Dear elder farmer,
My friend gave me a hat which simply says: “FARMHER.” The feminist in me goes wild every time I wear it. When most people hear the word farmer, they picture an older man wearing a plaid shirt and a hat, and driving a combine. But, insert an h into the word farmer and a different image comes to mind.
This letter is meant for all those older generation FARMHERS out there, both the ones who hide behind their husband’s farmer status, and the ones who have worked hard and earned a living as a solo farm woman. We, the next generation of FARMHERS, need to hear your stories and words of wisdom.
I never knew that I was going to end up farming. I wanted to be a doctor, or something else in the science field. In the end, however, my passion for local food took hold and I headed back to the family farm to start market gardening. I saw food as medicine, and that is what I wanted to provide for my community. I struggled to call myself a farmer for the first few years, even though I was driving tractors, making hay, milking cows, and beginning my first independent gardening enterprise. Oddly enough, it was when I was able to apply for my farm plates that I truly felt like I could say I was a farmer. That, to me, is sad.
I have questions for you, the farm women who have independently and proudly started farming on their own: What were your hurdles and how did you get over them?; Were you able to identify as a farmer and if not, how do we get the message out to young women to inspire them to farm?
Even with my farm plates, it can still be intimidating to go into town to talk to the local parts dealers, the mechanics, the welders, especially when they are usually older men and I am not only young, but a young woman. How do I know if I am getting a fair price? I’m new at this. I’m still learning so much.
It’s difficult to admit, but I’m not as strong as my male counterparts. I often struggle with equipment and large machinery. We bought a smaller belt baler, and it was such an exciting moment for me when I realized I could hook up this baler all on my own. The PTO was lighter and easier to maneuver. Do you just avoid the larger equipment and opt for smaller-scale, light-weight, 3-point hitch equipment? It’s not as efficient, but still workable. I’ve seen my brother and dad unplug a combine by using both body weight and brute force. I sat on the sidelines, giving my two cents, knowing if I was all alone in this situation I wouldn’t be much use.
It’s not limited to machinery, either. There have been tricky moments pulling calves, too. I know there are women out there who can do these things, and maybe it’s as easy as starting a regular workout routine to strengthen my body. Any tips?
As I write this, I’m hitting the peak of my summer, without kids, and things have already fallen behind. A family is in my future, but managing a farmers’ market stall, farm demands, and life itself is daunting enough without toddlers at my side. Did you have kids? How did you manage to raise a family and keep a farm business a float? Are there secrets to keeping your sanity when busy season hits and you have little ones brawling around you?
In the end, I know I can farm! I just need help sometimes, but finding the courage and strength to ask for that help can be challenging. I know I need to breathe when I realize I am struggling with something I have seen others do with ease. I know I need to focus instead on what I can do and what I have achieved rather than what I can’t and what I haven’t. And I know, when I go to the mechanic, or to a farm store, or to an auction, all I need to do is stand tall and wear my FARMHER hat proudly.
Lisa Lundgard runs The Homestead with her partner Donovan Kitt near Goodfare, AB where they have a market garden, cattle, sheep and chickens. Lisa grew up on an organic farm and started her farming career with a market garden CSA called the Veggie Patch. You could often find her delivering veggies in her yellow school bus around the Peace River area.