On Being A Woman Farmer

I know I'm still new to this farming thing, but here are my thoughts as I embark on a trail many women farmers before me have blazed.

by Rachael Dupree
PHOTO: Rachael Brugger

This past weekend, I spent some much-needed time with some incredible women I’ve connected with over food, farming and nature. One of the ladies is writing a book on women farmers, and our conversation over dinner and star-gazing got me thinking about how my experience as a woman is influencing what Mr. B and I are doing with our new farm.

I’m not here to speak about women’s empowerment in farming (though I’m all for it, of course). Mr. B and I complement each other so well—that’s why I’ve chosen to do life with him, after all—and on the farm, we’ve naturally fallen into traditional gender roles. This isn’t because we feel like we “have” to but because that’s where our interests lie. I love food and cooking, so I dominate the kitchen, and Mr. B is an engineer, so he’s naturally taken to fixing farm equipment. That’s not to say that I can’t ever use his help chopping veggies or he doesn’t need an extra set of hands in fixing a mower belt, and if it were the other way around, that would be OK, too. We’re a team, and I couldn’t see myself farming without him there.

But women bring something different to the arena of farming, don’t they? A suppleness and holisticness that elevates the farm above a series of tasks that need to be accomplished to a way of life that nourishes the spirit. As I write these words, I immediately regret them, because I know many male farmers who bring an intentionality and sacredness to working with the land that has challenged me in the ways I view our system of food.

But perhaps for women more often than men, the farm starts to become wrapped up in our identity. That would explain why, as I discussed last week, I’m still grappling with the words to identify myself. I often feel guilty calling myself a farmer, at least just yet, because I’ve yet to plant or grow anything. And the sweat and labor that goes into working the land has also left me craving the softer things in life—art, poetry, conversation—that round out our beings and give our lives meaning. I’m just not cut out for putting in a hard day’s work, going to bed and doing it again the next day. What does that make me? A robot? A machine? I require an infusion of the farm’s grueling tasks with moments of joy, deep appreciation and mindfulness. I see our farm as a conduit for connecting to the rest of humanity, and so I want the decisions we make about its future to play into that.

Contrary to what some might think, I don’t think being a female farmer is a weakness when it comes to working the land. As one of my friends pointed out over dinner, women may have to do the work differently because of our size and strength, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get the job done. However, I do think being a woman—or to be less stereotypical, being willing to vulnerably connect to our humanity—is an asset in farming. When you see what you’re doing with the land as a larger part of this whole ecosystem, then it gives your tasks meaning. It helps you decide whether spraying that pesticide is worth it or whether you need to rehome a pest animal for the greater good of feeding hungry people. It helps you preserve traditions like canning and fermentation. It informs your observations of nature’s cycles and our bodies’ nutritional needs.

I’m proud of the fact that people might see me as a woman farmer, and I’m happy to throw their preconceived notions of what that might be out the window. Just like no two farmers do or see things the same way, the same goes for women farmers. We all, both men and women, have our weaknesses and obstacles we have to work through. Because I grew up in the city, I may have more to learn and overcome regarding farm life than others do, regardless of my gender, but I already see a molding and polishing process happening in my life—just as we shape the farm, our land can shape us. And soon enough it won’t be that I’m a female farmer or that you’re a male farmer. It’ll be that we’re people who care deeply for the resources we’ve been given, who work hard to feed our families and our communities, and who create unique and beautiful expressions of the traditions and experiences that make up our lives.

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