At the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Conference in Toronto last month I was asked the question by a young woman in the audience. I responded, “yes, for the most part I do,” then continued to elaborate as to why I felt this way.
In many of the circles I frequent day-to-day, whether it be at work or with friends, I am as much a farmer as my parents, brothers, and my farming friends (real and online). In fact, I may be the only “farmer” they know. Many farmers likely have friends like this. My friends don’t know so much about the specifics of farming, but they know I do and if they want to know about dairy or grain farming, I’m the person they ask. They definitely don’t care that my income is not derived from the farm. Some have visited our farm after knowing how much I care about it, and they saw the same passion in my family. For them, knowledge and passion might be enough to justify why I fit the term.
Yet, for farmers it seems to be different. It feels like there are those among us that believe unless you earn your living from the land directly, you don’t “deserve” to call yourself a farmer. It leads to an “impostor syndrome” of its own. Even if I work with farmers in my job, if my family is all farming, I spend most weekends there, helping in the barn or field, I read almost exclusively about the agriculture industry and think of nearly nothing else; I am not a farmer in the eyes of other farmers.
Why do we do this to each other? Is it because we think you must have “skin in the game” to truly understand or care about the industry? Or are we just scared? Scared those who have time to commit to an industry may indeed make an impact and cause it to change? Status quo is so comfortable and farmers are often so busy with the day-to-day, there is little time to challenge it.
This is exactly why my family has empowered me to speak on their behalf. I’m not on the farm everyday and if I was, I couldn’t do what I do or it would be exceptionally harder. For more reasons than just having the time too; physically, our farm is located further from the “hub” of Ontario agriculture than many others are and rural broadband can be unreliable. My parents also taught us to do what we love and for me, it’s all about talking – public speaking, networking, socializing, debating. I love them all. I’m not sure our cows nor my brothers would care for me to be at the farm everyday. Usually, they’re done listening to me after a weekend.
At the end of the day, “farmer” is still a label. It’s more than an occupation, because it also encompasses a lifestyle and a connection to the land many of us will never shake, but it is still a label. For me, it’s more important I uphold the values which were instilled in me growing up on a farm and do work which betters the lives of farmers I grew up with and the community I grew up in. This betterment could take many forms, but if my talents are used to their fullest by telling my farm story and speaking up for other farmers in pursuit of common goals, isn’t that what’s more important anyway? The income stream is just a means to achieve a goal and should not define who we are.