CHERYL LYON – “Land access, access to funds, hostile communities with ‘old-boys’ clubs’ (especially with homophobic prejudices) are a major barrier to women getting into farming.” – Zoom participant
Women in Agriculture was the March 16th topic of Kawartha World Issues’ always stimulating “KWIC Conversations.” Emma MacDonald opened space for a rich conversation. Emma is a Trent graduate, Co-ordinator of the Trent Gardens on campus, and instructor in Farm Design at Durham College.
The Greenzine joined the Zoom call because the topic fit perfectly with our belief that both equity and economic localization are pillars of climate crisis action.
Conversation delved into the change of women’s image in farming from “the farmer’s wife” to equal partner, land owner, entrepreneur – but not without struggle to overcome pushback from a male-dominated occupation and stereotypes of women’s role on the farm. As Emma said, “Even a Trent degree [in agriculture] is no guarantee you can enter farming.”
Participant Natasha Steward, also a Trent grad who is now a farmer, talked about the “neoliberal image of women that doesn’t include her on a tractor,” even though 34% of Canadian farmers are women. (Globally, 60-80% of non-industrialized farmers are women.) But on her tractor, Natasha loves knowing that she is feeding her local community from her small scale, local farm. This gives her joy and satisfaction greater than can be found in huge agri-biz where “community connection” is absent. But she believes that the landscape of industrialized, fossil-fuelled farming will change as women enter decision-making on their own land.
In equity of another kind, call participants who were or are Trent students noted happily that indigenous knowledge in farming is increasingly informing agricultural education at the university. e.g. the Indigenous Food Systems, Indigenous Knowledges courses.
Needless to say, cost of land is a huge barrier to entering farming. US groups are pushing for student debt forgiveness for those who enter farming. Long-term leases so farmers can add infrastructure without losing their investment were also suggested. Land Trusts too, though it was noted that locally, the Kawartha Land Trust (so far) does not have land that includes farming in its portfolio.
Entering agriculture isn’t always easy
Natasha called getting into agriculture a “two-sided coin:” education is a beginning but the costs of getting into farming are daunting. Other barriers arise for BIPOC would-be farmers.
Sacrificing a living wage to learn farming is often just too hard. Even full-season, paid internships may not pay a sufficient hourly rate. Long-term land leasing would also help.
The playing field must be levelled for equity using financial incentives, municipal and provincial policies, and by preserving/creating city green space through densification of housing construction. [See the Greenzine series on “Council of the Future and Councillor Cado”.]
Participants in the conversation were quick to agree that localization must be encouraged in response to mounting climate impacts, and that equity will enrich and diversify farming knowledge. The result will be food security for more people.
Clearly, the KWIC session showed that women in agriculture will bring new sensibility, determination, resourcefulness and creativity − essential ingredients in propelling agriculture in the direction of food security through the climate crisis.
Some other local resources that support local farmers/ing include:
- Farms At Work
- Sue Chan: “Guide to Conserving Native Pollinators in Ontario”
- Nourish Peterborough
- PKED for statistics about the local farming industry.