Are you a farmer? Yes, No and everywhere in between for women

It seems like a simple question, but I’ve realized the response to “Are you a farmer?” is hella complicated for women.

When Maureen Balsillie, who coordinates this blog, asked me to write a post on why many farming women don’t use the term “farmer” to describe themselves, I balked. Really? Is that a thing?

And then Maureen mentioned my own mom, Joan, who only just started using the term farmer to describe herself. But for 25 years she supported the family dairy farm without using the label.

“In retrospect, I think I should have been more aware of the importance of my roles in the farm team for the first 25 years,” she said when I asked her thoughts on the topic. “I was not the actual farmer but the hospitality co-ordinator, promotions consultant, herd assistant, mental health advisor, HR advisor, meals on wheels co-ordinator and often the sounding board for new plans.”

Now my mom and dad are farming beef cattle together and she uses the term ‘farmer’ to describe herself. I asked her about this change in her self-identity and its recognition of her contributions.

Is this a farmer? Joan Craig has recently retired from teaching and now raises beef cattle with her husband in Arthur, Ontario. Though being involved in the farm for her entire career, she just recently started identifying as a farmer.

“Since retiring from teaching, it has taken me awhile to identify as a farmer although that is clearly my career right now. I may not be the most experienced farmer in our farm team but I am a farmer.”

My mom is not alone. The Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC) reports that nearly 30 percent of farm operators in Canada are women, but they suspect that number should be higher.

“Although some women own farm businesses as sole proprietors, many operate farms together with family member,” says Debra Hauer, CAHRC Project Manager. “These women manage many different aspects of the farm business as a part of the ownership team. But for some reason this is not recognized as playing a formal role in managing the business.”

Hauer, who’s leading the CAHRC Supporting the Advancement of Women in Agriculture initiative, went on to explain “that there is a disconnect between the role women play in day-to-day farm operations and the recognition of this work”. The challenge is recognizing these contributions made by women as formal roles on the farm.

After speaking with quite a few farming women on this topic, many of them are questioning the terms they’ve assigned themselves and are looking to open up the dialogue on our definitions.

Since self identity is our personal recognition of our potential and qualities as an individual, this is an important topic to dive deeper into. And it seems in agriculture there is a particular weight and recognition assigned to the term “farmer”.

Over the next few days, I’ll be sharing posts that explore the melody of opinions and ideas held on the terminology that we use to describe farming women.

Here’s what to expect:

  • Why don’t farming women call themselves farmers? Monday July 10th

  • Does the term “farmer’s wife” cut it? Tuesday July 11th

  • Is it time for a new definition of “farmer”? Or just some recognition? Thursday July 13th

And a final note of thanks: I’m so appreciative of the women who opened up and shared their thoughts and

opinions on the terms they assign themselves and others. Thank you.

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