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Women farmers & Farm Wives

Is modern Western-European farming still a man's job?

· Inspiration

So far, seven out of the nine farms were inherited from father to son. The two farms that had only daughters had no succession; all potential successors are boys. In 3 three farms the women worked 100 % at the farm; in four or five others they had a par-time role. The women working outside the farm, all worked in some kind of care role. I saw one 17 years old trainee [with Simon, the dairy farmer] from an Agricultural College, with no farmer-parents, who was eager to be a farmer… and that was a girl!

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Wendy, 17 years old, wants to be a dairy farmer


Farming is heavy work, in spite of all machinery. Even the coupling and decoupling of machines often involves physical power. Heavy machinery needs technical interest and capabilities to fix problems. It’s not to say that women couldn’t do it but apparently, even in modern farming, it is not their first choice.

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One of the boys' sleeping rooms I stayed in filled with tractors

Is farming a man’s job? Physical work, long hours and quite often a job alone. Only in the cases when there was a farm shop or some processing (or cleaning), there was some personnel. Finding good personnel was often flagged as a big issue. ‘Although it starts with some simple assistance, soon you must understand the complexity, see the work and act’ various farmers told me. The shops were different, could more easily attract personnel and were run by women.

All the women were closely involved, supportive and essential to the farming man, even if they worked outside. You cannot be indifferent as farm wife to the farm. Whether or not you work on the farm, you are part of a special lifestyle. All couples were together for quite some time had pretty big families (2-6 kids) and no divorces (9/9, not in line with the average stats!). The roles on the farm still seem to be rather stereotype.

The farm jobs that were close to ‘gardening’ seemed to have more interest from women, such as growing herbs, vegetables, eggs for own use and local sales (up to the lettuce and leek from Dirk & Els). Dirk made an interesting comment: ‘If Els would have to work out of the farm, I would reconsider my business. I see many examples where a farm actually lives on the salary of the wife. We do it together.’

Is it the rather traditional environment, the perception of the job or the actual nature that makes farming a man’s job? Or is it -in fact- a family job, because it can never be done alone? The complexity of farm work is the width of it: heavy labour, technical skills, administrative skills, the mentality to work in cold, rain and heat and being a salesman of ones product, is quite something! On top of that you have to understand your plants or animals. Even if some farmers do the work alone, they heavily rely on consultation at the kitchen table and a traditional house holding role, done by their spouses.