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Interview with CBC Radio’s Daybreak Alberta

Women around the world are often the ones growing food to feed their families and to earn money, however, they also face significant barriers.

A new book from a Peace River writer tells the stories of female farmers around the world in places such as Uganda, Guatemala, India – even in Canada.

Trina Moyles is the author of “Women Who Dig: Farming, Feminism, and the Fight to Feed the World,” a book the struggles of female farmers – and their victories.

Listen to my lively, 11-minute discussion on farming and feminism with CBC Daybreak Alberta host, Russell Bowers. We chat about the gendered language around farming, who can be a farmer, climate change, and the future of farming in Canada. Thanks for listening!

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Special Feature on CTV Alberta Primetime

The image of the average farmer is often boiled down to a stereotype – male, mid 50s and behind the wheel of a massive tractor. But the face of farming in Alberta is changing, with women leading the way.

In her new book, Women Who Dig: Farming, Feminism and the Fight to Feed the World, Trina Moyles shares the stories of women who are revolutionizing how food is grown. The book is rooted in Canada but takes readers around the world, focusing on how women are doing things differently and contributing to food security in their communities.

CTV Primetime host, Michael Higgins, speaks with Trina and Dawn Boileau, owner/operator of Sunrise Gardens, an organic farm near Onoway.

Click here to watch the 9-minute feature on CTV Alberta Primetime.

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CKUA Radio’s “World Spinning” – Songs of Corn, Rain, and Radiant Land

Last month, I had the pleasure of recording an interview with CKUA Radio host, Lark Clark, on her program World Spinning. We spoke about the global impact of climate change on women farmers, indigenous planting knowledge, and the inspiring ways women are overcoming their struggles.

Lark wove beautiful songs throughout our heartfelt conversation, curating a playlist that truly celebrated the guajira, a Cuban word to describe a ‘woman who farms’.

Listen to the interview and a selection of the chosen songs that praise rain, corn, and the radiant land.

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A Book Is Finally Born – March 2018

Hello, friends. I couldn’t hold back another day to share the exciting news with you. I’m overjoyed to announce that my book, Women Who Dig: Farming, Feminism, and the Fight to Feed the World (University of Regina Press), will finally be born into the world on March 1, 2018.

What began four years ago as an impassioned essay, a 1000-word rant about women’s access to farmland and justice – which I called “My Daughter Wants to Be a Farmer” – has somehow grown into a 265-page literary narrative that, chapter by chapter, takes readers on a journey across three continents, eight countries, and into the fields, farms, and lives of women who grow food. Each chapter includes stunning images taken by Vancouver-based photojournalist, KJ Dakin.

Several weeks ago, when my editor at the University of Regina Press sent me the first proof, or layout of Women Who Dig, I felt a state of blissful wonder, bordering on disbelief that a tiny seed of an idea had traveled so far in the book publishing process.

Writing may be a solitary act, but publishing is collective one. I’m so thankful to the creative minds at the University of Regina Press for bringing Women Who Dig to life. The book has benefited enormously from a talented team of publishers, editors, designers, and marketers, who’ve helped to polish my stories into a powerful narrative. My agent, Marilyn Biderman, has also been with me every step of the way. I believe that, together, we’ve created truly something beautiful.

In addition, I owe the world to my family, friends, colleagues, and community for constantly supporting, inspiring, and challenging me throughout the various stages of research, writing, editing, and publishing. No doubt, I would’ve lost my way without the support of my community.

I can’t wait to share my book with you soon. I hope the stories of women farmers – their achievements and struggles – will inspire you as much as they’ve inspired me. Stay tuned for more information about the book’s launch in March 2018.

Much love and gratitude,

-Trina

Pre-Order Today – Women Who Dig: Farming, Feminism, and the Fight to Feed the World (University of Regina Press, March 2018)

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Down on the Farm: Women Farmers in the Peace Country

“From the time that I was a little girl, I knew that I wanted to be a farmer,” recalls Mary Lundgard from her family’s home, just outside Grimshaw, Alberta. As she talks, she minces a clove of garlic – locally grown by her daughter, Lisa – and adds it to the mushroom soup simmering on the stovetop.

Born and raised in the eastern Maritimes of Canada, Lundgard was a town girl with the dream to grow and raise her own food. “My mom grew up on a farm in Nova Scotia,” Mary remembers, “She always said, ‘Oh no, you don’t want to do that!’ My family used to tease me about this childhood dream. But later in life, I moved to Alberta, met my husband, Peter, and we began to farm. Finally, I could write home to my family and tell them, well, I’m now a farmer.”

Over the past several decades, Mary and Peter have managed small seed and livestock operations in northern Alberta. In 2005, they moved their family from Fairview to 600-acres of land southwest of Grimshaw, where they started Nature’s Way Farm, a certified organic farm, producing pasture-fed beef, sheep, lamb, and pork. “We’re trying to farm a sustainable way,” says Mary, explaining that they don’t use any chemicals for pest-control, or fertilizers for field production.

