Homesteading and Livestock
Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

Gender on the Homestead: Why this Mom Mows

Mom on Tractor

The very first purchase we made for our homestead was our trusty John Deere Rider Mower. The very first thing I said to my husband after we made that purchase was "I'm going to learn how to use it too."  

There's a tendency for homesteading projects to be divided along traditional gender lines - dad operates the tractor, mom cans the tomatoes; dad shovels the compost, mom makes the beeswax candles. And while some of these things are true in our house (I actually do make candles, but my husband was the first to try it) we are also very non-traditional in a lot of important ways. 

After all, a homestead is a family affair, and like many modern farmers the choice to lead this lifestyle was a joint choice - one my husband and I made together because we both love the projects and the idea of sustaining ourselves. So it makes sense that we do things together, trade off jobs, and take turns (especially when there are kids to manage too).

But there are some other important reasons to share the work:

We all need more movement in our lives. I've written before about the risks of a sedentary lifestyle and the fact that our families are seeing less and less movement in our every day lives. If we leave the heavy lifting, digging, spreading, and wood chopping to dad, the rest of us are missing the opportunity to develop our muscles through diverse weight-bearing movements. With the risk of osteoporosis and other degenerative diseases in women, in fact, it may be even more important for mom to keep active. Movement can also help you to release stress, and some repetitive movements (like mowing or swinging an ax) can also be meditative in nature as you get into the rhythm of them.

We all deserve a "time out." Let's face it, raising kids is not always a piece of cake. Every parent occasionally needs and deserves time to do something without the kids, but all too often moms are the ones left with the kids when dad goes to do a physically demanding project. He gets an hour of quiet time working his muscles while mom deals with temper tantrums or tries to get the kids outside to play. Likewise, sometimes BOTH parents need to get involved in a project so that our kids get a forced "time out" from parent intervention; eventually the boredom inspires them to think of something to do, and free play magically emerges.

We are role models for our children. The only way that gender lines are going to be dissolved (if you care about that quest, like we do), is if our children see examples of the ways in which we can reject stereotypical role-based assignments. My children see dad in the kitchen all of the time, and they ride the mower with mom. They see dad do the laundry and mom manage the finances. Then they see these jobs traded back and forth. While there are some projects my husband just has the sheer strength or experience to manage better than I do (chopping down a tree, for example, was something he learned how to do in college), and I admit that I sometimes want to fall back on gender norms when I don't want to do something (like taking out the trash or stacking the log pile) I try to remember that my kids are watching. For the most part I don't think my children see "dad's jobs" and "mom's jobs" along gender lines. I hope they will carry that with them into their future relationships and leadership roles.

I'd love to hear from others who are thinking about the intersections between gender and homesteading (or simply gender-divided tasks at home)!  How are you sharing jobs, assigning tasks, talking to kids about who does what?  

Carrie Williams Howe is the Executive Director of an educational nonprofit by day, and parent and aspiring homesteader by night and on weekends. She lives in Williston, Vermont, with her husband, two young children, and a rambunctious border collie. Carrie has a PhD in educational leadership and is passionate about being an authentic, participatory leader in various settings. She is a contributing editor at Parent Co Magazine. Connect with Carrie on The Happy Hive Facebook page. Read all of Carrie’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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Learning on the Homestead

Tanning and Skinning Book 

"The Ultimate Guide to Skinning and Tanning" by Monte Burch was a book I read when learning how to tan hides. On the left is a skinning knife with a gut hook, and on the right of the book is a fleshing tool.

A phrase I have heard many times in life says, "You'll never know 'til you try." Though the wording may be different around the world, the meaning to it remains very true. Without the will to grow and put forth the effort, an individual would find it difficult to take up new hobbies or projects that could benefit the future of their home, their income, and their well-being. Whether it's reading a guide on better livestock care or watching a video of how to construct your own smokehouse, there are always opportunities to learn on the homestead.

There are multiple ways to gain new skills and knowledge, and they all have their own pros and cons depending on what sort of learner you are. Some people are able to simply pick up a book with a few illustrations and put it into practice, while others may be able to watch a tutorial online on the subject. Watching a video may not be enough for others, and they may find it more beneficial to work with an experienced individual to guide their process. No matter which initial method you choose to approach something new, in the end, it will be necessary to put your learning to the test by doing it yourself.

Reading

I have always been an avid reader, and I retain knowledge much easier through words. If I ever try to explain something to another person, I find it hard to describe the things I do out loud. However, if I were to write down step-by-step what I was doing, I would find myself giving much more detail on paper. This same concept also applies to the way I learn, because I seem to pick up more information and helpful advice by reading a book. It is also helpful to refer to measurements and instruction that is there for future reference in text, say you were without access to a computer. A physical book is often substituted with e-books and blogs in modern days, which can be equally helpful by providing you the chance to directly contact the author and possibly ask their advice.

Videos

At times, I have been unable to follow along with illustrations to pick up a new skill. It was necessary for me to watch a video of someone else at work. For instance, I have always been in awe of the intricacy of dream-catchers, and wanted to learn how the webs within them were made. A quick "how to" search led me to a visual tutorial that, coupled with the maker's slow process and thorough explanation, gave me the confidence to try it myself. There is a great benefit to videos, as you can pause or repeat them as need be.

Mentors

Sometimes, little can compare to working side by side with a skilled individual that has years of experience and adaptation. Five people may all tell different tips and tricks for fur trapping, for instance, and sometimes you may find yourself combining multiple methods to achieve your finished product or pick up a new trade. You may even be lucky enough to have workshops and classes advertised locally, whether they are free or at a small cost. As an example, there is a farm a few miles away from us that offers classes for beginners on canning produce during the harvest season. Having a mentor is beneficial, as they can offer advice for improvement in person. It is important to find someone who is patient and willing to explain theirs steps when learning in this way.

Applying Learning to Tanning

I put what I learned into action by tanning this beautiful Whitetail deer hide. (Photo: Wolf Branch Homestead)

Putting Knowledge to Work

There comes a time to apply what you have learned to physical practice, and it will come with its challenges. You won't immediately be perfect at building, crafting, or growing something new. It takes perseverance, hard work, time, patience, falling down, and getting back up. When your first batch of strawberry jam doesn't set up right, or your measurement for the chicken coop is off by an inch, I encourage you to not give up. Instead, seek to learn from that mistake, refer back to instruction if need be, and try again. Taking notes as you go is helpful, and may benefit another learner in the future! There may be a hobby that you wanted to try that doesn't work out, but if nothing else, simply find satisfaction in knowing that you followed through. Just remember that you won't know the end result unless you give it a chance!

Fala Burnette is a homesteader with her husband at Wolf Branch Homestead in Alabama. They are currently building their own log cabin and milling their own lumber, along with raising a small flock of chickens and tanning furs. Read all of Fala's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.