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.
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.
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.
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.
Cuba is the last chapter of my book, but in many ways, my experiences with […]