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Nature’s Way’s holistic approach to growing and raising food is well-known in the Peace Country. Every year, the farm receives dozens of aspiring farmers from all over the world who come to intern and learn, hands-on, about organic agriculture. But what also makes Nature’s Way unique – and what many people might not realize – is that many aspects of the farm are managed with a woman’s touch. “I’m not just the wife, I’m not just the worker,” says Mary, smiling. “I’m actually a farmer.”

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Growing Roots in Northern Alberta: Musings on Community, Creative Process & Book Publishing

The signs of spring in northern Alberta happen slowly, then all at once: the wild crocuses silently arriving when the ground is still half-frozen, the geese honking, loudly announcing their return from the south, and finally, the aspen opening their tender green buds, flooding the brown valley with the softest shade of green you’ve ever laid eyes on.

Yesterday afternoon, the May sun poured into my trailer, warming my rectangular home with such intensity that I finally turned off my fussy diesel furnace and I didn’t bother lighting a fire in the wood stove. It felt somewhat ceremonious turning off the furnace: a little flicker of pride stirred in my chest. Winter was over. I had survived my first winter alone on the land in northern Alberta. I had managed to hang onto even just a shred of sanity despite a series of unfortunate events: frozen pipes, busted furnaces, the very un-romantic task of splitting wood, everyday, and contending with faulty water pumps by hand scooping water from my cistern. What a season.

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I didn’t expect to make a home in this tiny northern town over the winter. I never anticipated staying. Last year, I came home with only one thing on my mind: writing and re-writing my book. I lived in my parents’ basement for four months and breathed all things Women Who Dig. That was it. That was my sole purpose. Then the fire tower called. Then I learned that the book would actually become a published book. Then the most important relationship in my life unraveled and all the plans that went along with that were no longer. Then everything changed and I didn’t know where else to go.

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Signing a Book Contract From the Sky

Greetings from my fire watch in the sky! Today I’m as buoyant as the brilliant blue tree sparrows that dive and flit around my office perch, a cupola, or tiny dome that balances atop a 100-foot steel frame tower.

I’m briefly breaking my vow of technological silence to SING out the splendid news: Women Who Dig, my book about female farmers and farmworkers around the world, has been warmly welcomed for publication by Bruce Walsh and his team at the University of Regina Press.

I’m soaring over these boreal tree tops today!

Yesterday afternoon, as the fair-weather clouds strolled quietly along the big blue canvas of the sky, I looked out on the vast spread of spruce, poplar, pine and birch trees below, and felt humbled by the journey Women Who Dig has taken me on. Three years, three continents, eight countries, and over one hundred stories from women who are defying cultural, political, economic and social odds to grow food, steward the land, preserve cultural integrity, and nourish their children and communities.

After all that blessed, but shaken travel on off-beaten country roads to meet women on their farms, I must admit, I couldn’t have imagined a better ending to the journey of this book — to receive the news of publication from a place of solitude: the writer completely alone, at last, on the land, in the woods where hundreds of known and unknown wild things grow and roam and blossom.

Sounds romantic, eh? Trust me, some days it isn’t…but today, it’s pure euphoria!

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“Going In” – Writing From the Fire Watch

At ten o’clock tomorrow morning, “I’m going in.” It’s an old expression used by fire watch, or lookout observers, who’ve become seasoned seasonal smoke-spotters from their isolated perches overlooking Alberta’s southern grasslands, foothills, alpine areas, and northern boreal forests. In less than 24-hours now, I’ll join the men and women who have fallen in love with this job of scanning the horizon for smoke, and embark upon a four-month adventure alone in the boreal forest.

In the Peace Country, the clean opening of the river, the faint dots of green that emerge from the aspen branches — darkening and thickening within a few days into blots of virgin green on the landscape — all of these signs of Spring have come weeks early this year. For those who live the fire watch lifestyle, they are signs of another kind of opening.

Tomorrow I’m scheduled to fly to my northern boreal tower to climb up into the sky and “open season.” My tupperware boxes are stacked high, packed with dried food goods, books, gardening tools and seeds, carving knifes, bedding, clothes and all-season, all-weather gear.

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In Defence of Women on the Land: Voices from Rural Women in Uganda, India and Nicaragua

Last month I wrapped up my manuscript of “Women Who Dig – Female Farmers Struggling to Feed the World”, stories from 143 women from eight countries on three different continents. Over three years, I traveled to rural communities in the Americas, East Africa, and Southeast Asia, and met with women in their gardens and community gathering spaces. Their narratives were too many to include in just one book.

