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Farm women form special bond

August 16, 1998

Charlene GingrichBy RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer [enlarge]




MARION, Pa. - Two little boys were playing with a dozen toy tractors on the living room carpet at Charlene Gingrich's home on Lighthouse Road.

The choice of toys was natural for boys whose mothers belong to the Society of Farm Women of Pennsylvania.

Gingrich, 37, is president of Farm Women No. 15, one of 10 groups making up the Franklin County Farm Women.

The 10 groups have a total of about 200 active members, said Ruth Martin, president of the Franklin County Farm Women.

Life in the late 1990s is different from the mid-1970s when Martin joined the society. Its membership is dwindling, the victim of a changing society that is taking more women off the farm for jobs on the outside, she said.

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"Women are working more today. They don't have as much time as they did," Martin said.

"A lot of our members work outside the home. Some are teachers and some are secretaries. Myself, I'm a registered nurse," Gingrich said. She works part time at Chambersburg (Pa.) Hospital.

Gingrich home-schools her children while her husband, Brian, raises heifers on the family's 100-acre farm.

She loves being a farmer's wife.

"It's a wonderful way to raise children, working side by side with your husband with the children right there with you learning the things you do," she said. "Last week we canned 32 quarts of pears. There's nothing like getting a quart of pears out in the winter and know that we put this up ourselves."

The women meet monthly in a different member's home to plan activities and share ideas.

"We get to know our neighbor," Martin said.

"We're there for each other," said Gina Meyers, 35, of Mercersburg, Pa. She and her husband, Stanley Meyers, run a 150-cow dairy spread on Woodcove Road. "I grew up on a farm. I said I would never marry a farmer. Until I did, I never realized the joy it would bring me," she said.

The society was founded in 1914 by Flora Black in Somerset County, Pa., to bring farmer's wives together in a common cause.

"We're a supportive group. We're there for each other, to contribute to the common good, to reach out to each other," Meyers said.

Membership rules have relaxed over the years, Gingrich said. A woman no longer has to be married to a farmer. "You only have to love the rural way of life. We have 16 members in our group and only 11 are farmers' wives," she said.

The Franklin County Farm Women's biggest fund-raiser, in which all 10 groups participate, is running the French fry booth at the Shippensburg (Pa) Fair every year.

The only role the groups take in the Franklin County Fair, which opens today on Pa. 995 in Williamson, Pa., at 6:30 p.m. with vespers, is handling security at the exhibit buildings.

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