The Star-Herald

When the farmer takes a husband

Women are transitioning from traditional roles as the raisers of children (and husbands) to the raisers of livestock, flowers or tomatoes. According to the USDA, over 30 percent of farms in the nation are female owned and operated, and that number is steadily increasing.  

The number of “FarmHers” in Maine was over 41 percent, according to the last agricultural census. Many Maine farms are small soup-to-nuts operations that market a value-added product generated from a woman’s work.  For example, a female shepherd may tend a small flock of wool sheep through breeding, birthing, rearing, shearing, washing, carding, spinning and weaving handmade blankets.

Farming is a challenging, exciting, creative, autonomous vocation that leaves a farmer both fulfilled and exhausted. Women have a knack for adapting to make their chosen vocation work for them. Every outbuilding may house a “shrimp box” knocked together with plywood and pieces of 2×12 to boost her up to the tractor’s engine block.  She may quickly recognize the need for a squeeze chute to handle her cattle or a wheelbarrow with “ATV wheels” to trundle her produce from the field to storage. She becomes a master of mechanical advantage, using levers and pulleys to compensate for her reduced upper body strength. A come-along or two hang handy in her barn, as well.

Unfortunately, the commercial world does not seem to be as willing to adapt.  Adequately sturdy boots are restricted to men’s sizes and slop on women’s feet even with two pairs of heavy socks stuffed into the smallest possible size.  Women’s gloves, made with cute designs but inferior fabric, shred before the first cord of firewood is stacked. Worse, their design can include beaded wristbands that may catch in the PTO on a tractor. In general, manufacturers construct women’s work pants with lighter-weight material and impossibly small pockets.  A “FarmHer” is more likely to need space to stash a tool than a quarter. Do not speak of useless pants with no pockets at all.

Community members also need to adapt to changing demographics.  First off, “Honey” or “Sweetie” is no way to address someone who regularly bucks square bales onto a moving hay wagon.  You are not in a strong position to negotiate if you pull into a barnyard and say to the person standing there in knee boots and coveralls, “Hi.  I was hoping to buy some pigs. Is your husband home?”

Equally, a farm implement salesperson who suggests that the woman standing in the sales lot should return later with her husband is looking at the back of that sale walking away.

Do not let all this make you nervous when you come to the Market on a Saturday morning, however.  Regardless of gender, we appreciate our loyal customers and enjoy the opportunity to bring to market fresh, nutritionally dense, locally produced food.  Please stop by.

The Presque Isle Farmers’ Market president for the 2018 season is Deena Albert-Parks of Chops Ahoy Farm in Woodland. For information about participating or visiting the market, contact her at hoctrainer@aol.com.

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