Role Models & Women in Agriculture

The winter weather seems to have caught up with us. When I first started this post I was sitting in front of the Christmas tree with Chilly at my feet and the futile hope that gingerbread cookies will bake themselves.  Erik is working on home renovations while we have a bit of a lull in farm work.  I don’t look forward to the cold of the season, but it gives me the time I need to reflect on the results of the growing season and begin making plans for the next one, bolstered by meetings with like minded farmers and agricultural professionals.

In early December I spent a couple days at the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture’s Annual General Meeting.  I had the privilege of attending as a delegate from our County Federation.  At this meeting we discussed policy, growing the industry, land use planning, public trust, and expanding your farm without adding more land.  Our provincial federation has the big job of representing the interests of a diverse membership to our provincial government departments, and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture.  Small business owners have to wear many hats and it is easy to lose sight of the bigger picture.  Meetings like this can reorient us, and I like to take the opportunity at this time of year to contemplate agriculture in a broader sense.

The agriculture industry often discusses the challenges of the average age of farmers, the need for more young farmers, succession planning, and barriers to the involvement of women in the industry.  The family nature of agriculture, with 98% of farms being family owned, adds family dynamics to an issue faced by other STEM type industries.  With the recent American election shining a spotlight on the need for female role models, this has been weighing on my mind.  There have been a great many influential women in industries generally dominated by men, but the visibility of these individuals has always been an issue.  The same can be said regarding members of minority groups, although I will leave this topic for those who are far more qualified.  If a child never sees a person like them as a scientist, a president, a farmer, or a director of an agricultural start up, how can they aspire to it?  What are the odds they will consider it?

I didn't come from an agricultural background-but I found my way to it because of the example set by a couple of women I really admire.  I saw women in plant science and agriculture from a young age, otherwise I don't know if I ever would have considered it as a career path.  Those women, and their families, helped my parents show me a different lifestyle than the one we had.

I'm possibly about 6 years old, on the farm of a family friend on PEI.  Combines leave a lasting impression.  Photo credit to Heather Tweedy.

I'm possibly about 6 years old, on the farm of a family friend on PEI.  Combines leave a lasting impression.  Photo credit to Heather Tweedy.

So what can we do?  We can get involved.  We can be visible.  We can talk about (and do!) things that scare us a bit (see me on the tractor above).  Maybe that manifests as involvement with industry associations and commodity boards.  Going to meetings, speaking up, and voting when you have the chance are all possibilities.  It could be taking the opportunity to speak in a classroom.  Perhaps it’s simply speaking up when you hear someone say ‘girls can’t be ...’.  You can also check out, support, and share projects aiming to increase awareness of women in STEM industries, farming, and trades.  Projects that come to my mind are:

I would love to hear about your favorite inspiration projects!