Tuesday 15 March 2011

Women and Farming.

Your comments on the farming blog I did over the weekend are interesting. Some women loved the beasts and said it was a good job women didn't go to market as we would like to make pets of them all; others said that it was a prejudice to discourage women from going. So I thought I would tell you what I feel is the situation regarding women and farming.

I can only speak for the countryside around North Yorkshire, where we live - but I suspect the same applies to all rural areas. There are a few women who attend the Auction Marts now, because there are some women who farm themselves, or are in partnership with their husbands; but as I see it the definition of roles in farming remains the same as it has done for generations. Maybe it is changing a little, but that change is slow.

And the roles seem to be divided thus:-

The man works the land, feeds the stock, sells and buys, maintains the machinery, does the heavy work around the farm.

The woman 'keeps house', cooking the meals, generally keeping the household in order, rearing the children, perhaps keeping hens or something along these lines.

You may well read this and feel it cannot possibly be still like this, it is all too archaic. But having talked to our Insurance Broker, who travels around many farms in the area this seems to be his view:-

Prices are low a lot of the time and the price of straw, silage and hay is usually high so there is often little profit to be made. From that profit the machinery of the farm - the tractors, the balers, the cattle equipment, as well as the vet's fees - all these have to be paid before there is any spare cash. Our Broker feels that this is one reason why the women round here no longer want to marry a farmer.
There is rarely spare money for dishwashers, modern kitchen equipment, big holidays, nice furniture and the like.

Now, whether this is true or not I don't know. But what I can tell you is that our farm is surrounded by farmers who are not married. Lovely men in their forties or early fifties who just have never found a wife. In most cases the parents are still alive but I look at these lovely men and think that in a few years time they are going to be on their own. Also I do know of two local young men in their twenties who thought they had found the right girl, only to be told by the girl that they would only marry them if they came out of farming, as it was too hard a life.

It is a sad situation - and I really can't begin to think of a solution. Any ideas?


jeanette from everton terrace said...

This makes me sad. I think there are probably plenty of women out there who would love a kind and honest farmer. Sounds like a hard life (what life doesn't have challenges?) but a wonderful place to raise children. Perhaps a calendar featuring your lovely bachelor farm men??? I bet you'd hear from women far and wide.

Acornmoon said...

Do you remeber when Country Living Magazine ran a feature "The Farmer wants a wife"? Maybe they should do it again. It seems very shortsighted to me that we do not seem to want to grow more of our own food. If those farms go out of business what then?

Tess Kincaid said...

I don't have any close friends or family who farm, although my town is in the middle of Ohio farm country. I would venture to say the situation is very similar here.

Heather said...

That is very sad Pat. Are young women these days so mercenary? I may be an old romantic, but if I had fallen for a farmer I wouldn't want to take him away from the life and work he loved. There are many other professions with anti-social hours and conditions, and nice though it is to have money, it isn't everything. The magazine 'Country Living' has run a campaign in recent years called 'The Farmer Wants a Wife' and had a very successful response. Perhaps they will do so again.

Titus said...

Interesting Weaver. Obviously we are a land of farmers here, and the vast majority are married with children. They also seem to be amongst the wealthiest members of the community, which is one big difference from you. Two of my closest friends are farmer's wives (and a neat split - one husband is a dairy farmer, and one a hill farmer, so sheep mainly) and they do have much more 'traditional' marriages than me. Perhaps because I saw my own mother burdened by a husband in a similar line of work, who would not lift a finger in the house, I steered very clear of it myself!
However, theirs is the two-car, hairdresser, beauty salon and foreign holiday lifestyle - which we could never manange, and my husband earns a good wage and my part-time earnings are not bad.
So what am I concluding? In my heart-of-hearts, I suspect it's more the old-fashioned attitudes and inequality that puts women off marrying into the farming fraternity, rather than the lifestyle itself.

Anonymous said...

There's a small livestock farm in the next village along from us and as far as I can make out from passing it twice a day, it's run by a woman farmer. I'd guess she's in her sixties by her bob of thick grey hair. She drives a great big Massey-Ferguson front-loader, taking bales to the fields and I've seen her round the sheds with her stock, but I've never seen anyone else helping out. I'm inspired by this post, Pat, to find out more and report back!

Elizabeth said...

I think farming is a very hard life --know it is -- but how super to be in touch with the land and animals and growing things.
My dream is to have a Marie- Antoinette, Petit Trianon, play farm with a goat, a sheep, duck etc etc.
I would need a nice Berber couple to tend to the above and I would swan around dead-heading roses and so on.
Surely there are nice girls out there who would like to marry farmers?
Keep us posted!

Hildred said...

I understand what you are saying, Weaver. After seeing the way the depression affected those in my family who farmed I vowed I would never marry a farmer. Well, - along came Charles and all my objections flew away with the wind!! I don't imagine that is a remedy for the situation (after all, he is only one man...) I have to admit he is helpless in the house, - an outcome of the long hours he worked on the farm, but I have never felt restricted and I couldn't have chosen a more perfect place to bring up our children.

Gwil W said...

There's a regular TV series in Austria called 'Bauer sucht Frau' (i.e Farmer looks for Wife). I never watched it but I thinkthe idea is that single women can phone in if they like the idea of meeting up with one of the farmers featured each week. I don't know what the success rate is!

