City slicker’ Billi Miller never expected to be a farmwife.
“I wasn’t raised on a farm — my background was very different from the tradition and stability that existed here,” said Miller, an ex-government worker who now operates a fourth-generation farm near Lloydminster with her husband and two daughters.
“But I found myself transplanted to this 100-year-old farm in the middle of the Prairies. I wasn’t completely ignorant to the farming lifestyle, but there was definitely a learning curve.”
As Miller became immersed in the community, she grew more and more “in awe” of the unsung heroes of the family farm — the women; the matriarchs; the farmwives.
“In the history books that exist now, there are lots of stories out there about the men’s roles on the farm, and I felt like there was a lack of a focus on the women,” said Miller.
“I wanted to bring attention to them. I wanted to put the spotlight on them. And I really wanted to hold them up to their communities and have people recognize the unbelievable work they did for their communities.”
And from that spark, Farmwives in Profile was born.
Published earlier this year, the book chronicles the lives of 17 farmwives from the Lloydminster area. Through 17 in-depth questions, candid photos, and traditional Prairie recipes, Miller shares a “generation of wisdom” about life on the farm.
“I chose traditional farmwives — ones who have spent a long time married to their husbands, ones who have spent a long time in the community, ones who have taken on the traditional roles of a farmwife,” she said.
“Those are the women I really wanted to portray, and I knew I wanted to do something to honour them.”
Miller also asked the women’s families to share the impact these women have had on the farms.
“These are very proud, humble, incredibly hard-working families, and to sit down and talk to each other about what it is these women mean to them doesn’t happen,” she said.
“The ability to give them these letters and have the tears well up in their eyes as they heard what all of those years of work meant to their kids was the absolute best part for me.
“Their lives really did mean something, and I think that they see it now.”
Over the three years it took to complete the book, Miller found the opportunity to learn from these women to be “a pretty amazing gift” — one that helped her adjust to her new role on the farm.
“Women can be very hard on each other,” she said. “This isn’t just in farming, but in life, period. When you become a mom — whether you had a career or not before — that ‘mom guilt’ exists.
“Do you work? Do you not work? And you sometimes feel judged by that other group. If you’re a stay-at-home mom, you feel judged by the working moms. If you’re a working mom, you feel judged by the stay-at-home moms.”
As a busy farmwife herself (and one who also has a career as a photographer and writer), Miller was struggling with that very thing when a woman in her late 70s shared a “nugget of wisdom” during the course of an interview.
“She put her hand on my hand and said to me, ‘Staying home full time with kids is only good for kids if it’s good for the mom,’” said Miller.
“I felt like 50 pounds were lifted off my shoulders. To have someone from that generation say that was a real rarity, I felt, and I wanted other women to hear that.”
Following the success of her first book, Miller is now working on her second one — a cross-country look at the changing role of wives on the farm today.
“There’s going to be a lot of different women in that book, and my goal is to hold them up and honour them as well,” said Miller.
“There’s a lot of different ways to be the wife of a farmer, and I want to honour and celebrate all of them.”
Farmwives in Profile is available for order at major book retailers or at farmwivesbook.com.