Ellen Dietrich

In our spring issue, Edible Cleveland published a series of portraits of women in farming inspired by classical portraits. The project is the vision of photographer Shane Wynn:
In June of 2017, while I was on a job documenting the women of Spice Acres, I was struck by their vintage-styled sundresses coupled with sturdy leather boots and aprons. The rainy evening ambiance at the farm created a nostalgic backdrop, and the combination elicited flashbacks to scenes in classical paintings, places I have only visited in my mind but have left lasting impressions. The first painting I was reminded of is Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World. I’ve always loved the mystery of the scene in this painting and the title of the work. I like the simple presentation of a woman in her element, not smiling or necessarily engaging, but celebrated in her role. The series of portraits paired with the paintings that inspired them is a celebration of the role of women in farming.

Edible Cleveland asked each of the women to elaborate on how their portrait captures who they are, as well as their reflections on the power of women whose work is tied to the land in some way. The following is a discussion with Ellen Dietrich of Solis Agro Flower Farm, whose image was inspired by Posing with Posies by Alexei Alexeivich Harlamoff (1848-1915).
How does this image reflect you as a woman and woman farmer?
I think this photograph perfectly exemplifies the farm work of women. As a farmer, I understand it’s not always smiles and success, regardless of what ends up meeting the public eye or what makes it into a bouquet. For me, the beauty of farming is the collection of flaws that accompany it: with every success and failure (or sunshine and rain), something wonderful is born. It might be a beautiful armful of flowers or the feeling of pride that comes from the exhausting work it took to produce that armful.
 How do you think women in farming are perceived, and what impact does that have on your farming experience?
I believe females in agricultural history have often been portrayed and perceived as objects of beauty, evidenced by the paintings that inspired this project. In my opinion, these examples depicted women with sensual faces and alluring bouquets of flowers. What these images don’t show is the demanding work behind these more likely tired faces and hand-cut flowers. At 15, my farming experience is limited, but I have been accustomed to the strenuous work and dedication required to produce beautiful fresh flowers and food. While working on the crops, it was not uncommon to sulk and frown during grueling hours in the blazing sun while wishing to be somewhere else with friends. Yet oddly, my friends always wanted to come to the farm. They were fascinated with aspects that I have long since been accustomed to—collecting eggs, exploring the 50 acres, avoiding the beehives, and petting the animals. They seemed to experience the farm romantically through rose-colored glasses, but all I saw was work and exhaustion.

How does farming influence other parts of your life?
Growing up on homegrown food instilled in me a sense of appreciation toward fresh food. Living the effort and time spent to cultivate each and every vegetable sitting at the grocery shelf has built a strong sense in me as to the appreciation of healthy nutritious food grown in sustainable ways. Farming has also shaped me, so far, into a motivated and diligent person, and I strive to use those skills in all aspects of my life.
What does farming mean to you?
To me, farming means investing time and positive energy into the earth, so that the rewards we harvest from the soil will sustain and nourish us. It feels wonderful and successful to devote yourself to giving and nourishing. Today in our progressive modern life, I feel that we are getting removed from that vision, and I think it’s easy to get pulled in less-healthy directions. From consumer standpoints, many people most often reach for the inexpensive choice that gets the job done. However, as the farmer, there is nothing greater than having the mindset of being able to value all produce (pricey versus cheap and perfect versus blemished) and understand its intrinsic value. Challenging as it may be, the toils of farm labor are necessary steps if you are devoted to uphold a grateful and sustainable mindset.
The other women featured in this series are Missy ChamblessHannah Lane Dietrich, and Jess Edmonds.