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  • I am an online content editor for Successful Farming/Agriculture.com and Living the Country Life, but my full-time job is raising three boys on a small farm in south-central Iowa.
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Women in the Room

by Heather_Barnes on ‎01-30-2015 11:03 AM



What are the challenges of being a woman in agriculture?


That’s the question I plan to pose to a group of women at a workshop I am facilitating this weekend. I can only begin to imagine the responses we will receive and wonder how many will mirror my own.


As I’ve been thinking about things I want to say in case the audience stays silent for a few minutes I started thinking about my own personal challenges of being a woman in agriculture.


What do I think is the biggest challenge?


Being a woman.


Let’s face it, agriculture is a man’s world.


Think about any commercial you have seen related to farming. The farmer is a man.


We hold an art contest each year for students in Kindergarden through fifth grade. Every year I receive entries that include drawings of farmers. Almost all the farmers are men.


I walked into the local farm equipment store one day looking for something specific. When I couldn’t find it I approached the service desk. I waited. And waited. Finally I got tired of waiting for the man working the desk to ask if I needed something so I spoke up. He answered my question and quickly dismissed me. Clearly he was to busy to talk to me. Let my husband walk in and that same man has all the time in the world.


This idea that agriculture is still a man's world has really struck me as I prepare for this week’s workshop. Where do I see the lines most clearly drawn? Meetings.


We are involved in several agricultural organizations. Most have workshops and business meetings. Those are clearly meant for the men. How do I know this? There is a separate agenda “For the Women” which usually includes shopping or a tour that is meant to cater to what are traditionally thought of as women’s interests.


I attended a meeting last week and during the morning announcements I heard the speaker say, “The men’s program is next door.” I did a double take. Oddly enough, as I sat in the “men’s program” I noticed a number of women also in the room.


No, I am not directly involved in the farm. I do not make any farming decisions. But I still want to learn the latest in food safety legislation, what insect or disease issues are on the horizon, what production practices may save time, labor or money on our farm or other things related to the actual practice of raising food.


Does this desire to learn more about the farm set me apart from other women? Surely I am not the only non-farming spouse who genuinely wants to know what is going on in agriculture.


I realize there are many women who don’t want to sit through workshops on the latest variety research or other farm matters. I don’t blame them. If I didn’t work in the industry I’m not sure if I would want to sit throughout those workshops either. And, to be completely honest, I have seen spouse’s tours that I would have loved to go on.


However, whether we stay at home and support our husbands, work off the farm and still support our husbands, or if we are actively farming with or without a husband, women are an important part of agriculture. Certainly important enough to deserve a program that includes something more educational than the latest fashions.

on ‎01-30-2015 11:31 AM

Heather, you know me pretty well..I think that MECHANISED agriculture has fallen mostly to men.  Women always had the truly TRADITIONAL, hand labor form all along, and still often do.  


Women also tend to seem to do the value- added, schmoozing the public kind of faming.  We work out better in the farrowing house as well...give empathy a nod there. 


My best anecdote about men and women and machine parts is illustrative of how my generation of women has been treated.  Mike sent me to a (now defunct, for good cause) equipment dealer, to pick up baler bearings.  

This was aboutt thirty years ago, so he had ascertained that the parts were there, charged to our store account, and would be waiting for me to simply pick up the bag.  I got the clerk who belonged on the Island of Misfit Toys. 


I told him there was a bag waiting, with Mike's name on it. He found the bag just fine, but for some peculiar reason, pulled out one boxed bearing, and asked me if that looked like my parts order.  I politely said, " If you take it out of the box, I can tell you." 


This clown turned and called out to the real parts guy, "Do you know about Mike Winn's parts order? His wife is here, and she says she doesn' t know anything about it...."  


Well, as the girls here in Carolna say, Hell flew into me.  I leaned over the counter and shouted, " I didn't say I didn't know anything about them, I said my damned parts were supposed to be waitng fo me in a bag!"  


At this point, the old guy waiting beside me at the counter said, " AMEN!"   

by Heather_Barnes
on ‎02-06-2015 05:14 AM

Great story Kay!  Great point about men doing the mechanized labor and women the hand labor.  I hadn't thought about it that way before but will give that some thought.