Last January, The Husband and I attended the NC Farm Bureau Young Farmer and Rancher Convention in Durham, and I went to a session about Women in Ag. I'd hoped it would be a collaborative session where women in ag could come together and talk about shared experiences and how we can unite our voice to get the changes we want made into reality. To an extent it was, but I guess I just didn't get what I wanted out of it. Listening to the other women complain about their situations (which is pretty much all they did. It was a regular *itch-fest) did get me thinking about mine and I thought this would be the perfect platform for me to talk about it. I've tried to write it a dozen times and it's never seemed to come out right, but I saw a post on Twitter the other day (follow me! @ofcinc) about women running farms and women working in agriculture and they called them FarmHers and it reminded me about this post. Maybe I can get it right this time.
I come from a farming family. Both sets of grandparents farmed, for a time at least, and in both couples the women worked on the farm just like the men did (except really it was twice as hard because they had to come home and cook and wash and garden and take care of kids). In my Husbands family too, his dad's parents owned the farm we call home now and his grandma worked probably harder than his granddaddy. In those days, farms were smaller. Most of the time your own family tended your own family's land. Neighbors would help each other plant and harvest crops. Women were just as big of a part of that as men. That generation is not that far removed from ours, yet it seems like ancient history compared to the world we live in now. The Husband remembers his grandma teaching him to loop tobacco (they'd hang it on poles in the 'pack house' to dry and cure, and they'd 'loop' it together with twine to keep it on the stick). My grandma tells stories of helping my granddaddy. It's just what you did. You saw a job that needed doing and you did it. Then the world changed. New technologies made things better and more efficient. The world became smaller and more urbanized. People started getting off-farm jobs and moving to the city to be closer to them. Farms got bigger due to mechanization and greater effienceny (in the 50's the average farmer could feed 25 or so people, now it's 155), also it took more land to support a family. Now the family and even the neighbors family wasn't enough to plant and harvest and people were hired. Women weren't needed on the farm (and they had more choices; they could buy clothes in stores, have children when they wanted, have outside jobs) so they moved back to 'just' taking care of the house and the kids or having that outside job and the modern interpretation of a 'farmers wife' was born'.
I was lucky enough to have grown up in a family where both genders were equal. No one said to me I was worse or better than anyone else. My mama always told me I could be anything I wanted to be and at the time I really can't remember what I thought when she said that (I CAN say though, it was NOT 'I want to be a farmer'!) but now I appreciate it, especially since I have a little girl of my own (and let me let you she's a spitfire just like her father hoped. I'd love for someone to tell her she couldn't...based on what she tells me when I tell her that whoever does is going to be kicking a hornets nest). I combine that with the role model of my Aunt Patricia, who ever since I can remember has worked on the farm alongside my Uncle Pat. She drives trucks and tractors and takes care of the hogs just like he does. I add in the other farming wives I know, those who have direct involvement somehow and those who don't. Lastly I throw in what I've always seen my family do, if a job needs doing you do it. That's how I was raised. So when The Husband wanted to raise strawberries, I saw a job needing doing and it did it. That's what I wanted to tell those women at the conference who wanted to get in there and help their husbands. If you want to be a bigger part of the farm, if you want to get your hands dirty, get in there and do it. It doesn't matter if you're a girl or not. Do it. When you count your own self out you're no better than the nay-sayers.
Last fall, The Husband took a public job. We stopped raising row crops and decided to focus solely on agri-tourism, and it would be pretty much solely my job to run that. I can't say it's been an easy transition. For the most part I was already doing the things I do now, I just had someone sort of around to help me get them done. I don't anymore, not on a regular everyday basis. The strawberry season wasn't bad. The CSA has been stressful, but rewarding because I've proven to myself I can do it. We'll see what the fall season brings. When I get discouraged, I just try to look at my FarmHer role models and take a lesson from them, or look at my kids. I want there to be a Odom Farming Company around for them to take over (at some point I'll have to retire right? Don't laugh, a girl can dream!). I think what we're doing for agriculture is important, I think educating the public about real farming practices and real farms is important, I think the experiences we provide and the memories we help make are worth it, and it's a job that needs doing. Looks like I'll be the one doing it.