Stepping up for Women in Ag

Something I wasn’t overly aware of until I was more involved in the farm and the ag industry was the lack of recognition for women in ag.

I grew up next door to my grandmother and that’s where the farm was. It was a family farm and when my grandfather passed in 1986, the only family left living there were women. My grandmother, and 2 of my aunts, and guess what…they kept it together. They kept the farm going, and as far as I know, it was never even discussed as to whether they would sell or not after he had passed. They just kept going.

That’s what I grew up with, and I thought that was normal. I held them on a pedestal, and still do . How many other farms are there that have been through that and weren’t able to keep it together because they didn’t have enough support? How many have done the exact same thing – kept it together and farmed on without any recognition of how incredible that is? Not that they’d need it, or want it, but there is no denying that they deserve it.

Now that I am full time on the farm, and have taken on leadership roles within agriculture, its clear to me now that what I always saw as normal, isn’t so.

I do a fair bit to promote women in ag, primarily by sharing my own story of my life on the farm and all of the things I do in the run of a day, from being a mom and a farmer and juggling both of those roles.

Recently I listed many of the job titles I may have at any point of the day and holy cow, it was mind altering, and maybe even a little exhausting reading it. I’m not discounting the fact that my husband has many of the same titles, and without a doubt many more when it comes to the farm side of things, but not necessarily on the home front. He is an amazing dad and everything we do with the kids is carefully planned and divided between us, but the truth of it is – there are so many things I do to manage the day, that he doesn’t. I don’t know why that is. Whether biology just set me up to take on many of those “second shift” duties as many women do. Like making sure I am out of the field so I can prepare supper for everyone and get the kids to bed on time (most nights) and why he isn’t. Or when I am up an hour later than everyone else so we have clean dishes and laundry for the next day. Or why I am in the waiting room at the doctors or dentists office with the kids for appointments, and not doing chores in the barn or on the field instead and my husband sitting where I am. Regardless of why, all of those things help us be successful on the farm and most of them are done behind the scenes, going unrecognized even to us when we reflect on how much we accomplished that day.

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After co-founding the Maritime Ag Women’s Network, it became blaringly apparent how a space for ag women to connect was needed. Although the initial intention of the group was to stay connected with women we’d met at the Atlantic Farm Women’s Conference, it grew so fast into this community of ag women who are so incredibly supportive of each other and are always willing to share advice, ask questions and have a place they can reach out knowing that there are others who are feeling the same thing they are. The skyrocketing of the membership showed us, and continues to show us, how important those supportive environments are for Women in Agriculture.

The creation of the MAWN also put me in a leadership role that I didn’t see coming, but am forever grateful that it did because it showed me that I had the skills and the confidence to do more than I thought I ever would. However, this isn’t the case for many women – it doesn’t come that easy – and even if it does, there are so many things that delay our success or hold us back from being able to take on as much as we would like.

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Childcare is one of my biggest stressors. We make it work, but the juggle is constant. During the summer when all 3 kids are home from school, is also our busiest time of year. We have one child in daycare 4 days a week, and another who attends half day bible school, a week or two of daycamp and a few nights at a sleepaway camp. The reason we don’t have 2 kids in daycare is simply because of the cost. We can’t afford it and still have money to make sure all the bills are paid. This is common, as many of us are being paid a set salary or as owners of a farm, we tend to pay ourselves less than our employees. While there are subsidies and aid in other ways for daycare, they are often still inaccessible, and that’s not just for farmers, but the qualifications are very stringent and sometimes what you end up with isn’t enough in the end to really matter. Due to this we rely heavily on family when the days are busy for babysitting during the day, and/or outside of daycare hours or for transporting kids from one activity to another.

Even if there is an important meeting or conference I’d like to attend, I have to weigh the value to me against the cost of daycare or the pressure it puts on a family member to take more time out of their day to help me out. Especially if it requires more than a day away or there is a cost to the conference and travel on top of that – it adds up to a lot out of pocket. Its emotional as well because the family members helping us out with childcare are also who we are farming with for the most part and we don’t want to take advantage of that or cause stress for them as well. It’s a lot of pressure on people and the pocketbook.

I’ve said before that I detest the word “balance” when I talk about the farm and my family duties. They have to work cohesively and not be one over the other. So I prefer to say we juggle them, everything is happening at once, with shorter periods of attention being paid to one or the other throughout the day. My kids are always priority, but the farm often comes first. If the kids are fed, healthy and happy, then we can get on to the work that the day holds in store. If the weather is nice today, and rain tomorrow, it may mean the kids activities get scrapped for the day so we can beat mother nature. However, it also works the other way around. If the weather is bad, or we’re caught up, than we make the most out of the time we have to treat the kids to something special. A trip to the beach, a day in the city or maybe even a quick trip to the theatre if we have a shorter amount of time. Its not “balance” It’s a juggle, or maybe even a dance, with no clear leading dancer.

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With all of that juggling and being involved in so many industry organizations, getting my name and face out there on social media, there is still this lack of validation on the farm. I’ve met so many salepeople, maintenance workers, contractors we’ve hired, people coming for hay or straw etc, in the driveway, or picked up the phone and started a conversation about the farm, or the weather, and it quickly turns to the question of where my husband is, or my father in law. I know I’m not the owner, or “an original” on the farm since I am married into it, but often, I could have answered their questions or found them what they were looking for or loaded their bales myself. I’ve gotten much better at standing up and asking what they’d like before I point them in either of those directions. For two reasons really, to show them that I do have a place here and they can talk to me about what they are here for, but also, if I can help them then it leaves my husband and his father free to continue on with the work their doing.

If you follow me on social media, you’ve likely had a glimpse in to all of this in my day to day posts and if you haven’t tracked me down and would like to, I’d welcome you to. Not because I want the spotlight on myself, but because I am one of so many women on farms who are doing similar things and while I show it in from my own experiences, there are many who are doing the same thing in a variety of ways and in different areas of the industry but we all share many of the same struggles, the same successes and the same drive and passion for this industry.

We don’t want thanks, or special attention paid to us for what we do because we love it, and we chose it. However recognition for the contribution we give to the ag industry and how much our predecessors did behind the scenes without validation would do so much to encourage more involvement in leadership roles by women in agriculture. From there the process of building up more support can really begin.

We’ve gotten off the ground, and the sky is the limit.

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