Agricultural advocate finds inspiration in her past
Brenda Dwyer has made a business out of telling her farm story but says her grandmother’s example is what gave her the strength
Brenda Dwyer grew up thinking it was completely normal for a woman to be a farmer.
Sounds like a simple enough concept but in an industry where women have traditionally been treated unfairly based on their gender, it’s a pretty radical mindset.
Dwyer said she came to this conclusion at a young age by watching her grandmother, Jessie Andrews, singlehandedly run a farm.
Andrews became a widow when her husband, Dwyer’s grandfather, passed away in his early 60s. Instead of selling and moving to town, Andrews kept the farm going year after year.
“My grandmother was my biggest influence in farming,” Dwyer told me in the first moments of our interview.
“I spent a lot of time there and the male farmers were always popping in to talk farm. They treated her just like another farmer and she showed me that it was okay to separate the cows and bake the cookies,” she said.
Dwyer continues her grandmother’s legacy today as farmer. She and her family raise beef, sheep, workhorses, and poultry in the village of Douglas in Ottawa Valley.
Together, they also operate Dwyer’s Farmhouse, a farm vacation getaway that invites guests to stay on a real working farm.
As a business marketing graduate from Algonquin College, Dwyer has always been an entrepreneur.
The farmer said she spent four years selling her homemade baked goods at local farmers’ markets and creates custom decorated cakes through her business, Farmer’s Fork.
Dwyer’s Farmhouse, which is now in its eleventh season, pushed Dwyer’s business skills to the next level by adding the roles of teacher and agricultural advocate to her job description.
Teacher wasn’t completely new territory- the proud Catholic homeschooled her five children until two years ago- but agricultural advocate was.
“I think it’s important to teach people about farming and this business has given us that opportunity,” Dwyer said.
Dwyer admitted that the farmhouse destination was slow to start but today “it’s booked nearly all the time.”
Many of the guests are grandparents who bring their grandchildren in hopes of showing the kids what life on a farm looks like.
“They get their grandkids for the week and they don’t know what to do with them but they know they want to give them an experience and make memories,” Dwyer said.
Guests, who have travelled from places as far away as Scotland, Ireland and Asia, get to experience the farm in its true form.
From the livestock to the poultry to the produce garden to the campfire pit, they’re welcome to it all.
Dwyer offers guided farm tours and answers many questions that come from the city people who in many cases have never stepped foot on a farm.
“It’s amazing! People don’t even know that a potato is grown in the ground,” said Dwyer.
According to Dwyer, the general lack of farm and food knowledge is one of the biggest challenges around running the business and social media isn’t helping.
“Social media has put things into people’s head about factory farming but I’ll tell our guests that I don’t actually know where a factory farm is,” she said.
Dwyer hears stories about cow abuse and animal cruelty and in return she offers a more accurate description of the industry.
The reward is worth it when guests tell her she’s changed their opinion of something they really didn’t know much about to begin with.
“One woman, by the time she left, told me she was going to start buying beef from a local farmer so it would come from a farm like ours,” said Dwyer. “To know that you’ve actually changed one mind is pretty neat.”
Showing the world that women farm right alongside men is another benefit of running Dwyer’s Farmhouse.
Dwyer said her experience as a woman in agriculture has been mainly positive.
Like many of her female counterparts, she’s been subjected to sexist treatment from time to time but she always calls the person out and sets the record straight.
Dwyer’s decision to join the Ag Women’s Network came after she read a profile Ontario Farmer ran on an AWN member.
The piece was on Barb Keith, a beef farmer who Dwyer went to high school with.
“I said ‘what’s this all about’ so I went on the AWN Facebook page and joined up,” said Dwyer.
Her favourite part of being an AWN member is knowing there are other women experiencing the same day to day struggles and joys that she is.
“We all know there is more than mud in the mudroom! There’s the whole craziness of living this life but as a group we’re together in the trenches of farming,” Dwyer said.
Dwyer documents all of her farm life craziness in her award winning blog, Dwyer’s Farmhouse- A Farm Experience.
You can read about it for yourself at http://dwyersfarmhouse.blogspot.ca.