Alberta author documents fellow farm wives' journeys
The farmers she interviews for her books share details of their lives, farms, and families
The role of women on the farm is constantly evolving, often moving away from traditional roles into a modern hybrid.
“Just like there's no one right way to be a farmer, there's no one right way to be a farm wife,” said Billi Miller.
Miller’s life is ever-evolving, she’s invested her time in travelling, working in the private and government sectors, and fulfilled her dream of being an author, photographer, and mother.
The one skill she never imagined being on her resume was farmwife.
“Honestly, I was absolutely certain that I was going to be living in the city for the rest of my life,” said Miller. “But it has been the greatest move of my life not just personally, but in terms of being able to completely create a job, a career, a business out of my two absolute passions.”
Born in Saskatchewan, Miller moved to Lloydminster, AB when she was young and stayed until she graduated high school. After graduation, she moved to Germany for six months to immerse herself in the country’s language and culture. Upon returning to Canada Miller enrolled at the University of Calgary in a general arts program for three years before embarking on a career in the corporate sector. After 10 years in Calgary, she upped sticks and moved to Edmonton for a government job.
She loved big-city living in Alberta, but when she met her husband Dean on a fishing trip in Northern Saskatchewan, her life direction changed.
Miller realized early on her husband wasn’t going to leave the 108-year-old family homestead he lived on or the 5,000 acres he worked with his father and brother for a life in the city. Instead, Miller moved to a small community outside of Lloydminster and began carving out her version of what a farmwife looked like. “I fell into this community and I think I just like I found what I never knew I was looking for,” she said. “Almost immediately after arriving, the seed had been planted to write about the women I was so inspired by.”
Miller’s first book, Farmwives in Profile, poignantly reflects the farmwife experiences of 17 women from her community.
Miller said the long-time farms, century-long farming histories and a desire to highlight farming women within the community inspired the book.
“They’ve all shared how they live their life, their farms, and their families,” she said. “You watch this camaraderie and the support that we’ve all generated online…they’re all so different and it’s such a beautiful thing. I love celebrating them.”
Miller’s first book dealt mostly with women between the ages of 55 and 90, a reflection on the foundation of farmwives. Farmwives 2; an inspiring look at the lives of the new Canadian Farmwives, followed women between the ages of 20 and 50 to get an updated insight on the next generation of women on the farm.
“They were saying, ‘Okay, I’m a farmwife for a farmer, but I want to be out there working, I want to be out there fixing it,” said Miller. “There’s just so many different kinds of women in that book. I love it because it isn’t one size fits all, that’s for sure.”
Miller’s third book is already in the works but it will be changing gears to feature a multi-generational view of life on the farm as a child.
She’s already started interviewing people who were farm kids in the 1930s up until kids who are currently on a farm.
“As a farm kid in the 1950s, as a farm kid in the 1970s up to now – how did those lives look different,” she said. “The book will be peppered with kids of today and some hilarious interviews with the honesty only a six-year-old can have. I’m excited about it.”
With two daughters, aged eight years old and six years old, Miller is aware of how important a role model she is. She said it’s important to instil a sense of power in them, the knowledge they can be whatever they want and their life roles are not decided by their genders.
It’s also important to show them how crucial it is to carve out time to pursue your dreams or create space for self-care.
“They need to look after themselves, they need to do what keeps their hearts and their brains happy,” said Miller, adding as a mother “just as much as you want to take care of your family, you want to take care of yourself too.”
Miller has endeavoured to balance her own business of writing, photography, public speaking and being an author with the needs of the farm.
However, when the harvest season becomes longer than the growing season, as it has this year in Alberta, juggling the needs of the family, the farm and herself can be a challenge.
Miller said this harvest she’s scrambled to find a replacement on-farm when a speaking engagement crops up that normally would have fallen outside of the harvest season.
“It's just this constant balancing act,” she said, adding her husband is either in the field or monitoring the dryers. “Very often you're single-handedly managing the home and the family and the kids, and it's hard. It's a lot of work as everybody knows.”
The Ag Women’s Network (AWN) offered Miller an online space where she could find women supporting other women.
“I joined AWN specifically because I strive in environments where women are supporting other women,” she said. “I love coming to the events and celebrating the role of women on farms, how diverse they are now and how important they are.”
Miller said when women support each other to bring their separate and unique gifts to the table they can do anything and everything their male counterparts can do.
“We've all got unique and special gifts to bring to our agricultural community,” she said. “And it makes it that much more magical than it already is.”
Miller’s books are available at all major book retailers as well as online at https://farmwivesbook.com and www.billijmiller.com. Miller can be found on Facebook @billijmillerbooks and Twitter @billijmiller.