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“What is a beehive without a queen?”: A conversation with two women farmers from New Mexico

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By Milli Legrain

Photos: Courtesy of Kathi Gabaldon-Caldwell and Raquel Benavidez

In this interview with National Latino Farmers and Ranchers, Kathi Gabaldon-Caldwell and Raquel Benavidez, two entrepreneurs who have a special partnership, discuss sexism in farming, their unique business model and organizing with other women through The Cannabis Women’s Collaborative.

Raquel Benavidez moderated the panel on Women and Farming at the NLFR Congreso. She comes from a family of ranchers, from horses to sheep to cattle for eight generations. For her, agriculture was just a way of life. She decided to take up cannabis farming  a year ago and says it is definitely not a 9 to 5 job. 

Kathi Gabaldon-Caldwell is a former police officer who has owned a farm for 16 years. She started growing flowers, then she grew vegetable starts for Native American  and local farmers in the Rio Grande Valley. She turned to cannabis farming to support herself and three kids, when her husband Richard passed away six years ago.

How are women treated differently in farming today? 

Kathi: It is a known thing among women who are farmers that we must work twice as hard to only be considered half as good as male farmers. 

Raquel: When the woman is the head of a farm, people negotiate different, the level of expectation is different, even the legitimacy of being a farmer is questioned.

Why do you think that is?

Kathi: It has been that way for ages. Why would they come looking for Richard when I am the one running the farm every day? But Richard was great about it. When they started to negotiate with him, he would point at me and say : “You need to talk to the boss.”

What are you doing to change this?

Kathi: Two years ago, I wanted to be involved with the NLFR Congreso. When I went to the meetings, it was all men. I said that we needed more women involved and then other women would follow. Raquel and I have found the same situation with cannabis. We are trying to organize women entrepreneurs in farming cannabis plus the manufacturing and retail. Women have the know-how, they are good entrepreneurs, they just need people to back them. That is why we are involved in developing a supportive network called the Cannabis Women’s Collaborative

What does the Cannabis Women’s Collaborative do?

Raquel: We are all women owned businesses. We want to create a space that is conducive to us asking questions about us and not have to act like men. We just want to show up as women and run our businesses. Our conversations tend to be a little different. Often the work life balance falls on women and men don’t talk about that. We want to strengthen our voice in the community, socially and politically. We share marketing skills, accounting skills and support each other in business development.

Kathi: In New Mexico, there are thirty medical groups that have dispensaries that are not open to taking people in. We are asking them to support the Cannabis Women’s   Collaborative by giving us shelf space so women can have products in different dispensaries. That is one of things we are pushing for. Some smaller dispensaries are interested in doing that. The big dispensaries have not bought into it yet. But they need to know we are not going away.

You both work together. How does that partnership work? 

Raquel: Kathi owns this farm. And I can grow here. We grow in partnership. Kathi has a 2-acre property with greenhouses. I have a 2-acre farm without greenhouses. Our primary focus is on the farm with greenhouses and then we will build out the second one. Our aim is to have two farms that mirror each other. We each have a license and autonomy but we also have support. I can look after her farm if anything happens to her and vice versa. I spend 30% of my time in San Diego. Kathi is here every day.

Kathi: A lot of partnerships form in cannabis but don’t work out. Raquel often says It is important to stay whole within yourself. It is important to have a partner but, should anything happen, you need to be able to walk away with your whole company.

Raquel: Kathi has her own license and so do I but we pull our resources together. I think our business model is unique. 

So you are not sharing the risk? 

Raquel: Yes and no. You have a vested interest. You want your partner to succeed. But if anything happens Kathi has her own license. 

What did you think of the panel on Women in Farming at this year’s Congreso?

Raquel: It was exciting to have two women join us on the panel from USDA. One for diversity and inclusion at the grassroots level and another at the more corporate level.  These two Latina females helped us brainstorm and come up with our resolution and the metrics we should look for. It was amazing to have them there at that level. 

Kathi: Being at the conference and seeing women at USDA level that look like us was really nice! A lot of the time you go to conferences on farming and it is all men.

Is there anything else you want to share?

Raquel: As women, when we begin to speak up, it can appear like we are anti-men but we are not.  It just means we need to equate the opportunities. We are not taking anything away or down talking men. Within NLFR there are so many wonderful men supporting us. They look at us as partners. We don’t want a favor. Being pro-women is not being anti-men. We love our men! I am sure women could come on to Kathi’s farm asking for Richard too.  It is about how society  perceives these roles. 

Kathi: We are not looking for a handout we are looking for a hand-up so we can be equal.  After all, what is a beehive without the queen? Let’s just make this thing happen for farmers. It takes all of us joining together!

Please see our December newsletter here for the Women in Farming Resolution 2022.

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