It's taken me a long time to feel comfortable telling people I'm a farmer. Despite the fact that I have a degree in agro-ecology and have spent over 10 years working on other farms, as a farm manager, and now running my own farm for the last four years, I always felt a little self-conscious about using this title. I know I don't look the part. For starters I'm a woman... I'm on the small side and so is my farm.
At the farmer's market customers often comment on my "garden". They say things like, "Oh, you must have such a big garden." Well, yes, it is a "big garden" because actually it's a farm. I'm pretty sure my neighbour at the farmer's market (a big guy) never hears references to his "garden".
Yet a recent survey of new farmers conducted by the National Farmer's Union found that 68% of new farmers in Canada are female. Another statistic I've come across for North America is 1 in 7 farm owners and managers is a woman. I'm not surprised by this though. Many of the most excellent farmers I know are women, we just don't seem to hear from or about them as often. This is evident in the "Rockstar Farmer" tours the Young Agrarians have facilitated, not one of the rockstars has been a woman.
If we take a step back and consider all farmers the world over, I would hazard to guess that the majority of our food is grown by women. I don't mean just the farm owners and managers, but also those in the field doing the actual work of planting, cultivating, and harvesting our food (through travelling and working in places as far afield as Thailand and Ecuador, I can attest to the number of female farmers I've seen working in the field). When it comes to squatting and bending low all day while pulling tiny weeds or harvesting neat bunches with fast hands, it's no surprise that women, who tend to be smaller, are good at this. This type of work doesn't require brute strength, but rather it demands strength in the form of stamina and speed, physical flexibility, attention to detail, and sometimes even a gentle touch ("that's delicate basil you're handling there!").
A fellow female farmer pointed out the new "caution tractor sign" that was recently put up on one of our rural roads might need updating already; rather than a guy in a cowboy hat, ought not the image be of a girl with a ponytail? Like other professions where woman have fought for and achieved equal recognition and compensation, isn't it high time that farming acknowledge the "better half" of its work force. And by that I don't mean farm wives, I mean women farmers (who could sure benefit from having farm wives- male or female- as well!).