There is so much that goes into being a woman farmer in 2018. As we move into a new age of Agriculture, women are placing themselves at the helm of farming operations across the country and providing this magic to their local communities. After about a decade of doing this myself, I thought I’d compile a list of 10 truths about the realities faced by female farmers. This list could be 20 pages long, so I narrowed it down to 10 items I think are good glimpses into the experienced life of the modern day woman farmer in the United States.
1. Your Life must be so peaceful.Ah, yes - the peaceful life of farming. Countless people have come up to me and talked about how beautiful a life of raising food must be and for the most part I agree with them. It isn’t until they notice the small, almost unrecognizable twitch in my eye that they back up and move along to another stall at the farmers market. Farming is a beautiful life and, as a woman farmer, the connection to the natural world is exceptionally healing for the mind and soul. Farming is also an incredible test to the will power, emotions, intellect, and physical form and, when left unchecked, can be anxiety forming and ego crumbling. Farming has a way of peeling back all of the layers and forcing us to look in the mirror and see all of the dark, hidden parts of ourselves a “normal” life may not. Peaceful? Sometimes. Fulfilling? Always.
2. Raising cute livestock = death, abscesses, and poop.
As women, many of us can’t help but be maternal creatures and what can be more tempting than the idea of raising cute, little, baby animals? They certainly are adorable and do satisfy the need to be near something small and helpless, but raising livestock is a lot less like the visit to the petting zoo and a lot more like the visit to the ER. There is always poop everywhere and you will become a contessour of poops. The healthy ones, the sick ones, the fly strike, and, oh, the colors. The biological world is a deeply disturbing place and raising livestock will make you ready for all the mucous, blood, and deformities you couldn’t even imagine. Once you realize livestock are moving homes for other organisms, you’ve set yourself up for a life of half vet, half producer, and ever ready for whatever falls or needs pulled out of the back end of the cow.
3. If you build your dream farming career, the mansplainers will come.
It has happened to all of us, mostly all of the time, from any form of male you can imagine. It can come from the gas station clerk who had a grandaddy that raised hogs, or the owner of the feed store whose been selling to farmers for 30 years, or even the new intern who just finished reading The Market Gardener and has some ideas he’d like to run by you. No matter how many seasons you have under your belt, you will be constantly mansplained to about what it is you do, how to do it, and why it is you should take their concerns and ideas seriously. If they can even get over the fact that you are in this line of work at all, brace yourself for the wealth of knowledge you will be forcefully gifted when you’re just trying to pay for some gas for the mower. I’ve been known to get through these interactions by imagining that I am in crystal blue water in a cave and that tiny sound of “Well, you see, the reason….” is the calm dripping of stalactites echoing through the caverns. I apologize, gentleman, for my far away look, sometimes your ideas are truly too mind blowing.
4. The “I will not wear these nice pants while working on the farm” lie.
There comes a time when you finally accept the hard truth that you can’t have nice things. On the rare occasion that you go out of your way to purchase a nice shirt, some delicate but cute shoes, or a pair of fashionable pants, you tell yourself and others confidently “Oh, I am only going to wear these when I go out. I won’t wear them on the farm.” For the first two weeks of life these new found pieces have in your wardrobe this may remain true. You may treasure them and even put them back in your closet on a hanger or shoe rack. Slowly, one trip out to feed the goats in them, one small peak into the chicken coop, or one quick harvest turns into months of wear and tear and the overall and inevitable destruction of this special, nice thing is complete. This is mostly acceptable behavior in the daily life of a young farming woman and is only really a problem when the occasional wedding invitation hits the mailbox.
5. Dirt is your new, permanent accessory.
It is a fact of life that during the growing season there will be places on the body where dirt becomes permanent. No amount of exfoliating, charcoal scrubbing, or soaking can truly remove all evidence of a life lived in the fields. These small patches of grit and smeared organic material are likely to become part of your feet and hands. Wearing shoes mostly deals with this issue of nasty feet out in the civilized world, but oh, your filthy, little hands. Deep in the prints on your fingers and lodged into every nail is basically a thriving ecosystem of soil and microbes. Whether out to lunch with your mother in law or contrasting sharply in the dentist office, there is no hiding the shredded cuticles, dark matter, and roughness of those working paws. I used to be embarrassed by this and now it’s more like a barometer for strangers. If you can’t handle it, there’s likely no chance you can handle the rest of me.
