Saturday, January 25, 2014

Women In Agriculture ~ Today's Farm Chicks

This topic has been pretty hot on my FB and Twitter feeds over the last couple of days.  And, this happens to be a subject I'm really passionate about.

Are women considered farmers yet?

I am a farm chick.  Always have been, hopefully always will be.  Am I taken seriously as a farmer?  Am I taken seriously as a woman AND a farmer?   Sometimes, we can feel like hired help.  Man or woman.  Our jobs are tough, redundant and most times downright dirty.  Does a salesman come into my barn and see me in my bibs and boots and ask the hired man if he is in charge?  Yes.  Does it rattle me?  Oh God, yes.  At what point in our careers are we finally respected or even considered an owner/operator?

Today's farm chicks are educated, hard working and, above all else, have chosen this profession.  We have accepted the risks, the lifestyle and the work that ensues.  So then why, after over 15 years post grad, do I get overlooked for someone else who may be deemed 'in charge'?  I believe, I am part of the problem.

Life is busy.  Farm life is crazy busy.  Being a farm owner, mom, friend, and somewhere in there, a wife is downright scary busy.  But for me, and probably many other women in this industry, my family and the farm is always first.  And here lies the problem.  Many don't 'see' me.  In agriculture, this can be a huge reason women are still not considered the 'farmer' on the farm.  You don't always see me sitting at a farm organization meeting.  You don't always see me at a conference or seminar.  This is facetime for farmers.  If you miss it, others miss you.  I really have become a hired hand in this respect.  Missed.

My husband has really become the face behind our farm.  He is the one you will 'see' around a commodity group table with other committed farmers trying to make a difference in this industry.  This is where I believe you are started to be taken seriously.  You need to be seen.  In most farming marriages however, you will typically only see one.  Sometimes its the she of the farm, but quite often, its still the he.

So what is the solution?  I feel the need to participate, but still feel bound to farm and family.  Many other women have an off-farm job to contend with on top of farming and parenting duties.  How do we find the time to represent an industry we have built our life around?  We are huge contributors, but quietly.  Many believe women aren't taken seriously and that is why we aren't sitting on these boards.  I feel quite the opposite.  I think (in my case anyway) we have done this to ourselves.  We have gone underground to keep things running smoothly at home while foregoing our seat in the 'seen' farming world.

I don't believe my story is finished though.  I'm far too passionate for what I do.  I'm just going to sit on simmer for a little while longer and enjoy my exhausting physical labour (while I'm still able to do so), watch my kids grow, and take on small roles when I can.

For all my fellow farm chicks, kudos for the strides we've made yet far.  And to the next salesman who asks to see my husband or someone in charge, you may be shown the door.  You've been warned.

Monday, November 18, 2013

David and Goliath.

Been a while since I have blogged.

Hard to put into writing what we sometimes feel.  Farming lately has felt like a David vs. Goliath type of battle.  I'm growing weary of this fight.  We (farmers) are being targeted by media.  Media likes a story, the worse it is, the better for them.  Unfortunately, it leaves our consumers confused, scared and ultimately turned off.  Gone are the days when we were all reliant on our land, our animals and our hands to feed our families.  Lets face it, the majority of our friends, neighbors and families do not farm.  In fact, they may have a hard time remembering even being to a farm that was maybe a grand-parent's or great grand-parent's.

This then becomes our lop-sided battle.

There are just not enough of us to overpower the damage the media is doing.  Farming to them is a story.  To us, it is our life.  It is our blood, sweat and tears.  It is our income, our pride, and our contribution to a huge sector of our community and country.  We don't do this to become millionaires.  We are happy to get one good year in five.  We live at the mercy of the weather, the consumer, and the lenders.  If any one of these are not in sync, we don't meet our goals.

We do this because its in our bones.  We do this because we love it.  We do this because, ultimately, we all like to eat.

So that's my side.  But, its not enough.  We need to educate.  Not the other farmers, which we often find ourselves doing.  Its comfortable to talk to others that do what you do.   But, that's easy.  The harder conversations need to be had with your friends in town, your neighbors, your kid's teachers.  We need to be honest and open about what we do, how we do it and most importantly, why we farm.  This is the message that needs to be spread like wildfire.  The problem is, we don't take the time.  I know while struggling through this fall, the last thing I feel like doing is justifying my farming practices.  We are tired, stressed and feeling a bit discouraged.  Day after day is another damaging story about our industry.  Are they true?  Likely not, but does it matter?  No.  It has made people hesitate.  Even me, seeing stories that are edited to create fear, have made me just a little more on edge.

