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Women swap farm life stories at Ag Days

“I was always taught that being a woman is not a disadvantage in this business.”

– CHARLOTTE CRAWLEY, CLANWILLIAM-AREA FARMER

When Charlotte Crawley chose to start farming with her father in 2005 she knew what she was in for – mostly.

She absolutely wanted to farm. But could she handle the physical work?

There’s no shortage of it on the family’s Clanwilliam-area mixed farm which, at that time, had 500 grass-fed cattle, 1,800 acres of grainland and 500 acres of pasture.

Three years later, Crawley has bought all her own cattle – 250 head of feeder steers which she manages and markets entirely on her own.

It’s been three years of very hard hard, and, at times, very frustrating experiences figuring out how to handle the sheer physical demands of her job, she told a seminar hosted by the Southwest Farm Women’s Network at Ag Days last week.

But she’s done it. Moreover, Crawley said she’s thriving as a young farmer preparing to take over as the fourth generation of their farm.

“I’m living the dream,” she said.

Crawley earned a BSc. in agriculture at University of Manitoba and worked in Alberta as a CFIA inspector and process manager at a custom feedlot in Alberta before making the decision to return to the family farm three years ago.

Her parents always encouraged her to farm, telling her that being female was no barrier, she said.

“I was always taught that being a woman is not a disadvantage in this business.”

Nonetheless, the tenacious 27-year-old admits the very nature of farm work – labour intensive and very demanding physically – has been her biggest challenge.

“Physical strength is a weak point of mine,” she told the seminar. To compensate she’s learned instead to work smart, adapting jobs and matching skills to it so that she is now able to do even very labour-intensive work. She’s also honed her mechanical skills, which, she says, she had lacked three years ago. “I can now do many things I could not before,” she said.

She recently took a baler apart, replaced parts and put the whole thing back together. “I don’t know who was more pleased about that, me or my dad,” she said.

Crawley knows she’s somewhat of an anomaly, being a woman this wholly involved in the management and day-by-day work of a farm.

Many farm women also put in many hours of direct labour on the farm, while parenting, working off-farm jobs, and managing households.

Women of Crawley’s generation are much more likely than a previous one to be out doing field work and making farm management decisions.

The Canadian Farm Family at Work, a study released in 2003 by the National Farmer’s Union (NFU) on types and total hours of farm work put in by men and women farmers, shows there has been considerable “blurring” between gender roles over a generation.

Farm women today are also much more likely to earn a paycheque through part-or full-time off-farm jobs, while balancing all the demands of raising young families at the same time.

That’s the experience of Brandon and Minnedosa farm wives Carlie Whetter and Frances Erven. Times of seeding and harvest put huge demands on farm women, who are left alone to manage everything else, the two women said.

“I do find being a farm woman stressful,” said Erven, a mother of a three-year-old. The stress springs from having to manage alone when her husband’s attention must focus on the farm. “There is a single-parent season on the farm,” said Erven.

Whetter, who has two preschoolers, said she’s learned to adapt family life and their personal lives around the heavy demands of the farm, which keep her husband very busy. She’s learned to always be prepared for quick changes of plans, Whetter said.

“I always try to be half-ready,” she said, “which means I can be ready in a few hours but I’m not completely packed.”

Crawley said the work farm women do gets very little recognition.

“They get neither the credit nor the paycheque they deserve. It’s what I call the farm-wife factor,” she said.

“After all, the position of a farm wife actually refers to bookkeeper, child-care provider, parts girl, chauffeur, cook, cattle handler, rodeo clown, combine driver, maid service, laundry lady, and complaint department.”

“Now that’s a challenging job description,” she added.

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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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