Farm girl carves out her own place in agriculture

With no opportunity to transition into the family farm, Janet Chapman chartered her own route

By Courtney Denard

Ag Women’s Network

Growing up, Janet Chapman, the daughter of a dairy farmer, wasn’t encouraged to go into farming.

As the only girl in a family of four, Janet was in fact never allowed to touch any of the equipment on the farm. She was responsible for completing daily chores like her three brothers though.

“I was always at home as I was the oldest. I worked right alongside the boys in the barn or the boys worked right alongside me, I guess I should say.”

Even so, Janet wasn’t asked if she wanted to farm and like many operations the plan was to eventually transfer the business to the next generation of males.

In 1975, Janet married Tom, also a child of a farmer, and the two set out to build their life together near Alliston.

Tom’s parents did not promote a life in agriculture either. ‘There’s no money in farming,’ they told them so the young couple took heed and chose another direction.

“I think Tom and I would have continued farming if we had any kind of encouragement at all but Tom got into construction and renovation so we went with the path that we did,” Janet says.

Janet found a job with the Baxter Corporation, a company that manufactures and markets medical products, and has worked there for the past 40 years.

She took time off between having her four children, all of whom are adults now and living in different parts of the country. Seven grandchildren have been added along the way.

Five years ago, Janet and Tom made their way back to farming (not that they were ever really far from it) through the development of Maple Lane Heritage Turkeys & Heirloom Vegetables, a community supported agriculture (CSA) they run from home.

“I think deep down we have always wanted to farm so that’s where the idea for the CSA came from,” Janet says.

Maple Lane grows a variety of in-season herbs and vegetables, all without inputs or sprays. Janet labels this as ‘natural’ production and says it’s what CSA customers are looking for.

There are heritage chickens and four breeds of heritage turkeys on-farm that are sold for their meat and eggs.

The CSA’s customer base is mainly families who have the option of buying a half-share or full-share of goods throughout the growing season.

Janet says one of the biggest complaints she’s received so far is that the baskets have too much food in them.

“Gone are the days of the 30-pound turkey and freezers full of food to get you through the winter,” she says about this lesson in modern food demand.

Maple Lane chose to offer a slightly less typical CSA product with their heirloom vegetables and heritage poultry because as Janet says, they wanted to stand out.

Running a CSA may be different than the dairy farm Janet grew up on but it still has many of the same challenges.

Unpredictable weather, growing a product the customer wants, determining a fair and profitable pricing scheme, and finding time to get all the work done in a given day are a few that come to mind.

Dealing with the non-farming public is a new challenge and Janet doesn’t hold back on this topic of conversation.

“A lot of people want something for nothing but I will not sell my product for nothing,” she says. “Why should I not make money? I just don't understand that and I think the farming industry as a whole faces this dilemma.”

Janet says the consumers themselves are the cause of commercial farming. She says they asked for it when they demanded fast, cheap food. And the fact that there are so many unfounded complaints these days about farmers treating their animals poorly fires her up!

“People don’t like how I put it out there but don’t tell me that farmers are doing something immoral. In the grand scheme, farmers are better to their animals than anyone else.”

That same passion shines through when you ask her about gender inequality in the agriculture sector.

“Gender inequality makes no sense to me,” she says. “The men out there treating farm women differently probably have daughters of their own. Would they want their daughters to be treated any differently than their sons?”

To Janet, farming is a family business, which should include everyone. “I don’t care if you’re a boy or a girl and I find it disturbing that some people do,” she adds.

She also firmly believes that men and women should get paid equally for the same job, which in Canada is still not the case.

“Where in the constitution is it okay to pay a man more than a woman? I just don’t get that. It should be paid by the job not by the gender.”

As a member of the Ag Women’s Network, Janet has had the opportunity to connect with others in the sector that share her beliefs.

She says she joined the organization at first to see if she could promote her CSA but she also wanted to know what other women in the industry were up to.

Janet finds it interesting to read about the other members’ farm family life and says so much has changed over time.

“There are so many more outside influences on farming now than there was when I was growing up. There’s a lot for farm families to juggle,” she says.

Janet and Tom are no different. As the couple moves closer to retirement they’re looking at how they want to spend their time.

The plan is to continue with the CSA with the possibility of adding some beef cattle down the road.

“Both of us have been around farming all our lives, growing stuff, and harvesting stuff so this will be our little bit of agriculture, our little bit of farming that we get to keep,” she says.

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