The Farm Hers

By Danielle Bonner

Have you ever thought about who grows the food that we eat and who raises and tends to the livestock that provide our food sources? Globally women are central to the farming and agricultural industry, yet visually it tends to be a male dominated area.

Women often find themselves underpaid for their work in the industry and have limited access to recourses in the industry. This situation is not only a gender inequality issue but also one of development. Research shows that women working in agriculture tend to have less education and access to resources compared to that of men. In 2019, the National Geographic reported that women’s production could increase by 30 percent if these issue were addressed, which in turn would help eliminate hunger for an estimated 150 million people. Empowering women in farming has far reaching development and social impacts, from ending hunger, decreasing poverty to addressing climate change.

But what about Ireland, is the situation any better? Unfortunately, the answer is NO. In Ireland, it’s reported just 12 percent of farmers are women. A situation contributed to the fact that men in Ireland significantly outnumbered women as the holders of family farms. In 2016, male ownership stood at 88.3 percent compared with 11.7 percent female ownership. 

The question is how do we address this issue? For me it starts with acknowledging and recognising the women already engaging in farming in our local communities. In the North West of Ireland, we are surrounded by farms and agriculture so I wanted to find local women and document their farming work.

Meet the North-West Farm Hers, three unique women I had the pleasure to spend time with in 2021, capturing through photography their different areas of work in farming.

Chloe from Tullaghan County Leitrim, farms sheep and cows (sucklers which means breeding calf’s and selling them on) alongside her granddad Martin. Cows aren’t Chloe’s favourite animal to farm, she was fearless rounding up the massive cows that came running up to be fee while I took their pictures.  A few weeks before my visit she’d broken her wrist while loading a horse into a box it pulled away and arm got caught. So, she was fashionably wearing a bright pink plaster cast while tending to the animals and showing me round the fields she farmed.

Joanne in Gortahork County Donegal, is an educator in horticulture. She practices and teaches sustainable living, growing vegetables and designing food and permaculture gardens. Joanne owns and runs OURganic Gardens an outdoor green space focused on food growing, re-connection and permaculture design. Joanne is passionate about what she does, when we first spoke about women in farming and I asked her to be part of this photography project she said she had never few herself as a farmer just a food grower. This response lead us to have an interesting conversation about who gets to call themselves a farmer and also wonder how many other women are not recognising what they are doing is a form of farming. 

Kate in Carndonagh County Donegal, is a beekeeper, sustainable food grower, educator and horticulture teacher here in Donegal. Kate works to protect bee’s natural habitats in a sustainable way. She has developed her home to grow a number of crops, house chickens and keep a number of bees hives and which are dotted around her garden. The day I arrived she was dealing with a hive swam, I watched on as she calmly rounded the bees up over a number of hours. It was fascinating to see the attention to detail she gave to these small and important insects. She spoke about the importance of bees as pollinators.

It was educational to learn further that “almost 90% of wild plants and 75% of leading global crops depend on animal pollination. One out of every three mouthfuls of our food depend on pollinators. Crops that depend on pollination are five times more valuable than those that do not.”  While it has been reported that there has been an alarming decline in pollinator species, here in Ireland a third of native bee species are facing extinction.

My time with these women was enlightening and eye opening, there were many laughs shared. And even though these were three very different women I discovered that they shared a similarity when it came to their path into farming. Unaccepted life changes for each woman put them on this path to farming.

At 18 when Chloe finished school wanted to train to become a teacher but her granddad had an accident and she started to help out while he was getting better and she found she really enjoyed it and went on to farm college in Cavan.

Before Joanne set up her community garden she was a youth and community worker, she had a passion for growing food but it wasn’t until she moved to Donegal and gained a lot of extra land that this passion took off.

Similarly, it was a move to Donegal that paved the way for Kate to become a bee keeper, she had completed her PhD in Biology, specialising in entomopathogenic nematodes (microscopic worms that live in the soil and parasitise insects), and with two young children she and her husband decided Donegal was the best place to raise her young family. 

One thing that I take away from my time with the women is the importance of role models in farming because as the saying goes “you cannot be what you do not see”.  It’s time we therefore pay tribute to women who engage in farming.

A big thank you to Chloe, Joanne and Kate for allowing me to capture their inspiring and important work in farming, because you are role models whether you realise it all not.