What it means to be a farmer and be female

By Katie Ward

I am a woman and a farmer in Ontario.

It is women around the world who do majority of farming labour, from growing, weeding, harvesting and selling and promoting product.

I know I am not alone.

Katie Ward

Recently I gathered with women farmers and community members (including male farmers and our non-farming allies) for a film screening of Dolores! A film about Dolores Huerta, who originally founded the United Farm Workers, a labour union protecting farmers in the US. At 87, Dolores continues to be a fighter for farmers and an inspiration.

It reminded me of women farmers here in Canada who are my heroes: Nettie Wiebe, who was the first woman to become president of the National Farmers Union and led the NFU to become a founding member of the international peasant farmers, fishers and pastoralist movement called La Via Campesina; and Dianne Dowling, who as president of the Kingston Local of the National Farmers Union led an almost decade-long protest against the closing of the Kingston prison farm by the federal government until she and her community won the fight at long last, this past year.

Dolores! brought to light many points of unity for a group of women farmers in my living room, but also across North America and the world. We as women farmers face unique challenges as we struggle to achieve economic and environmental sustainability through our work, when we are doubted and diminished by those seeking to dismiss our voices and our reality.

When a woman farmer chooses not to have children she is told that she must feel an emptiness in her life, and yet when she chooses to have children she is told that she should stay in the home to take care of her children. Both sides of the coin are used as an excuse by some to “encourage” us to step back, to stay in the home, to be silent.

Looking around the room as our local farmers gathered, I was surrounded by women farmers and activists who find the time to grow and sell food, network with their peers, advocate for equality, and agricultural and social justice – some of whom also make the time to be vital partners raising their children and some of whom choose to remain child-free. And they are amazing, inspiring people.

These farmers impact their communities through feeding families in their neighbourhoods, engaging in courses that teach children where their food comes from and how to cook it, talking to school children, hosting start-up farms so that new farmers can get their business going while saving up for their own farms, and in working on providing tools for the next generation of farmers to continue agricultural and social justice work.

This network of female farmers helping each other prosper is powerful, limitless and sees no boundaries, only challenges to be overcome.

We all face some pretty steep hurdles and challenges on this path we've chosen, but if Dolores Huerta can still be an active community organizer and agricultural justice worker in the western United States at the age of 87, then we have every reason to rise to the challenge and indeed to work even harder to achieve our goals.

I am a woman farmer, and a proud one at that!