Ross School - Senior Projects 2010

Student: Sydney Dratel

Mentor: Hugh McGuinness


Title: Interviews with Female Organic Farmers

For my senior project, I interviewed organic female farmers, mostly from New York. After I interviewed all of the women and took notes on their responses to my seventeen questions, I wrote a paper linking their answers together and showing any common threads that came up within all of their answers as well as researched the basics of organic farming and the resurgence of women in the field. Another thing that I wove into my essay was the difference between my expectations on what they would say versus what their answers actually were.



PowerPoint Presentation


            When we were asked to start thinking about ideas for Senior Projects in the spring of Junior year, I really had no idea what I wanted to do for mine. I had focused on visual arts for my Modernity Project, but I felt that I did not possess the skill and passion needed to fully immerse myself in an artistic Senior Project. I then narrowed it down to working in the English domain and the Science domain, two domains in which I had always been interested. I eventually decided on the Science domain, and before the summer started, I had an idea that I would do a Senior Project based on animals and environmental science. Since I was unable to contact any environmental scientists who were doing projects I was interested in, I decided to scrap this idea and try to come up with a new one before school started. I was having major problems thinking of ideas for my Senior Project, but in early September, I finally came upon something that I was interested in and that I thought would make an appealing and informative Senior Project.

            In the first week of September, my mother and her friend went on a “Foodie Tour” of the North Fork of Long Island. On this tour, they met many farmers, almost all of which were women. When they told me this, they were very enthusiastic about it, and I found it very interesting as well. I decided to spin this into a senior project and try to find out why more women are going into farming. Since I moved to Southold (on the North Fork) in June of 2009, I am basically surrounded by farmland, so this project had personal significance for me as well. After I figured out my topic, I decided on what I wanted to find out through my research and what type of product I wanted to create.

            I chose to do a written product, and to add interest and data that did not strictly come from research, I decided to conduct personal interviews. I ended up interviewing ten female organic farmers (nine from New York and one from Maryland) and using seventeen interviews questions that I created with help from my mother and Sally Booth. Before I even began to write up my interview questions, though, I had to do a copious amount of research on organic farming and women in organic farming. I found a lot of great Internet sources and books that I was able to use during this portion of my project. After about two months of researching, I created the aforementioned interview questions and started to conduct my interviews.

            In Mid-November, I interviewed my first female organic farmer. I did this interview, along with six others, on the phone. The interviews that I was able to conduct in person were, I feel, more informative and better, because having a personal connection with my subject allowed me to be more confident and not be afraid to ask follow-up questions that arose during the process. My interviews lasted until the first week of December, and although I ended up only interviewing ten women, I contacted at least five more women who never got back to me. Along with those five women, I also was in contact with two women who told me that they would fill out my questions by email and send them to me with their answers but never did. If I had been able to have this larger sample size I feel as though my product could have been more in-depth and could have maybe included more hypotheses.

            When my interview process culminated, I came up with eight hypotheses that were either based on preconceived notions or themes that arose during my interviews. Over Christmas break, I began work on my final paper. Within my product, I wrote an overview of my farming research as well as an expansion on each of my hypotheses, including quotes from my interviewees to show that they were either supported or not supported. My mentor was unable to correct my drafts at this point since he was on vacation, so I relied heavily on my outside consultant. She was able to correct my paper and help me out a lot with my early drafts. When I got back from Christmas break, my mentor made many corrections on my paper to make sure it was as good as it could be. I went at least four rough drafts before finally emerging with a final draft on the day of the Senior Project exhibitions.

            This project allowed me to grow as a researcher, an interviewer, a student, and a person overall. I gained much more farming knowledge, and although I still do not know everything, I feel that I have a better grasp of techniques, tools and methods used in this complex field of work. Although I encountered many obstacles during this project, such as time management, not having any farming knowledge at first, and learning how to write a research paper in the scientific format, I feel accomplished upon completing this project. I am pleased with the final product, and I feel that the skills I learned over the course of this project will certainly help me in whatever I end up doing with my life.

Works Consulted

Community Supported Agriculture - LocalHarvest. 2009. Retrieved 11 January 2010 from <>.

Conte, C., & Karr, A. R. (2001). Farming Post World-War II. Retrieved December 28, 2009 from

Delate, K. (n.d.). Organic Agriculture - History. Retrieved December 28, 2009 from

Dollarhide, Maya. More Women Taking Control of U.S. Harvest. 28 November 2002. Retrieved 8 January 2010 from  < control-us-harvest>.

Dougherty, E., & Hilt, M. (2009, February 4). Release No. 0036.09. Retrieved December 21, 2009 from United States Department of Agriculture:!ut/p/_s.7_0_A/7_0_1OB?contentidonly=true&contentid=2009/02/0036.xml

Homs, T. (2005). Cultivation. Retrieved October 27, 2009 from Purdue University Beneficial Lawn Care and Chemical Management:   

Industry Statistics and Projected Growth - Organic Trade Assocation. (2007). Retrieved December 27, 2009 from

Ogden, S. (1999). Straight-Ahead Organic. Boston: Chelsea Green Publishing Company.

Rona. (2006). Pesticide Problems are a Persistent Concern. Retrieved December 28, 2009 from

Shinn, B. (n.d.).

Community Member (Details)

Barbara Shinn- Female organic farmer and co-owner of the Shinn Estate Vineyard in Mattituck, NY