Women in Farming

 

By David Szanto, Ph.D.

In many parts of the world, evidence shows that female farmers face more hurdles than their male counterparts. This is generally related to systemic sexism, including challenges to acquiring financing and land, which make it harder to first enter agriculture and then make a living at it. But more ingrained issues, such as access to education, often limit women from achieving their full potential. Furthermore, when it comes to the networks that enable the transportation and trade of agricultural products, female farmers often get shut out.

Here in Quebec, however, the political and economic gaps between men and women have been reduced, largely due to progressive social attitudes. While perfect equality is yet to be realized, some signs suggest that the future of québécois agriculture has a decidedly female quality.

Stéphanie Wang is among the new generation who have decided to enter into farming as a full-time profession. Born in Montreal, and having trained, worked, and volunteered in agriculture, she now operates Le Rizen, a farm near Frelighsburg. “It may be cliché to say, but I think women take a more sensitive and reasoned approach to farming,” she says. “There’s a lot of personal knowledge you have to invest in it, as well as professional skills and resources. But there’s not a lot of economic payoff, so our reasons for continuing on have to be about environmental values and ideals.”

Researchers who study labour often agree with this kind of interpretation, recognizing that different kinds of work are differently “gendered.” In other words, women often think about the relationships that are involved in a particular task, rather than taking a more find-the-solution approach. While this is not true for every individual, it is a pattern that appears in many societies, because of the ways in which we are raised.

“I’ve heard a theory that when men invest in a given sector, working conditions and salaries improve. But it’s not the same for women,” Wang goes on to say. “Maybe that’s because women invest in businesses with less regard for economics, but in any case, we choose agriculture today because of the life it enables us to have, and the connections between nature and the rhythm of the seasons. At the same time, we need to listen to each other and share our needs and challenges when it comes to farming.”

Here in Quebec, social and professional networks among female farmers are helping to do just that. The cooperative Le terroir solidaire and the youth and women’s committee of the National Farmers Union provide resources and connection-making encouragement, while organizations like Femmessor help female entrepreneurs with financing services and support. Such efforts can help counter the residues of systemic sexism while also sharing new ideas and new understandings of farming.

For her part, Stéphanie Wang offers some very tangible advice to prospective farmers: go get some experience, spend multiple seasons on different farms, get some training in agronomy and farm management, and take advantage of MAPAQ’s many programs. Just don’t forget the personal, too. As she says, “there is something very poetic, fundamental, and visceral in this work.”

David SzantoDavid Szanto is a Montreal-based food researcher, consultant and long-time contributor to this magazine. In 2015, he earned a PhD in gastronomy from Concordia University, the first of its kind.

 

Spring 2020, Vol 12 N°2

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Women’s Health

Spring 2020
Vol 12 N°2

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