Dartford Warbler said...

Our nearest small farm is run by a young woman who inherited it from her father. She was married for a short while, but her husband sadly died and now she carries on, single handed, as a farmer and a New Forest commoner. I have rarely seen someone who works as hard as she does. She is an inspiration.

On a practical note, women who love horses often make happy farmers wives. They enjoy country life and are used to being out in all weathers, doing all sorts of jobs that go with animal husbandry. Maybe your single farmers should contact the chat sites that go with some of the horse magazines ( like Horse and Rider) or the horse training websites ( like Intelligent Horsemanship - Kelly Marks` organisation). Most of the young women on those sites are not in the least bothered about designer handbags, so long as they can afford the next load of hay!

angryparsnip said...

I think for many years it was all about the corporate job. Go to University put on a suit, work in a big office building, be a doctor or lawyer.
Making lots of money but spending a lot too to live the life style.

Not everyone is cut out to work in an office.

We are losing the people who work in the service industry.
A Handyman who can come to your home an complete a job is worth his weight in gold where I live plumbers too !
We need the mechanics, welders electricians, engineers.

Farmers and Ranchers we need them. I think and hope that people are coming to their senses and making another choice and maybe a better choice for them.

cheers, parsnip

Cloudia said...

gosh the world is in such a turmoil.

Warm Aloha & Gratitude from Honolulu!

Comfort Spiral



Pondside said...

How sad. You'd think that life on a farm would be attractive in this time of uncertainty. Land is the best investment - for a family or a country. It's a shame that so many farmers here sell out and then the farms go into housing tracts.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Yes, it is sad because I personally think farming is a lovely life and - as Hildred says - a lovely placed to bring children up. I don't think it is all the fault of the girls though. The men work so hard that "courting" is very limited. At certain times of the year (haymaking, silaging, harvesting etc.) the men work very long hours and there will be no going out with your girl friend. I suppose a really keen girl would go on to the farm and maybe help so that she saw the farmer - but some girls don't wish to do that.
There is no doubt that it is quite a hard life but it is a fulfilling one too.
Thank you for contributing to the debate.

MorningAJ said...

I grew up in a farming area and knew a lot of farm 'daughters' as well as sons. Not a single one of them wanted to stay in farming and they all wanted to marry almost anyone BUT a farmer. I figured if they'd seen how it was and didn't want anything to do with it they knew better than I did.

Of course I ended up marrying a publican - long hours, no holidays, no spare money for funiture for us (only the pub), leftovers for dinner from whatever didn't sell in the restaurant AND you had to be nice to everyone who came in - even if they were rude, smelly and offensive.

I divorced him!

Gwil W said...

Every year since 1999 I have taken my holidays on a farm in the Austrian Lake District - the Salzkammergut. It's a dairy farm. The husband mucks out. His wife milks the cows. The grandmother feeds the chickens. The children help with the B&B facilities, and the little boy, not so little anymore, helps the farmer - and thereby learns the trade. They, like you, are in a lovely spot. They have a good life. They work very hard. Three generations in one place. You don't often see that. It's a good feeling to be privileged to share it for one or two weeks in the year.

PS Pat - Nothing to do with your post but a strange thing I should mention as I type this I hear that as Gaadafi masses his forces for his final attack what suddenly happens? God (or someone) sends a huge sandstorm. Things like this make me pause and think. And now I think of the Red Sea and the Egyptians.

It's really all very strange what is going on at the moment.

Crafty Green Poet said...

The only farmer I know personally in Scotland is a woman! She's a dynamo and has loads of ideas for creating additional revenue, her farm has a wonderful small conference centre which is for hire and also hosts craft workshops and the like, she's also really dedicated to wildlife so the new barn was built with a swallow hotel in it. She's not married though....

thousandflower said...

It's not just women. These days it is hard to find anyone who wants to farm. It's really a class issue isn't it. The aristocrats have always sat back and let the work be done by others. And now we all want to be aristocrats. In the past we have had slaves or serfs or peasants or servants and today in this country illegal aliens to do the hard work necessary to life. We have theoretically progressed beyond slaves but today we want the hard work to be done by people in or from the third world or by machines. We are willing to trash the whole planet through global climate change or radiation to avoid hard work and getting our hands dirty. We have an obesity epidemic and we would rather go to the gym than dig up a garden and we can't even get out of our cars to walk to the store.

All this is dependent on cheap and abundant fossil fuel and that is coming to an end whether we like it or not. I worry all the time about my children and grandchildren who will be facing a world where they are going to have to once again get their hands dirty and they aren't going to like it and they don't have the skills to do it.

I am both a farmer and a farmer's wife. I am not young, I am 67. At the end of a day I am dirty, sweaty and my back hurts. But I stand and look at the plants that I grow and know that my time, my energy, my life has been well spent.

ChrisJ said...

A fascinating blog and comments on a topic that I only know about as an observer. It seems wonderful to live and work on a farm, away from crowds and out and about with animals, fields, trees, flowers and crops. But even I know it's a hard life. It has its compensations, but I doubt I could have ever made the grade. I admire all you hardworking and hardy folk. You deserve every break you get.