I expected I would find writing about the well-being of women in farming to be simple. After all, I am a woman and I’ve been involved on our beef and sheep farm here in Cumbria for more than 20 years. But out of all the blogs I have written though, this one has proven to be the trickiest. Perhaps it’s because the well-being of women in farming means so much to me. It is a subject I feel very passionately about.
As a “townie” coming into farming I have had a lot to learn. Quite simply, I didn’t understand farming. I hadn’t realised that farming isn’t a job…it’s a whole lifestyle that shapes not only my husband’s choices but mine too. I hadn’t understood it would affect all aspects of our lives. From our daily meals to how we plan our holidays and raise our kids – it all revolves around the farm. And whilst farming can provide so much positivity and happiness, it can also be a huge source of stress. It’s been a journey that I’ve recently discovered I haven’t travelled alone.
In the first study of my PhD we wanted to look at the role of women. Particularly, the ways in which we contribute to our farms and how this way of life impacts us. The good, the not-so-good and everything in-between. We were blown away with how many people wanted to take part…440 women got in touch willing to share their stories.
Often when we say “women in farming” we assume we are talking about women farmers. In the UK in 2016 there were over 27,000 women farm holders. This is, of course, fantastic, but this number fails to consider the whole army of those who are also ‘women in farming’ but without the label. We wanted to highlight the contribution of the women who don’t always identify as being a farmer. The women who work as farm secretaries or in allied industries, such as in research or veterinary practices. The daughters who wish to farm but remain excluded in favour of their brothers. Women who feel stuck, waiting for succession arrangements to be decided. Not forgetting, of course, the wives and partners of farmers.
Women in farming often have their own careers off-farm but dedicate their evenings and weekends helping on the farm too. They are often responsible for paperwork, such as scheme compliance, registering calves or animal movements. They may take their annual leave to fit in with lambing or silage time so they can help out. Also not forgetting women who are cooking for the employees as well as caring for wider family members.
These women may not say they are farmers, but their contribution to the farm is invaluable. Without them, our farms would quite simply not function in the way that they do.
I’ve spoken in earlier blogs about how farming can be stressful, isolating and lonely. These stresses aren’t reserved for the farmer, they can affect everyone on the farm…including women who may face extra demands. Women generally continue to bear the responsibility for the bulk of the housework and childcare, whilst their husband works countless hours, seven days a week. Women often put their own hobbies, interests, and time with their friends to the side as there simply isn’t time to get off the farm. They may have to arrange days out and holidays alone to make sure their children don’t miss out. Often women can find themselves without a voice, being excluded from business decisions. Traditions and customs can leave them facing, sometimes unrealistic, expectations, which can make them feel unvalued.
So, it is vital that everyone in farming, whether that role is visible or not, takes the time to look after themselves.
My previous blog entries about speaking with others and building resilience are relevant for everyone. We need to find some time for ourselves, perhaps reading a book or listening to a podcast to relax. Getting some exercise and spending time with our friends are things that should be encouraged. Don’t feel guilty if meals aren’t always home-cooked or if the house isn’t always tidy - anyone who visits my home knows that I certainly practice this one! Sometimes we are just too busy and we need to find ways to get more support or reduce some of the jobs we have. Other times we need to connect more with others. And sometimes finding a challenge, such as taking an online learning course, is good for us.
I wrote this blog for two reasons. On our farm, when new grants are around, it is me that gets tasked with the job to research it on the internet. You too might be reading this as you are on this website to find out about the grants currently available through the Future Farm Resilience Fund. I thought therefore it was a good opportunity to reach out to remind everyone that sometimes it is ok to put ourselves first and practice some self-care. I also wanted to use it as an opportunity to say thank you to all the women who took part in my study. If you were involved and are reading this, I offer a huge thank you for your help. More studies are coming soon - for men too. In my next blog I’ll talk more about how you can be involved. In the meantime, you can find out more about the Future Farm Resilience Fund here.
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