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Many hats, much stress

If anyone best understands the saying “the reward for work well done is the opportunity to do more,” it must surely be a woman farmer.

This is a part of a list of things women said they had to do first before they set out to attend last week’s Manitoba Farm Women’s Conference; move cattle, do book work, cook extra food, find child care, make to-do lists, wash clothes, clean the house, figure out why a basement was flooding, and organize a bon-spiel, a church supper and a baby shower.

Some also had to book time away from off-farm, full-time jobs.

It’s little wonder why so many women who farm also feel so stressed.

Women far outnumber men among callers to the Manitoba Farm and Rural Stress Line, says manager Janet Smith, who spoke at a conference workshop on how to find a better work-life balance.

“Many farm women experience high levels of stress leading to depressions, illness and relationship breakdown,” says Smith.

Many factors contribute. Farm and rural women are busy raising families and looking after aging parents at the same time they’re asked to do community volunteer work and serve as farm business partner.

At the same time, they’re often susceptible to intense social pressures, felt acutely in small towns, to meet every-one’s expectations. They live in geographically isolated places and must drive long distances. Many work off farm, often at jobs that don’t necessarily pay very well. They worry about farm finances and farm management.

Yet, in spite of it all, many wouldn’t trade their lives either, points out Smith.

A 2006 Status of Women study examining what keeps women farming and attracts them to agricultural professions, cites the workload, ironically enough, as a source of satisfaction. Many interviewed for this study – Farm Women and Canadian Agr icultural Policy – said they feel a sense of accomplishment in their work. “The variety of work on farms and challenge of doing many things is attractive as is the concrete satisfaction of seeing a job completed,” the study noted.

True, huge financial and personal investment also keeps women tied to farms, but other key themes emerged from that study as well. Overall, many women say they thrive living rurally. They appreciate the community and family life associated with living on farms, the study said. They feel close ties to the land and value being able to live surrounded by nature. They derive a sense of independence and self-sufficiency afforded by farm life, especially valuing being able to eat food they’d grown themselves.

Stress and dissatisfaction, arguably, sets in when access is barred to any these experiences by too much to do, or too much uncertainty.

One of the key ways women can regain more balance and control in their lives is by first establishing priorities and becoming clear about what they value most, Smith says. That makes it easier to say “no” to those things they get asked to do which don’t necessarily fit with those values and priorities.

She also advises learning relaxation methods and practising more diligent self-care. “If you don’t take care of yourself, all the people around you suffer too,” she said.

Chair of the 2008 conference, Joyce Ringrose-Wiebe, a foot-care nurse who retired from farming in 2000, said organizers tried to plan “picker-upper” workshops this year in order to help women cope with their demanding lives and changing roles. “Most farm and rural women are stressed out with what they do,” she said.

This is the 22nd conference, which has served since 1986 as a forum for discussion, networking and finding resources to become more effective farm partners.

A hundred and twelve women registered for the 2008 conference, with its theme Keep it Real, Keep it Rural.

The provincial government declared November 2 to 8 as Mani toba Farm and Rural Women’s Week in recognition of their contributions to agricultural and community life.

“Farm and rural women play a crucial role in the development and stability of rural areas,” said MAFRI Minister Rosann Wowchuk in a news release. “These women have become the centre of life in rural areas and are making vital contributions to society.”

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About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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