I have been wanting to write a piece along these lines for a while now, and have also held off, felt nervous about doing so, have not been quite sure what I was going to say. In short, however, I have been wanting to write about farming as a woman, working in a field that is still predominantly male dominated.
Well, kind of. Male dominated, that is. At least, the perception is still very much that it is male dominated. Even though it depends on what type of farming you are talking about, and what role on the farm you are speaking of. Because, to be honest, in the world of sustainable farming in North America at least, in recent years there has been an explosion of small farms owned and operated by women. Meaning they are woman-run, with women farmers making the decisions, and operating the tractors, and working in the field alongside their (oftentimes women) staff. And on farms that are run by men/women couples, many of the women are taking a much more active role in the day to day field management of the farm. They are less often filling only an administrative or domestic role on the farm – not that there is anything wrong with filling those important roles, should that be someone’s choice.
Because that is the thing – women around the world, have historically and continue to this day, to be major food producers. Agriculture is powered in a big way by women. And in saying this, I in no way mean or intend to downplay the work men have always done and continue to do in farming. I know and recognise that men are a huge part of agriculture, and many of them are excellent, thoughtful farmers who love what they do. I only want to challenge the stereotype of the tall, male farmer in overalls and a plaid shirt as being the only type of farmer out there, and I also want to bring attention to the work done on so many farms, regardless of the gender of the head farmer, that is done by women.
This work includes the field work – the tractor work, the weeding, the planting and harvesting – that is done by countless women field hands, managers, and farm workers from Canada through the United States and Mexico as well as in overseas countries such as India, Thailand, or Nepal. I know this is true, because I have experienced it first hand – on farms from Thailand, to Ontario to British Columbia, I have worked alongside many strong women who often outnumber the men on these farms.
This also includes the behind the scenes office, marketing, and communications work that on many farms today, is done by women; as well as the work of maintaining the large household vegetable garden and all the cooking and preserving of that bounty that was traditionally done by women on small mixed family farms across North America.
Now let me try to explain why I have wanted or felt the need to write about this topic at all. In part it is because of all the times when I am selling my food at market and get comments along the lines of, “Oh, look at your hands,” in response to my dirt stained fingers, “it looks like you help in the garden too!” Why yes, I do. And in fact make the decisions on what gets planted, and when and where, and order the seed for it, and make sure it is properly irrigated and fertilised and weeded. And then I harvest it and bring it to market to sell it. And I am only one of many female farmers I know who are in that position today.
But I also want to write about this because, regardless of the gender of the head farmer, the hard manual labour that takes place in the fields of small to medium scale farms and is done in large part by women (and is often underpaid/low waged) needs to be recognised as extremely important to our agricultural systems across the globe. It needs to be recognised as the valuable work that it is, and the women/men/trans/non-binary folks that do it need to be recognised as the valuable contributors to our food systems that they are.
Which brings me to my recent decision for Sweet Acres Farm to become a monthly donor to the Because I am a Girl project run by Plan International. In short, this project focuses on ending gender inequality in 15 countries across the world – countries in which girls and woman still face incredible challenges and threats to their health and safety on a daily basis, many not even being granted a birth certificate at birth, therefore having no legal rights. It focuses, amongst other things, on giving girls and boys equal access to education, ending child marriage, and protecting the most vulnerable girls from abuse or exploitation.
I have decided to support this project because I am a woman working in a field where women are not expected to be found, or if they are, they aren’t expected to be found in a position of leadership. And I have been able to fulfil this dream, my dream, of running my own farm because I am incredibly lucky. To have been raised in the supportive family I was raised in, with many strong female role models showing me what was possible. Because I was born and raised in a progressive country and a progressive time. Not that there isn’t still much inequality and a very long way to go in Canada. There definitely is. But I recognise and am endlessly grateful for the rights and safety I do have, especially when compared with so many women in many other parts of the world. And so this is a very small way for me and my farm to give back, and to hopefully allow more girls to become women who can fulfil dreams of their own one day.
So here’s to everyone everywhere who is working to promote equal rights for all, helping everyone, regardless of their birth or chosen gender to fulfil their potential and to thrive. This woman farmer, who will soon be happily working in her (chosen) fields for another season, thanks you.