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There’s no right way to be a woman on the farm

Billi J. Miller has never been a traditional ‘farmwife’ — whatever that means anyway.

And that’s just fine by her.

“The term ‘farmwife’ has changed so much,” said the Lloydminster-area author. “I don’t fit into that box. And there’s comfort in knowing that there are other women like you.”

In 2016, Miller published her first book — Farmwives in Profile, which chronicled the lives of 17 ‘traditional’ farmwives from the Lloydminster area. Through in-depth questions, candid photos, and Prairies recipes, Miller celebrated the unsung heroes of the family farm — the women working behind the scenes to keep the family and home running smoothly.

But times have changed. Families and farms look very different now than they did when these women were forging their way in the world. And the role of farmwife has changed along with it.

“When I came into this, I was surrounded by very traditional women,” said Miller, a city girl who married a fourth-generation farm boy a decade ago.

“But I had a feeling in my gut that if I was going to do this and be the happiest wife and mom that I could be, I would have to make my life my own.”

So in her second book, Farmwives 2, Miller opened up the conversation to the new generation of farmwives — 25 women from across the country who are doing things a little differently than earlier generations.

Some women in the book embraced the term ‘farmwife’ and still fill ‘traditional’ roles on the farm, taking on the majority of the housework, cooking, and child rearing. Others balked at the term, preferring instead to emphasize their work in the field or with livestock or away from the farm altogether.

But for each of these women, that choice has been their own.

“One of the farmwives from my first book told me, ‘Fifty years ago, you just did what the person who came before you did. You didn’t think anything more about it,’” said Miller.

“Because of all the hard work women of past generations have done, we do now have more choices.”

Even so, “women are women,” and that hasn’t changed much from one generation to the next.

“Everything that those women (in the past) did for their families, these women do for their own families — but in their own way,” she said. “Every one of these women puts their families first and their farms first. It’s just the way they go about it that’s different.”

And those differences are celebrated in Miller’s latest book.

“Families are going to do things differently, and I wanted to share those different stories so we could all draw from that wisdom,” she said.

“There’s camaraderie in knowing there’s lots of different ways to skin a cat.”

Miller hopes her new book will help farm women feel less alone in their roles, whatever those roles may be.

Farm life can be overwhelming, exhausting, and isolating for women, she said, and there aren’t a lot of resources out there for those trying to navigate life on the farm. In addition to sharing funny anecdotes and recipes, Miller’s interview subjects included their advice on self-care, their worries about farm transitions, and their thoughts on how to keep a marriage strong.

“I don’t want farms to fail because of traditional pressures on modern families,” said Miller. “I want women to feel inspired to make their lives better, to make their families better, to make their marriage stronger.”

The trick to that is simple, she added: Do what makes you happy.

“If you love making the meals and taking care of the kids full time, do that. If you love putting a crop in or working on the farm, do that. Whatever makes you happy, do that,” said Miller.

Ultimately, there isn’t one way to be a farmwife, she said. And each woman should be honoured for what they bring to the table — no matter what that looks like, she said.

“I don’t want any other woman to feel like they’re not good enough. No matter how you’re doing it; no matter what kind of woman you are on a Canadian family farm, I want you to know you’re doing it right.”

Farmwives 2 goes on sale in March.

About the author

Reporter

Jennifer Blair is a Red Deer-based reporter with a post-secondary education in professional writing and nearly 10 years of experience in corporate communications, policy development, and journalism. She's spent half of her career telling stories about an industry she loves for an audience she admires--the farmers who work every day to build a better agriculture industry in Alberta.

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Comments

  • Monkeeworks

    Sometimes it is hard for a ‘city’ person to understand farm people, ranchers, rural people in general. Where most city people like to be around a lot of people, in the midst of the city turmoil and always needing someplace to go, dress in the latest fashion for the mid week party. Well, it is not that we don’t like people we just prefer to be with family, close friends and stopping at the road side mail box to catch up on any local news maybe grain prices and possibly a grain for calf trade.
    You can see that I have not categorized farm women at all. A farm woman is part of the family, just as special as everyone else. Standing hand in hand with their partner in the evening watching the sun go down over the grain field they raised from seed to the coming harvest. Everyone works. Sounds glamorous huh? How about when it is the womans turn to check the cows at calving time at 2:00 am, coming back to the house to kick the old man out of bed to give her a hand as there is a cow in stress. If she has time to call him. Then watching the calf take it’s first steps and get something to drink. Head back to the house, drop filthy clothes off in the laundry, get the coffee on wake the kids for chores. Whoa there bucko!! Child labor cited here! Guess what, children are a part of the family, the family works together. They have a job to do and are expected to do their job—properly.
    There is no one special held in higher esteem in a farm family, mutual respect, love, love of the family the animals the land. Each person has their ‘specialty’. Farm books may be done between laundry and putting the roast on while the lady of the farm is at an agricultural meeting in town. The kitchen dishes may be washed while the man of the farm is cleaning the barn or changing oil in the tractor. Here again, the point is there is no designated area for either the man or the woman to work. You work where you are needed.
    I think that about sums up the ‘womans’ place on the farm. And no, she is not the special person trying to fit in and how they fit in according to books. I have to admit though, my wife is special to me and always will be. Don’t care what she says about that either.