A salute to our Founder, Penny Durant, on International Women’s Day
International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. Significant activity is witnessed worldwide as groups come together to celebrate women’s achievements or rally for women’s equality. Marked annually on March 8th, International Women’s Day (IWD) is one of the most important days of the year to: Celebrate women’s achievements Raise awareness about women’s equality Lobby for accelerated gender parity.
On this International Women’s Day, we are saluting the achievements of a woman who has been blazing trails in the area of agriculture since her childhood on her family’s homestead in California’s Humboldt County. This woman, of course, is Durant Vineyards/Olive Mill and Red Ridge Farms founder Penny Durant.
Penny’s family ranch is a living botanical laboratory that stimulated her passion for plants and animals from an early age. In Penny’s childhood, a fundamental female role model was her mother, Katherine Ford. Katherine was the business accountant and inspirational matriarch of the family. Penny gleaned an unparalleled work ethic from her mother that continues to motivate her to this day. Another critical female mentor to Penny was her fifth-grade teacher Mary E. Graham. Miss Graham taught Penny and her classmates how to collect, identify and preserve plants in the wild – skills that have served Penny for decades.
With her inspired love of plants, Penny studied biology and English at Oregon State University. After graduating, she taught at Fort Lewis Army Base, where Ken was stationed.
Ken and Penny moved back to Oregon in the late 1960s, raising their children, Katy and Paul. In the early 1970s, Penny began looking for land to plant vineyards. She spent several years scouting locations, relying on a network of like-minded women, developing lifelong friendships and support systems along the way. Penny continued to forge new paths by being one of the few female vineyard managers, running the day-to-day operations of Durant Vineyards until the mid-1990s. At this point, Penny began devising what is now known as Red Ridge Farms.
Penny first envisioned this land atop the Dundee Hills as pasture for her flock of sheep. That idea did not materialize. Penny did what Penny does best, started working the land. She grew garlic which she sold to local farmers’ markets and restaurants. Penny’s small garlic experiment quickly developed into a full-fledged medicinal and culinary herb farm. She then began mapping out what is now Red Ridge Farms—tirelessly working to obtain the right to use the land for the gardens and the retail nursery it is today.
Much has evolved at Red Ridge Farms over the years, but the focus is and will continue to be honoring th5e land, finding balance with the natural world, and encouraging other women to follow in her footsteps. Durant at Red Ridge Farms is primarily run by women who share Penny’s ethos of empowerment. Many aspects of this company are overseen by women who Penny and the Durant family have enfranchised to break barriers and lead confidently.
Women like Penny are often the custodians of local culture, community, and cuisine – and they work hard to meet the household needs of food, nutrition, and income. Women are pioneers. They’re central to farming, forging positive change through agroecology on their farms and in their communities. Their innovative approaches and unique perspectives can transform situations of bias, hardship, exclusion, crisis, or social vulnerability to be positive and uplifting. While there remain factors and barriers to elevating the visibility of women in the area of agriculture, honoring the achievements is vital. Today we celebrate all women, like Penny, who shoulder this responsibility.