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Unwritten farm expectations

Where is it written that good farm women grow gardens?

Where is it written that farm women have to grow a garden?

Susan Forward who authored Emotional Blackmail has a handy tool for challenging the way things have always been done by saying: “Where is it written?”… _____________. You fill in the blank for the unwritten rule or expectation that you are challenging.

Large farm vegetable gardens: “Where is it written that in order to be a good farm woman you need to grow a garden? Well, that comment by me in front of 300 women in Saskatoon lit a Twitter fire. It is 2018, and there is good food available down the road at the local farmers’ market, the neighbour who has a bountiful garden, and the grocery store that is open seven days a week. Women and men who hate gardening would be wise to let that go.

Just for the record, I like to garden, and I just planted my 37th garden this spring.

My goal is to have you reflect on updating your expectations for the many roles you keep adding to your job list on your farm, whether you are male or female. It might be time to communicate expectation adjustments with your spouse.

The “clean” house. What is workable for the family to function well, and what tasks can be shared by the kids, the other spouse? More young mothers are hiring cleaners, yet some of them are being judged as being lazy. If you have off-farm income and are managing a full line of household duties, you might want to hire help. If you are a stay-at-home mom, you also may want to hire help to help your mental wellness if you are feeling overwhelmed. Or you may want to let go of perfection. I am just saying the cleanliness of the house needs to be negotiated as your stage of family life and the farm life demands may mean adjustments in expectations need to be made. I also recommend picking flooring that is the same colour as dried mud. This is why my back doormat is grey.

Homemade pies and other baking. Farmers love pie. I buy pumpkin pie for under $4 at my CO-OP, the only grocery store in town, and I don’t feel guilty that it is not homemade. When homemade pie is on my plate I am truly grateful to the loving hands that fashioned it (sometimes mine). No one can make you feel guilty without your consent. So, if you’re not a baker, don’t feel guilty about it! I keep a jar of almonds as a snack for my spouse who loves the convenience of nuts when he is famished.

Writing Christmas cards and thank-you notes. I love to get snail mail. I am a writer and love the power of words, especially ones that you can savour in handwritten notes. You do have the time to say thank you to your in-laws or text your friends. Do it. However you choose to express appreciation is a great building block for more respect and harmony on your farm. Say thanks. You are not required to write Christmas cards in order to be well thought of. Do what works for what time you have to spend. Comparing your Pinterest posts will steal your joy. Do what works for the time you have to spend, and what your financial budget accommodates.

Where is it written that children can only be cared for by their parents? Some farm grandparents are longing for more grandchild time, and some have too much. Again, communication of your realistic expectations for times with childcare is your call. Ask for what you need and be clear about what is workable for you at this stage of your life. Young moms can barter childcare with other young moms. It is not a sign of weakness to ask for help. With larger equipment it is important to keep child safety a priority regardless of who is driving. Many young moms are operating large equipment and could use more daycare options or a nanny.

Ironing for me is relaxing, but I typically only iron dress shirts and napkins. Yes, I use cloth napkins and do not purchase paper towels. I like cloth rags, too. Boomers may still iron jeans, but not me. I have fond memories of ironing tea towels for my farm mom, but that is gone now with use of Norwex towels! I think it’s helpful to question why you do the things you do, and understand that “different is not wrong, it is just different.”

“No farm work for the newlywed and beyond!” I am seeing some conflicts in the farm family dynamic where the female manager of the household is not willing or wanting to be part of the farm business or its demands. There is a strong culture in agriculture that farm women are to be supportive of the farm’s activities in all seasons. What if the young woman who is your daughter-in-law decides that she puts enough time in helping with the cash flow with her off-farm job, and she says she is “not married” to the farm. Yikes. There is lots of urgency here to talk about role expectations. If it is a perfect night to be out in the sprayer doing crop protection, it is not reasonable to demand that the sprayer operator be home by 7 p.m. to be with the family at the lake for fun. The timeliness of farm operations has to be balanced with the family’s need for fun time, with common sense. This is the trend in agriculture that needs more discussion. Hopefully the new couple has had pre-marriage counselling to iron out what cultural values of their farm operation they plan to embrace. If you are the father-in-law who is frustrated about new roles in the next generation, then you would be wise to call a family meeting to discuss expectations in an open, respectful manner.

Keeping the woman’s name off the assets. This unwritten rule rears up on the land maps when it becomes obvious that the farm woman does not have her name on farm assets. How did she let this happen? The fear of divorce is driving this practice. It is important that you understand your legal rights as a spouse who farms. Come from curiosity to discover how your voice can be part of the decision-making team on your farm if you feel that the unwritten rule is, “we keep the women out of the farm business.”

What’s the unwritten expectation on your farm?

About the author


Elaine Froese is a Manitoba 150 Woman Trailblazer. She is passionate to guide farm families to find harmony through understanding. Her mission is for you to have rich relationships on your farm. Visit to learn more and book her for speaking engagements at



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