Time for a pop quiz. Name at least one famous female farmer. If you’re coming up dry, you’re not alone—but Kara Rowe ’00 wants to change that. An executive producer at Emmy-award winning North by Northwest in Spokane, Rowe is a champion of all things agricultural—especially women farmers.
Rowe, together with NxNW partner Dave Tanner, and Audra Mulkern, a photographer, foodie, and founder of the Female Farmer Project, are raising funds for a documentary called Women’s Work: The Untold Story of America’s Female Farmers. The producers hope to correct a longstanding problem with the history of ag in America by telling the story of the women who work so hard to grow food for their families and the world.
“We’ve met so many wonderful women who are keeping our farms going,” Rowe says. “There are women who are physically on the farm, getting their hands dirty, driving the tractors, planting the crops, herding the cows. But there is also a huge army of women” working behind the scenes, in marketing, policy making, science, running ag businesses, and every other aspect of the agricultural enterprise.
Rowe is no stranger to ag. She was born and raised on a wheat and cattle farm in Wilbur, on the big bend of the Columbia River west of Spokane. She came to Washington State University to study broadcasting on, as she says, “the Glenn Johnson track” in hopes of being “the next Lesley Stahl.”
Straight out of college, she took a job as a TV reporter for KPAX in Kalispell, Montana. There, she was a one-woman band as on-air reporter, camera person, and story editor. But she quickly expanded her horizons, starting a commercial production company with Ryan Rowe, her new husband.
“We did everything from local commercials to informational videos,” Rowe says. “Then we got approached by a local family with ties to the Outdoor Channel.” The Rowes shot a hunting and fishing show for a couple seasons.
When the editorship of Wheat Life, the magazine of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers, came open in 2010, Rowe jumped at the chance to move back home to Washington state. In 2014, she came full circle when she reconnected with Dave Tanner, the president of NxNW, who had been Rowe’s mentor when she was a high school senior producing a promotional video for her hometown of Wilbur.
Since then, she and Tanner have worked together on a documentary about Washington potato growers, The Gamble, that got picked up by PBS, as well as the long-running, award-winning series, Washington Grown.
Now a full partner in Spokane’s premiere production company, cofounded by Rich Cowan ’79, Rowe says she and Tanner have been kicking around the idea of a documentary about women in ag for years. When Tanner met photographer Mulkern at a conference, they realized they had the perfect partner to move the project forward.
“Women’s Work is a look back at the history of women in agriculture,” Rowe says. The story of American ag has only been “half-told,” she writes on the project’s website, with women almost never mentioned. “Native women led their communities as farmers and true homemakers,” Rowe writes, while “female settlers kept the farm fields productive and their neighbors fed. And it was women who kept the nation’s farmland plowed and planted throughout decades of crisis and two world wars.”
The film will be a welcome revision of the history of American ag. In addition to the documentary features, “We’re also working on a history of Washington agriculture project with Historylink.org and the Washington State Historical Society. That includes essays, a curriculum, as well as short video vignettes that teachers can use.”
Rowe says she’s blessed to be working as a TV and film producer who gets to harness her passions to tell the stories of the people she so deeply cares about.