Film about farming women shows how times have changed — and how old stereotypes still linger

Documentary shows how women aren't just ‘farmers’ wives and farmers’ daughters’ anymore

When you picture a farmer in your head, who do you think of?

A man wearing a ball cap? Or do you picture a woman?

In a new 20-minute documentary, filmmaker Kelsey van Moorsel asks you to “Picture a Farmer.” And the three farmers featured in the first-time filmmaker’s documentary are all women.

“I come from a farming background,” said van Moorsel, who now lives in Edmonton.

She pitched a short documentary about female farmers to Storyhive, a program run by Telus that provides filmmakers with a $10,000 grant to make short films.

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Van Moorsel was interested in making a documentary about female farmers because of her childhood experiences growing up on a sugar beet farm in Vauxhall. Although her parents stopped farming in 1989 and moved to Lethbridge, the family kept their agricultural connections and she grew up helping on farms.

“Over time, I had seen a lot of women who were very involved in farms,” she said. “They were doing many of the traditional things, raising kids and growing gigantic gardens and things like that.

“But they were also out in the field — they were moving sprinklers, they were running equipment, they were tending to livestock and going to trade shows. Oftentimes, they kind of sat in the background and they identified as farmers’ wives and farmers’ daughters and not so much as the farmer themselves. I just wanted to do something that would acknowledge the role that women had in agriculture and really place a highlight on it.”

To find her subjects, van Moorsel called agricultural commissions, spent time looking on Instagram, and called on family contacts.

The three women who appear in the film are Kristin Graves, a young vegetable farmer from Wetaskiwin County who runs Fifth Gen Gardens; Lynn Dargis, a custom feedlot and grain farmer from St. Vincent; and Susan Holme Manyluk, a beef producer from Red Deer County.

“We really liked the fact that Kristin showed someone who was coming into it fresher, Lynn is younger and has found her footing, and Sue has been doing it for the last 40 years,” said van Moorsel.

The film is meant to both celebrate women who farm — and challenge preconceived ideas about them.

“Unfortunately there was not in the ’70s, any concept that women had the ability to farm,” says Susan Holme Manyluk who was a young mother of three when she began farming more than four decades ago.
photo: From “Picture a Farmer”

“You see a woman and she tells you she’s a farmer. She could be the boss and run the show,” she said.

Showing women in agricultural leadership positions can help give confidence to other women, and help them into leadership roles.

Van Moorsel applied for the grant in July of last year, and received confirmation and funding in September.

“With an agricultural project, that was tricky, especially with the fall we had last year,” she said. “We had from September to about mid-March, at the very latest, to shoot. After that, we had to get into our post-production.”

The film was finished by the end of May.

“It’s not a lot of time. We really had to pack it around the weather,” she said.

Overall, the crew, which consisted of van Moorsel and her co-workers Simon Morgan and Sheena Wheadon, and several other contractors, shot for about 15 days total.

Van Moorsel hosted a screening of the documentary at The Metro Cinema in Edmonton last month, and has already had requests from a number of organizations that want to host screenings of the film.

“We want to get it shared as much as possible,” she said.

‘Women can do it’

Dargis went to the premiere, where she saw the film for the first time.

It’s a good way to share women’s stories, she said.

“We are more than just farmers’ wives, farmers’ daughters and helpers,” she said. “There are some of us in lead roles. Women can do it.

“I thought it was a good way to get our stories out there, and also show that women are doing more than is perceived.”

Dargis became a full-time farmer when both of her parents and her grandmother were killed in a plane crash in 2007. The second eldest of five girls, Dargis settled the estate and started her own company to continue farming.

“Nothing was going to stop me from farming at that point. There was some push-back and other people saying, ‘You should sell’ — even from the bankers and other people in our lives.”

When Kristin Graves announced she was leaving her city job to go farming, a co-worker said she didn’t know Graves was marrying a farmer. “I’m not marrying a farmer — I’m the farmer,”Graves replied.
photo: From “Picture a Farmer”

She didn’t listen to that advice, and now has 4,400 acres of grain and a custom feeding operation of about 2,000 head. She’s also created an app called Farmbucks, which acts as an Expedia for grain prices. Her husband, who grew up in town and worked as a land surveyor, is now working on the farm, but she is the one who makes the decisions.

Even though she has been operating her farm for more than 11 years, she still runs into sexism.

“If I am in the community buying inputs or whatnot, people know I’m the decision maker and they talk to me. If I go elsewhere and make deals on equipment, it’s brushed to the side or people don’t realize that some women do have the power to make the final decision.”

If she goes to an equipment dealer with her husband, the salesmen will often talk to him, rather than her. She’s also noted customers at the Farmbucks booth sometimes seem to be more comfortable talking to a man than a woman.

“The only way I get them on my side, if they’re talking to me, is if they realize how much I do know,” said Dargis. “We see it a bit everywhere. It’s coming around slowly. Women are more involved in making decisions.”

The film crews spent four days shooting footage of her, even though the film is only 20 minutes long.

“I had to slow down my day to have the film crew follow me. It was fun. I enjoyed it. I like teaching other people about what we’re doing. If I can teach while you’re recording, that’s great.”

The movie gives a snapshot of farming.

“What you see in the movie is bits and pieces of what goes up. It doesn’t show all the hardships and stress that can get to a person,” she said.

It’s a good time for showcasing women’s role in agriculture, added van Moorsel.

“Right now, the environment is good for that. People are willing to see what women are doing and really celebrate it,” she said.

The film can be viewed at youtube.com.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, she has also published two collections of poetry and a biography about a Sikh civil rights activist. Her freelance work has appeared in numerous publications across Canada.

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