Does the term “farmer’s wife” cut it?

Many women choose to use “farmer’s wife” to describe themselves, their lifestyle and often their additional responsibilities. But what’s the difference between a farmer’s wife and a farmer? If these women have farming responsibilities, why aren’t they farmers?

Interestingly “farmer’s wife” and “farm wife” can mean very different things to different people (just like the term “farmer”), but for most of the women I spoke to “farmer’s wife” seems to summarize their role in supporting the farm family unit. In some cases, it’s actual farming responsibilities and in many cases, it’s about additional duties required to make their farming family function.

Other duties as assigned

Alisha Doan, who married into a farming family, has an off-farm career as a teacher and uses multiple terms to describe herself including “wife of a farmer”.

“I am a full time teacher and a mother of two with a third arriving in the next month. These would be the two titles I would introduce myself with I think this is because this is what my personal goals were; to go to university, become a teacher and if able, become a mother. For me, having the title teacher and mother are two personally owned titles.” – Alisha Doan

As the wife of a farmer, she sees her role as a that of a spouse/partner who enables her husband to dedicate the time needed to farm, while she fills the other roles required: household duties, bills, yardwork and with their children.

Lauren Koersen, also a farmer’s wife, echoed Alisha’s comments and points out an important consideration. She must take on additional family responsibilities since farming absorbs so much of her husband’s time and energy:

“I work part-time, partially because we have kids but also because the farm always takes precedence, the unpredictability and hours of the farm leaves my husband unreliable when it comes to helping with daycare drop off/pick up, watching the kids, doing stuff around the house - like we used to. So, I am not technically the farmer because I'm busy doing all the stuff that normally both parents do together.” – Lauren Koersen

I think Lauren’s experience is similar to those of many women who work off the farm or act as the primary caregiver to their children.

“Although I am not 'the' farmer I do find that farming has taken our lifestyle that we previously knew. Before dairy farming (over two years ago) we both worked full time jobs and felt content with the time we saw each other and what could be accomplished in our free time,” Lauren explained. Today things are different. Their dairy farm takes precedence and Lauren’s share of family responsibilities has increased.

A safe middle ground

For some women, like Katie Keddy, it seems they are more comfortable with an arms-length term from “farmer”. Katie, who married into her husband’s family farm, stays at home with her two children, but works two full days on the farm and works part time off the farm.

“I do it all on the farm from marketing to tractor work to general labour and research. But, I'm not a farm shareholder, I can't fix equipment and don't make the day-to-day decisions about when to work a field, spray, plan our rotations etc., so for that reason I don't call myself a 'farmer'. I don't even know what I call myself. Farm wife, I guess? But I'm more than that. I'm also a stay at home mom, and vet assistant. My life, our life, my family’s life and our future is the farm and I strive to learn, and experience all jobs and aspects of the day to day. I don't know when or if I'd ever call myself a farmer to be honest, but I know I love what I do!” - Katie Keddy

Perhaps “farm wife” strikes a balance between Katie’s responsibilities on and off the farm, but she added an important point about the perception of others and how it influences the terms she uses.

'People who don't farm call me a farmer. Other women in Ag where I work part time would say ‘I farm with my husband’. I could be record keeping, managing our website and social media, attending board meeting for the local federation or council I'm on. But when people look at me as a mother, as someone doing little bits of all these jobs, as someone who works part time elsewhere, I'm not what the public would see as a 'farmer'.” - Katie Keddy

Transitioning to new terms

Samantha Chamberlain also married into farm life, and although she’s been dedicated to the farm in a full time capacity for over five years, she still isn’t fully comfortable making the transition to using the term “farmer”.

“I've identified as a farmer before, but was always unsure if I fit the label. I have no issue saying "we're farmers", but when it's just me, I stumble on my words! My role is more administrative, and I'm often a floater, going wherever I'm needed, and a gopher! Lol. I definitely don't underestimate the importance of my role anymore though, there's a lot involved and I'm constantly multitasking and learning! For people in the ag world, "Farmer's Wife" is often enough, for outsiders, they're always asking "but what do you do?" We are equal partners though, that's something I'm sure of, and very proud of.” - Samantha Chamberlain

For many women, the terms they use have changed over time or are adapted depending on the situation.

“I admit after 28 years of marriage to a dairy farmer, I often say ‘I married a farmer’. My husband is the farmer, as it is his daily job. I even identify with it socially… using #marriedafarmer on Twitter. Yet in those 28 years I have worked off farm, raised our daughters, did part time weekend milking, book keeping, payroll and all financial aspects to farm. I actively sit on boards representing agriculture within my county to all levels of government...So yeah, I am a farmer. I may not work the fields and plant the seed, but we all know that is just one aspect of farming today.” - Jacqueline Kelly-Pemberton

“I do try to say I'm a farmer in some situations, because there are some non-farm women who married male farmers and have zero interest in actual farm activities and wear their ‘Farm Wife’ titles well. I do get offended when someone makes the assumption that as a woman who married a male farmer, that I am Farm Wife, implying that I have no interest in farming or our farm.” - PJ Bailey.

“I married into farming and have been involved 10 years. Probably have called myself a farmer for four or five years. I am active in all aspects of our business so farmer's wife just didn't really describe it for me. I definitely do more business than barn but I think that's an important and legitimate role in modern farming, equally deserving of the title.” – Sarah Sache

Perhaps part of this transition is Sarah’s own acknowledgement of the value of her skillset nurtured in her off-farm career.

“When I moved to the farm my background was in corporate compliance. I worked for a publicly traded mineral exploration company. I didn't think I would have much luck transferring my skills to my new life on the farm. With all the modern regulations coming into play I couldn't have been more wrong. My skills have been so valuable when it comes to succession planning, as well as programs like ProAction or obtaining an Environmental farm plan. I bring more specialized business skills to the farm. I also sit on numerous dairy and agricultural boards and committees. My efforts help to ensure there's land to farm on and a market to sell our milk in, so I think that's a pretty important part of farming. These things have always been a part but I think increasingly more so now. I spend a lot of time just trying to communicate farming to people who don't, as do so many modern women in agriculture.” – Sarah Sache

Is the term “Farmer’s Wife” fair?

The feminist in me has always asked if “farmer’s wife” and “farm wife” is a fair title. It seems gendered to me. I don’t know of any men who identify as a “farmer’s husband” or “farm husband” (if they are out there, I’d love to hear from them and be proved wrong). And because of this, I will admit I have been judgmental in the past, thinking “farmer’s wife” or “farm wife” signified a lack of individuality or independence. But these women proved me wrong.

The comments above have strong undertones of selflessness, leadership and independence (long hours without a partner, taking the leading parent role, potential career sacrifices, additional farm work) and similar to an “army wife” or “policeman’s wife” there are some assumed hazards (farming is still a dangerous job for their partners).

But of course, there are also great rewards; many of the women spoke about how happy they are to have the farm lifestyle for themselves and for their children.

I have to say, I’m still not convinced many of these women aren’t farmers. One thing that is sure is that these women play an integral role in the success of our agricultural sector and it’s a role that isn’t captured in any census.

In my last post on Thursday July 13th,, we’ll dive deeper into the topic of recognition.

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