you give to women interested in working in farming?
1. Balance confidence and grit with a level of humility that demonstrates respect to whoever you may be gaining agricultural knowledge and experience from, and especially towards Mother Nature. 

2. Keep a pulse on your cultural awareness for both the humans and non-humans around you. 

3. Trust, but also listen to your body.

4. Do not be too stubborn to ask for help. FYI, I still struggle with this one!