Feature Article

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.

Mary_Lisa

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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Feature Article

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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Feature Article

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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Feature Article

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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