6. What is Sunday Brunch?
Remember all of those awesome humans you used to know and hang out with? Remember Sunday Girl’s Brunch out on the town celebrating life and hitting mimosas hard, not worried about Monday? Yeah, me neither. Once you have dedicated yourself to the all consuming lifestyle of growing food and stewarding a piece of land, you can kiss your social life goodbye. Friends may contact you now again with lines like, “Sanka, you dead?” and you can’t blame them. While they’re all out grabbing their golden Sundays by the horns, you are likely in the fetal position after a long market weekend afraid to open your eyes and witness for yourself how the to do list has grown with the sun and rain. This does, however, have the alternative effect of making you the absolute hero when you do get organized enough to catch your friends or make it to an event.
7. Caught you in the bushes.
There’s no denying that peeing out in nature for a man is so much easier than for a woman. A man could be peeing within your frame of vision, right now, and if his back was turned, you would have no idea. (Creepy thought, but true.) For women, if we have to relieve ourselves in a hurry, we’ve got a whole mess of steps to get through to get to the good part and somehow this all has to be navigated in such a way that there is some level of privacy. I’m not saying here that organic farmers go around peeing on their vegetables, but the occasional emergency trip to the bordering woodlot is not only a peaceful hiatus from the sun but also an extra “what’s up?” to the local deer population. Let’s just hope the interns aren’t walking past.. Again.
8. You’re a farmer, so you’re super fit - want to enter a triathlon with me?
You’ve been hauling produce in from the fields for months. You’re looking so beefy that you’ve been asked to star in a naked farmer calendar for charity. It feels good to be so cut in July so long as they don’t look too squarely into your somewhat dead, exhausted eyes. What they don’t realize about how you build your physique in the gardens, is that you do almost no cardio. They won’t notice until they take you on a hike, coax you into getting off of your comfortable dirt and onto a bike, or heaven forbid ask you to go for a run. I’ve tried to deal with this by running from one part of the field to the next and this only ever helps in making me seem more insane. Give me 50 lbs to lift and I’m the hulk. Challenge me to a 50 yard dash and I’ll take that seat on the bench, please and thank you.
9. Let me speak to your manager.
Farmer’s Markets are battlegrounds for all sorts of social norms and conforms and women entrepreneurs and farmers are often sitting on the front lines of these low level conflicts. I can’t count the number of times someone, man or woman, has come up to the table and assumed that I was somehow the secretary of the farm, just there to answer questions and sell produce while the man farmer was out there in the world making all of the dreams happen. It is a difficult place to be as a woman, standing above your lovingly and tirelessly grown foodstuffs while customers pick through these miraculous natural jewels and assume that they got there by other hands, just because you are female. There are many hidden superpowers held within the bodies of women farmers and one of them is being exceptionally polite to rude and assuming customers.
10. You are enough.
I’d have to say the most important truth of being a woman in agriculture is the very simple fact that you are enough. If you are a woman starting a business of her own and making a career for herself, you are enough. If you are a woman raising children and working on a farm with your partner, fulfilling both roles equally, you are enough. If you are out in the world living your truth like a pioneer and people don’t understand you or think you are qualified to speak about your work, you are enough. For every invalidation you have experienced as women in agriculture in this world, I want you to know that you are so totally enough. Your example in this realm is leveling a system that has been weighted against women for centuries and your labor and love in your fields, in your garden, and on your land are living, breathing examples of what the future could bring. For every moment you’ve been made to feel like maybe you aren’t amazing, I’m here to tell you, you 100% are.
It's always been a changing world and I'm grateful to get to ride this wave. Women in agriculture have a lot of uphill battles to this day and your support helps them stay on track. If you treat them like the professionals they are, I bet you'll benefit from the epic work they do.
Keep on, keeping on, Ladies. I look forward to watching you shape this world.
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