On March 8, 2016, International Women’s Day, I wanted to share a few of the narratives from Uganda, India, and Nicaragua.

Rural and indigenous women around the world continue to grow food, raise livestock, and forage for wild foods — feeding their communities — often defending land and lifestyle from visible and invisible forms of oppression. The forms of oppression facing female farmers, worldwide, range from economic injustice to the impingement of large-scale development projects, including dams, mining operations and corporate agriculture, to domestic abuse and gender-based violence in the home, fields and gardens, and wider communities.

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What Comes from the Earth — Reflections on Writing, Farming and Surrendering to the Unknown

“I will never get tired of watching seeds grow,” said one of the women I recently interviewed for the closing pages of my book. “It’s such a miraculous thing.” I felt my head nodding along with the gentle rhythm and meaning of her words. I envisioned a tiny seed in darkness, splitting its cask and unfurling a green wandering thread, hungry, searching for light.

My mind dwelled on her choice of word: “miraculous”. Growing food, indeed, is a miraculous process. Particularly in a day and age where environmental, socioeconomic, and political factors — what forces shape the way we cultivate seeds and what comes from the earth — have never been so uncertain. Farmers pull from scientific, experiential, ancestral, cultural, and even spiritual wisdom to make choices on the land: what seeds to sow in the earth, when to plant, how to plant, what materials to mix into the soil, what tools to work the land with, which rituals to perform, how to irrigate, etc.

But much of farming, of sowing seeds, is about surrender, waiting and acceptance that some seeds germinate, while others — based on both known and unknown influences — do not.

Patience and surrender.

These are two farming traits I’m trying to embody these days. Not as a farmer, but as a writer.

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The Egg Tally

In the room where I’m writing, editing, drafting and, admittedly, doubting, the last pages of my book before it’s sent to my agent for review, there hangs a little piece of my great-grandmother, Eleanor. It’s her daily egg tally: Eleanor’s writing in pencil on two whitewashed wooden planks, long columns of numbers, calculations of her gains and losses. It’s the only physical evidence I have of Eleanor’s work as a farmer.

The quarter acre of prairie land outside Woseley, Saskatchewan, where she and her husband, David, built a little house from sod, a barn and a chicken house, has grown fallow. Where they grew maize and potatoes, where Eleanor kept a garden of carrots, cabbage, beans and peas, where they raised their two sons, Desmond and John, the land, the farm, the story is no longer visible. The physical evidence of their existence on the land has disappeared to a prairie that’s remembering how to be a prairie again. No longer under cultivation, the fine thick mane of prairie grasses grows so tall that the stalk heads tickle my belly and I can literally wade through the land as though walking into a lake. The house is long gone, the barn rotted, dismantled. And all that remains is Eleanor’s egg tally on the wall of the room where I write from Peace River, a small northern Canadian town positioned at the 56th parallel.

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The Grapes of Wrath – Migrant Farm Workers in California

They call the documented farmworkers “braceros”, the arms that pick, and the undocumented ones “mojados”, wet backs. The latter is a derogatory word used to describe migrants who risk their lives crossing the Rio Grande from Mexico to enter the United States without documentation. Today it’s estimated that 80% of crop workers in the United States are Latino migrant labourers and around 2.3 million workers are undocumented.

Agricultural production in the U.S. has long depended on migrant farm labour. During the 1930s Great Depression, “Okies” fled from the drought and dust of Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas to the vineyards, farms and fruit orchards of the rolling green valleys of California. The migration continues.

Today Latino workers from Mexico and Central America form the majority of agricultural labourers in Sonoma County, California. In 2014, they were paid, on average, just over $10/hour and earned a median salary of just over $20,000 on an annual basis. They are the hundreds of thousands of invisble hands that plant, weed, spray and pick the fruits of California’s agricultural production.

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On Becoming the “F-Word” – Vanessa’s Journey into Urban Farming

Nearly two years ago, when I first sat down with Vanessa Hanel, an emerging urban farmer in Calgary, she hesitated to call herself what she referred to as “the F-word”. Today Vanessa is getting ready to take on farming, full time, as the owner and grower behind Micro YYC, a micro-greens operation in Calgary that “specializes in small”.

For over four years now, I’ve been following Vanessa’s transition into farming with admiration.

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Digging In

“This book has legs. I’m seventy-five percent in,” the literary agent enthused over the phone.

I felt my own legs buckling. In the kitchen of my apartment in downtown Edmonton, like an overjoyed fool, I knelt down on the linoleum, incredulous.

Just maybe, I thought, this seed of a story that’s caught wind and traveled across seven countries and three continents and has been inspired by over a hundred conversations with women (in nine different languages) about what it means to be a woman who ‘digs’ – just maybe – it could take root in the form of a book.

“I’ll send you my manuscript,” I heard myself say, struggling to contain my excitement.

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