Being a ‘Real’ Farmer: CSA ’18 – Week #18, Oct. 3rd
Last season on one hot June afternoon, my Dad stopped by the farm. I was driving our large Kubota tractor. He walked up to say hello and peek inside, and then exclaimed, “Look at you, you’re a real farmer now!”
Inside, I cringed. This was my 14th season farming. So why was I suddenly a “real” farmer now? Oh right, because I was driving a tractor.
There is a very obvious gender divide that hits most farming families I know. The men are point on all things equipment related; the women are point on all things office related. And while both may work in the field, be heavily involved in decision-making, and/or employee management, it is often only the man who is referred to as the farmer by others.
Even my own dad, a proud father of two women and four grand-daughters fell into this trap.
How can it be that a woman isn’t considered a farmer unless she’s driving a tractor?
For many years I broiled inside at every time I would be standing next to my husband and discussion of farming would be directed at him and him only. Or little kids would innocently call him Farmer Mike while they called me Mama Cassie. Even past employees would email us with farming questions only addressed to Mike.
These cumulative slights, these unknowing acknowledgements of my invisibility, started to chip away at me and my sense of identity. It seemed the only people who considered me a farmer were the other farmers’ wives, who know all too well that farming is so very much more than driving tractors. But I so wanted my identity to the outside world to be one of a farmer, and it was frustrating that to most circles I was a farmer’s wife instead.
A couple of years ago, Mike and I were asked to do a talk at a conference about quality of life issues in farming. In part of our talk, we openly and honestly discussed the invisibility I struggled with. We were amazed at how many women nodded in agreement to what we were talking about. One farmer (female, in case your brain auto-piloted to male) called it the ‘farmer’s wife’ syndrome.
At our farm, Mike and I have actively worked together to share more of the responsibilities that come with being a stereotypical, or ‘real’ farmer. I now drive a Hydro 84 tractor to run our transplant team. I’ve recently learned to drive our two-row cultivating tractor. I drive trailers, box trucks, skid steers. I operate our larger Kubota to pull cultivating equipment, mowers, and harvesters.
I feel much more like a farmer than I ever did. I know how to operate big, loud things that move huge loads.
Today, as I unstacked two pallet bins of peppers with the skid steer, I felt that little boost of pride and identity that driving equipment gives me. And then I realized, I had bought in to all the farming gender traps too. Similar to what my Dad said, I finally feel like a real farmer now that I can operate tractors.
I’m happy that I now fully feel a farmer as my identity. But I’m saddened that I never could fully feel or own that identity B.T. (before tractors), despite all the hard work and sweat I put in.
Until we expand our definition of what being a farmer means, those of us with traditionally female roles on farms have to choose between invisibility or learning how to do the traditional male roles on farms before anyone, including ourselves, will consider us farmers.