By Sherri Dugger
This is the blog I wanted to write last week. March 8 was International Women’s Day, and I began the day thinking I would write a little something about women’s work on the farm. Then I got to doing all my other work and never found time to write. Today, I will finally write. Today, it’s March 15.
Several months ago, a photographer contacted us for a story he wanted to do on our farm. During the initial emails exchanged, he suggested that my husband, Randy, and I “not stop work on the farm” for his visit, but that we should instead continue doing what we might normally do so that he could capture it on video. He went on to suggest that I might be cooking or canning, which would work well for the story.
I laughed out loud. Then I mentally forgave him his assumption about me because I am a woman. I ignored his suggestion, responded nicely, set up a date for him to visit, and got back to work—on my computer. The fact is sometimes I cook. Sometimes I can things. I’ve made sauces and salsas and jams and jellies. I’ve shucked corn and frozen it for the winter, canned tomatoes and pickled cucumbers and green beans. I’ve baked cookies and pies and muffins and breads. I even made a pretty good version of Aunt Daisy’s apple pies. I’ve frozen fresh herbs in oil because Pinterest told me I should, and I’ve made great use of the trio of slow cookers in our pantry. Sometimes dinners come from scratch. Other times, they arrive right out of the package.
But that’s not all I do.
I’m usually sitting at the computer or on the phone, or I’m off the farm at meetings and conferences. Sometimes, I’m out of state, and lately that’s been more often than not. And while I still cook and clean and fold laundry like a champ, my husband does that, too. This past year, I’ve added doctor appointments and time for self-care into my schedule. And I have other goals for the coming year. I want to read more books. I want to spend more time sitting quietly and watching the sun rise. I want to hug on the animals more. I want repeated sunny afternoons exploring the Hoosier countryside with my husband. Some days, I just want to commune with nature, get dirt under my nails, slow down and breathe.
Running a farm takes a ton of work. We have a super small farm. Some would refer to it as a homestead. But the animals, the barns, the sheds, and the house all need constant upkeep, no matter what you call it. During the spring and summer months, Randy readies our garden and builds things, like barns, garages, and greenhouses. With the garden and the greenhouse going in the summer, we add watering and feeding plants to our to-do lists. And we attempt to control the weeds.
I use the word “attempt” because usually, by mid-summer, we’ve lost that battle. One visitor last summer rightfully suggested that we were “farming” weeds. They say getting old isn’t for sissies. I say managing a farm isn’t, either.
Not only do farmers grow food, raise animals, and tend to the land, but they also must market and promote their operations, seek out customers, build relationships, find new markets to sell their products, and handle a slew of business tasks—like recordkeeping, bookkeeping, and getting insurance, etc. There is equipment maintenance to be done, along with phone calls to answer, emails to write and blogs to post. I do as much of this as I can, but in the past year, thanks to our membership with Indiana Farmers Union and my work for the union, I’ve become more passionate about being a farm advocate than I am about being an actual farmer. Somewhere along the way, I realized we could effect more change for local food systems through advocacy, rather than by simply selling jars of jam. And I am absolutely loving my time spent with seasoned food system lobbyists and family farm advocates.
So, I dedicate my days to working for National Farmers Union and Indiana Farmers Union. I’ve also picked up consulting work. Each of these gigs allows me to network with other agricultural organizations and leaders. Each helps me to do my other jobs better. And with each, I’m talking about the same things: competitive markets and fair prices for family farmers, environmental sustainability, animal welfare and strong local food systems. I get to spend my days working for three incredible organizations. I feel luckier than ever.
That’s not to say I don’t cherish the time on our small farm. I want our property to serve as a place for discussion, as a respite from the city for our urban friends, as a place for learning and as a testimony to the important part that agriculture plays in our lives and our communities. We will keep building out our farm. We will continue to explore the types of things we can do with the land. For now, each day is different here. And that, I would suggest, is a little bit of its beauty.
Life on the farm for a woman is not just about cooking and canning. As it turned out, I really liked the guy who suggested such a thing. I enjoyed his visit and loved the piece he produced on our farm. Also, as it turned out, I wasn’t cooking or canning when he came to visit.
Sherri Dugger serves as the Media and Outreach Director for Indiana Farmers Union. Ask her about the Beginning Farmer Institute, about the Females Farming Forward female farmer chapter under the Indiana Farmers Union or how the farm bill, which is the single most important legislation regarding food and farming in the United States, affects everyone. For more information. Watch a video. Sign a petition. #FarmBillNow
Email Sherri at email@example.com.