I love our farm.  I love promoting it, letting people see what we do and getting our story out.  But lately, I've found I'm double checking what I say, what pictures I post for fear my message has come out wrong.  When did this happen?  I find myself paranoid that if my barn floors aren't swept, I'll have someone show up and think we are lazy and sloppy.  It may just be a case of OCD, or it may be that we all are becoming a bit more aware that we are being watched.

I guess my take home message of this long sermon, is food production is a long chain.  Yes, we are the primary producer, but there is a long line of middlemen involved in this process before you sit down to your meal.  I'm not a scientist, but I'd bet that its not the wheat giving you wheat belly.  Its not red meat making your kids hit puberty before you did.  My best guess is that its the stuff we didn't eat when we were growing up.  I didn't have a microwave until high school.  Our meals were our butchered cull cows, potatoes and vegetables.  They didn't come from a box.  The difference in our food is our processing.  We want convenient, fast food.  With this comes preservatives.  Could it be, that maybe, instead of pointing our google-educated fingers at a producer, we maybe should look at all those little ingredients we can't pronounce?

Please, if you eat, remember that a lot of work has gone into every morsel on your plate.  We care for our animals (to us, they are an extension of our family) and our land.  We value our opportunity to continue another generation of farming and leaving it in better condition than when we began.  Our story will continue to be told, for as long as we are blessed to do so.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Springtime in Staffa...

Not quite spring yet, but I think Mother Nature's been in hiding this winter...  Low to mid 20's is not hard to take in mid March, but I worry about a certain species who get the itch to hit the fields when we get too many days like this...  Nevertheless, there have been farm shows, meetings and barn destructions to help distract this specific creature.

The sheep barn project is coming along nicely.  Thinking finally the deconstruction has now crested into CONstruction...  I find out in a week if and when my possible mama ewes are going to lamb which is exciting!  Have been busy over the last couple of weeks with some farm shows and today the GFO Classic in London which was excellent.  I love listening to inspirational speakers...  today was a mix of marketers, policial writers, financial authors and advocators... my kind of day to spark the dawn of a new spring for farming.

Mark and I are looking forward to this coming season.  It is the beginning of our new journey together outside the family circle... scary, but exciting nonetheless...  Paperwork has been finalized and its official... Our new company is called Shepherd Creek Farms.  (which is a name we chose long before the sheep obsession... ironic eh??)  We've been blessed with the support of good friends and family as we make this shift.  Today I was reminded that we are in the most respected, and rewarding industries...  I just hope we can be proud of what we do, and remind our consumers that we do in fact love it to.

My view of the future sheep palace!!

Our inspiration...  Shepherd Creek...

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Sheep Shopping with my Cash Cropper...

Today was a first.  I actually visited a livestock facility WITH my hubster!!  We visited Wicketthorn Livestock just outside of Lambeth.  What a tour!!  This place has it all...  Initially, we had just gone to see what Craig had for sheep to fill our reno barn...  however, we were treated to the ultimate farm tour!  The sheep barn was awesome.  Craig went over the different breeds he had, and what type of traits to look for when starting up a flock.  Loving the Dorset, Suffolk, North Country breeds...  look like hearty and healthy ewes...  Thinking that a Texel ram may be in order as well...  The man of the hour who we were introduced to was 'Bob the Builder'...  a burley looking ram, who just so happens to have a lump on his poll resembling the cartoon character's hat!  Too funny...

From the sheep tour, we proceeded to what Craig refers to as the 'Funny Farm'...  here, his son Lloyd and wife Tina (with 5 active little farm kids...) have an awesome little variety of mini ponies, alpacas, mini pot-bellied pigs and some crazy birds taking their place in the empty pen...  Of course, each animal comes with a great story!  Sounds like these animals were a hit at the Western Fair in London, so check it out next year...  should be some more pet pigs running around!!

Wicketthorn is also a huge dairy facility (a little piece of heaven for me!!), so we got to see all those facilities as well...  Really cool rotary parlour!  All in all, a great tour!

Now to digest more info...  ouch, my brain hurts.

Shhhh...  I think the cash cropper may even like these animals...  :)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Its a Wooly World...

