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  • Writer's pictureHighland Croft

A Female Farmer Is Not Just A Farmer's Wife

Let's start with the terminology: In English, there isn't even a word for a female farmer or crofter. In my mother-language German, there is however a clear acknowledgement for women in farming, at least linguistically. There is no questioning that the woman on the farm is more than just "the farmer's wife". She is the Bäuerin in her own right.

To the present day, my very own husband chuckles when I write Crofter in an official document as my occupation. What does he think I am though? Being a loving wife and mother alone simply won't do: On the croft I enjoy the double and triple work load of working the farm, running the household and family logistics for four people as well as bringing up children. All of which is unpaid, unseen and un-acknowledged. I also run and expand our AirB'n'B business where we offer accommodation and croft tours for guests.

Multitasking: Working sheep and soothing baby

Little has changed: Women in farming have always worked - quietly, unappreciated - alongside their husbands in the fields and with livestock. Their great moment came during the World Wars though: While the men were drafted in to fight at the front, the women were left at home on the farms. Had they not known how to work machinery and bring in the harvest, the country would have starved. Tending to livestock is a skilled job that can't be picked up from one day to the next, and women proved just how capable they were in the face of a crisis.

Farming always means adapting to new circumstances, especially for women and even more so for women who were not born into this life, but came into it at some point in their lives, like myself. I had to learn and adapt many times since beginning my crofting- and mothering-career. When I started out in agriculture, I went full steam ahead and was used to doing hands-on lambing. But when I fell pregnant, touching any bodily fluids from a sheep was off limits. Sheep can carry a bacterium in them that can cause toxoplasmosis, which can lead to miscarriages in humans. It was hard to have your hands tied and not be able to do your job. Having the children meant gradually spending less time working on the croft and more time doing household and child-caring jobs. While Tom and I used to go around the crofts and farms of the area, shearing sheep and doing wool respectively, it was increasingly only him travelling, while I had to stay with the kids. Children are portable up to a certain point and when they're really young, it's easy. The older and more mobile they get though, the more challenging it becomes to keep them safe and entertained. There are still places I go to - with a pug in a crate, a tavel cot to restrict one child and the other one confined in a wool sheet. It is at the same time mentally and physically draining for me, but then I do enjoy my work and I insist on not giving it up.

Crofting is THE best job I've ever had

All the jobs around the croft turned into epic sagas with first one, then two children in tow. Sometimes it takes so long to get everybody fed, cleaned and dressed (and through various tantrums and stages of not-cooperating), that half the day is actually over before we even leave the house. In fact, if I were by myself, I would long since be back after swiftly ticking off my chores outside, before children-in-tow-me has even started her work day.

Crofting with children is a tricky one as there is an idyllic perception of what it has to be like, but living up to it is hard, especially when you've got loads of other responsibilities, too. Sometimes it might be something as boring and profane yet indispensable as cooking dinner.

As women, our great strength has always been the ability to adapt, absorb and keep the show running. It is hard sometimes to cope with the new infinite slowness and inefficiency that having small children and an ever growing assortment of projects brings. Honestly, both my domestic and agricultural enterprises would be enough to employ a full time PA, too. And I can't ignore any of it, every time I look out of the window, there are gates that need hung, a shed that needs demolished, frozen watertroughs that need cracked open. And before you know it - and before you have actually achieved much at all - it's once more time to feed the youngest. Or pick the older one up from nursery. I can't win.

Only that this is of course not quite true. That's just what I tell myself at the end of every day: I've achieved nothing. In the big picture though, looking back to where we started and what we have built up since, we have literally moved mountains.

Especially as women we have to be a bit kinder to ourselves and stop comparing ourselves to our men who achieve loads because they have a female backup slaving away in the shadows. Or even to our pre-children self with less responsibilites but more time, energy and resources.

A farm or a croft is a multidisciplinary enterprise that requires allrounders. And even though men do help with household and childcare these days, most of it is still down to us. I therefore believe that we as a gender have to be a bit fairer and more forgiving with ourselves, particularly those of us juggling a family, a business and a farm with a load of living creatures all dependent on us. A first step to recognition would be a term to put all the various wonderful, strenuous things we do under one umbrella. Our very own jobtitle: How about the crofer-ess?

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