She may not seem significant to you because she’s holding the hand-hoe, feeding the pigs, or hauling broken laundry basket filled with carrots still clinging to the soil.
But her work is the definition of work in the truest sense. She puts her intellectual, physical, emotional and according to some — even spiritual — faculties into her work. Her work is to grow and raise food for her family, her community and for you, too.
There’s nothing romantic about being a farmer: it can be exhausting, body breaking, mind stressing, risky and thankless work. Her work is always lined with worry. Her work is, indeed, real work.
Her work sustains your work even before it sustains her own.
From the Canadian prairies to the highlands of Guatemala to the lush banks along the Rio San Juan to the rise and fall of the valleys in southwestern Uganda, I’ve encountered so many women who grow, distribute and sell food – and yet, who feel, perhaps, undeserving, shy, or without enough experience (or conviction in their experiences) to say aloud, ‘I am a farmer’.
It’s as though the title ‘farmer’ has been reserved for someone else, someone who wouldn’t look like her. It’s as though she thinks, maybe, her work isn’t worth the same as someone else’s work.
But the women who do claim that title do so with humility and pride. Either way, from the outside looking in, these women are farmers — whether or not they’re socially, or economically recognized for their work.
For six months now, I’ve been crossing borders to talk with women farmers about the love, fear, frustration and hopes that they feel for being farmers and for being women — and, because it’s impossible for women to isolate their work from their holistic lives — for being wives, daughters, mothers, sisters, friends, colleagues, healers, teachers and community leaders, too.
I’ve interviewed over 80 women from four different countries on two different continents. My head and heart are so full with their experiences, it’s difficult to articulate on paper, to run with any one theme, to even begin synthesizing what their stories mean to me. My only certainty is that the book will be inspired by their work, their worth and their absolute, fundamental importance in the sustaining of our communities and our environments.
It’s important to have a day to celebrate women worldwide — but it’s more important to demonstrate our commitment to women everyday.
With women farmers, we have the opportunity to do that in very tangible ways: to buy their food at a price that values their work, their worth as human beings and ensures their sustenance, as well as our own. To advocate for their unique needs in food production, and for local, national, global policies that will protect them, and help them innovate and organize and strengthen food systems against a changing climate.
To celebrate them, not only with words — but with our actions, 365 days a year.
Thank-you to the women who’ve shared their homes, food and stories with me. Thank-you for inspiring me to write, thank-you for sustaining my work to write.