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Editor’s Column: Finding your own path on the farm

Over at Country Guide, sister publication to Grainews, editor Tom Button has run a three-part series on women in agriculture, written by Anne Lazurko. This series is getting a lot of online attention, particularly in ag women’s forums. I’m paying attention — not only because I’m a woman on a farm, and not just because Anne Lazurko is a friend whose farm is nearby, but because I’m always looking to see how other people have solved the same problems I have.

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The women Anne interviewed for this series have all kinds of different views about women in agriculture. That’s not surprising. I have about seven different views myself and I’m just one person.

This series is worth a read. Go look it up right now. I’ll wait.

For me, there are two important parts to this discussion. The first is the part about women working in the ag industry. There are barriers, and there’s room for improvement, but looking at the sheer number of women I’m seeing at industry meetings, I think we’re making progress.

The second is the part about women who are part of family farms — either because they bought a farm, inherited a share of a farm or married a farmer. For now, let’s talk about those of us in this boat. There are a lot of Grainews readers riding the waves with me.

There are a million ways for women to be part of a family farm. You can own the farm and run it all yourself. Or you can leave the farm worries to your partner and live in town (although unless the farm is near the city, you’ll likely have a longer drive to Starbucks and a decent bookstore than you might prefer). There’s a lot of space between these two extremes. Pick any point on the line between them and you’ll find a farm woman who’s found a way to live that life. Probably a woman who lives not too far from you.

How lucky are we to live in a time when “farm women” can be so many different things? A long chain of women before us would have been thrilled just to have a microwave oven. But with all these options comes responsibility: we have to figure out how we’re going to structure our lives to include a farm.

Every farm woman I know has found her own unique way to be a farmer or live with one. No matter where you fall on the spectrum, we have things in common. We drive a lot, whether we live in town and drive to the farm or we have to trek to town for groceries. We’re involved in a family business with a complicated management structure (anything including in-laws is usually complicated). There’s a large financial investment, whether it’s ours, our partner’s or a mixture of both. And we’re mixed up in operations that require long, unpredictable, working hours with unstable financial returns.

No wonder this thing is tricky.

Thinking of an off-farm career? You’ve got some hurdles. How about childcare? I don’t mean to say farmers are unreliable, but you don’t see many at after-school pickup on a good combining day in late September. Commuting is the next hurdle. First, there’s finding a job you like within driving distance of the farm. Then there’s actually driving to that job on a blizzardy day in January, or that one sunny day in July when the farmer finally has a free day to go to the lake.

Want to run for the board of directors? You’ve still got the childcare and the driving. Now find time to do all the background reading and make all the phone calls required for this unpaid job.

There are more than a million ways for a farm woman to organize her life. My life on the farm with this job only works because Glacier FarmMedia has been tremendously flexible. I’ve answered emails from freelance writers while I was in line for parts at the Case IH dealership. I’ve taken a conference call while I waited to pick up fertilizer. My husband has also been flexible, cooking and chauffeuring during the winter conference season. Back in 2002, I wouldn’t have predicted this, but it seems to work.

Every farm woman has found her own way to be part of the farm. Every farm setup has different challenges, and every woman comes to the farm with unique assets and ideas. There is no right or wrong way to do this. We all need to forge our own paths and help each other walk them. Thanks for starting this discussion, Country Guide. Let’s keep it going.

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