So, progress is being made!  Our former pig barn sporting the latest 70's fashion in concrete and rebar is slowly being made over!  Our hired man Monty and I have been hard at work tearing off steal, conduit, rusty old penning, then finally all poured concrete pens on top of the floor.  Now, the fun part...  breaking out the floor...  Better call my chiro now!

In the meantime, I've been doing quite a bit of research.  Starting to realize people really don't like sheep.  Something like "you have to trick them into wanting to live" kind of dislike.  Sounds like a challenge to me!!      Am I freaking out a bit?  Yep.  But, I'm really excited about this industry.  Talked to some extremely helpful people and have seen a few barns... so that part I think we're figuring out!  Now I'm onto the breed selection part.  I've got my heart set on Dorsets.  But, the more I read about crossing with other breeds to get certain traits, the more baffled I get... So, this is my next segment of research.

Looks like the barn will only hold about 150 ewes, so this will be small enough to figure out the error of my ways, and big enough to get a feel for how many I really need to make a living...

I'm pumped about my new little journey.  The weird part is I thought I'd totally miss the chickens.  Truth is, after 13 years... I really don't.  How is it that we can convince ourselves that we love what we do, when in fact, we're just to timid to try something else.  In my case, I think I just didn't want to upset the apple cart.  Whatever the reason, I'm happy.  The apple cart has been tipped.  But its ok!  Life goes on...  We just change direction, we don't stop.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Learning to fly...

So, after 13 years I finally figured out chickens can't fly.  Kidding.  I did know that.  What I didn't realize was that maybe it was me that needed to.  So, after many debates with myself, I decided it was time to move on.  Don't get me wrong, the animals themselves were never the problem...  I love being in a barn.  I love watching how animals behave and interact, even if they are as unsociable as chickens.  No matter how things are left here, the challenges and experience has been second to none.

Now, its time to drive on.  For the last couple of months, I've been researching other areas of agriculture.  Everything always circles back to one common criteria...  animals.  I love helping Mark in the fields, but I'm not crazy over watching a plant grow.  Animals though, that I love nurturing, improving and just plain taking care of.  I guess maybe there is some maternal instincts in me after all... who knew??

So today, my research plight has taken me to Mt. Forest to an OMAF sheep seminar.  Oh my...  they are so friggin cute!!!  The detail and thought put into this line of work surprised me.  I think many see sheep farms as well I did...  a few little wooly friends around the yard to keep the weeds in check.  Little did I know, this is pretty darn close to my original roots of dairy farming.  (minus the milking of course!!)  This is intensive lambing, ventilation, shearing, feeding...  wow, think this could be a definate possible next step...

Will be concluding my seminar tomorrow...  ya know, school isn't so bad when you get to choose your course!

Keep ya posted!!!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Waiting for May Flowers... in June...

Enough already of the April showers.  I hate that we always complain about the weather.  Its either too cold, too snowy, too windy, too muggy, too hot or in the case of this poor excuse of a spring, too rainy.  I'm living with a man I used to know as my husband.  He is now a scruffy, puffy eyed, zombie-looking clone of Mark.  As I meet up with other wives and girlfriends of these husbands/boyfriends past, I realize this is a common occurrence in rural Ontario this spring.  Every dry moment available, he has been either on a sprayer, the planter or the many devices linking him to the godforsaken weather network.  Not uncommon to have crappy springs, but this year just seems to be dragging on...  and we've been in better shape than most.  Chatham has been polluted with heavy rains, and when it seems to be fit to go, it rains yet again.  If not for twitter and facebook, I think these farmers would go insane...  This seems to be a sounding board for so many, and helps convince us that we aren't alone this spring.

Our corn is now in, and sprayed... soys are in, not quite sprayed... stuff is starting to grow, but definitely not the showy year that we've been experiencing the last few.   Which brings us to fussy, tired hubby.  Now, he's a bit depressed that the crops don't look as good as he knows they should.  We push ourselves day in and day out, and never seem to be satisfied with what we accomplish.  If everyone who ate, knew what farmers strive for in producing their food, I think the world would be much more appreciative of what they have.

To all who are still waiting, and have that ginormous knot in their gut, know that the rest of us are right there with you.  This spring is becoming a true testimony of patience, wisdom and faith that eventually we will get a spring.  And hey, if not, well, summer is only a week a way...