There is a great deal of backlash on the recent ‘movement’ for women to learn how to bake, preserve, grow gardens, hang their clothes out to dry and home school their kids. Women everywhere are getting downright peeved that someone should rant on and on about their new found skills of homemaking. These Radical Homemakers are causing a ruckus for many reasons. Firstly, these skills have been around for centuries. Secondly, the whole thing stinks of martyrdom and superiority. Thirdly, it just makes people feel bad who do not have the will, time or energy to take these things on themselves.
I’m not going to get into details of the war between working-out-of-the-home versus working-at-home mothers now, but suffice to say that both have their reasons for doing what they do and they believe in their choices. However, these beliefs don’t take away the guilt and the defensiveness that come with these decisions.
There is a similar war going on as people decide which side of the fence they belong with respect to sourcing food. Each person takes a stance and believes their way is the only way. They silently hope everyone else will do what they are doing, if only for their own validation. Perhaps you believe that buying in season or being vegan, or eating strictly organic or only eating what you grow is the key to health and happiness for you and the environment.
We all have to make our own way in the world and do what works, this is true. But I stumble heavily on the the belief that earning a hefty income buys you the freedom to eat however you please without having to bother with peasant farmer skills or sourcing your food fairly and justly. I also think that even the Queen should not be entitled to a disproportionate amount of the earth’s resources by birthright. Though having access to quality-grown food affords one a diet quite fit for a queen.
In addition to natural resources, we also must make regular decisions about our money and our time. It is in making these choices that I (or anyone else) may find some flexibility. Not always how much money or how much time, but more where you spend your money or how you spend your time. Usually these things are in their own war against one another. For example, I once had a friend who loved to fix his own car but when he got a busy job in the high tech industry he had to begin paying someone to do this job for him and lost the time to do it himself.
Regardless of what you believe, you are likely defensive about your choices and find yourself arguing with someone or giving that three-sentence-too-long paragraph that ensures you are she who protests too much. Perhaps you are she who writes really long blog entries to try to figure it all out. The truth is that nobody knows yet what is going to work in the long term for feeding our planet in a healthy, viable way. All of this is just being worked out right now. We thought we had it all figured out when the industry learned to grow more food than the world population needed. The trick became to distribute the food evenly around the world and ensure the population did not increase too much. Oh, and the land could keep producing the same amount of food repeatedly.
Further, many folks do what they do because they do not have a choice. Single mothers, people who are unable to work, those that are excluded from a fair wage or their wage simply is not enough to cover costs are all forced into buying cheap food in whatever form it is available.
The irony is that many farms must be supported by a wage made outside the farm. In other words, women may be forced to work off-farm just to keep the farm going. There is a saying that a farmer feeds a hundred people while the wife feeds the farmer.
The reason that most of the farmers I know are not rolling in money is related to many things, none that have to do with laziness or a lack of business savvy. It is because the price that a farmer gets for beef has not changed in decades, or worse, it is lower due to the mad cow scare. It is because cash crops like soy and corn are difficult to grow at a profit unless they are heavily subsidized. The price of food is nowhere near where it should be for a farmer to earn a fair wage for his earnest work. The set of skills that farmers once had have been exchanged for a new set to keep up with the latest in agriculture. This usually equates to an enormous amount of debt for the farmer. Farmers are being asked to compete in a global market where wages and practices, subsidies and environmental codes are not standardized. Whoever can do it cheaper will win.
As agribusiness keeps its foothold, farmers, writers and consumers all frantically circle the possibilities for change. There are still those that stick their feet into the ground, believing the system works just fine as is. But there is a reason why parents are telling their children to leave farming and family farms are being sold off to join vast tracts of surrounding land while the house may at best be rented out. But nobody tells their children to do without food or wellness. Nobody would strive for a world where healthy soil and water and the associated relevant skills are so limited that we can no longer sustain our growing population.
While the number of small farms in Canada and the United States has decreased over the past 50 years, the number of farms solely operated by women is slowly going up. The women farmers I know are some of the hardest working people I have ever met. The hours they work, the number of jobs they tackle, the number of people they feed is almost impossible to fathom. How can one woman physically and emotionally do all of that by herself? I have a farmer friend who says she does the work of 3 men (with two farmers markets in a week, milking goats daily by hand, raising pork, using draft horses etc.). I think she is wrong – I think it is more like the work of 5 men.
Some believe there must be a man lurking in the wings. Yet one friend’s husband lovingly refers to himself as the ‘farmer’s wife’ as she remains the primary engine behind the farming operation. Other thoughts that go through my head assume they mustn’t have children or they must have financial support. They must have grown up on a farm and still have their family living with them. But no matter how you turn it around, I have come to be certain of one thing: these people work freaking hard! All of the ringing Blackberry’s on Sunday cannot hold a candle to the kind of work that gets done in a day, week or year on a farm.
Sure, they have often made the choice to do this work for a living. I would argue, however, that these people couldn’t do anything different if they tried. They have been called to do it and are a slave to this calling whether they feel like it or not. But what I also know for sure is that they did not wake up one day and sign up to be a martyr to their cause. They do not feel superior to anyone. They just do what they think is right and it just so happens that what feels right takes a massive amount of work, without rest, every single day, all year long. And sometimes it brings food to their tables.
I have decided to source most of my family's food from our land because it seems like it is the most important thing I could do right now, along with raising my children. It feels a lot like breathing which is not something I plan to give up any time soon. Every day from the moment the first baby spinach is ready to harvest until late December when I am roasting and freezing the last of the bruised squash, there is something to process or preserve. Two weeks ago I dried the last of the pumpkin seeds that provide us with a year’s supply that I grind into waffles or use in my homemade granola. Just when I think the bulk of the work is behind me for the year, there are multiple urgent piles of food waiting to be dealt with in the wings. I do not choose what I process. The food comes to me in buckets and I ensure it does not go to waste. Each year is different, forcing a different response to what needs to be done. Recipes are made from what is on hand instead of going to a store and buying a list of what is needed.
The seed catalogues have started to arrive in the mail, so that already we are looking ahead to the next growing season. Rob will spend the next few weeks with a highlighter and his laptop organizing what he will order in time for the first planting of onions and leeks in February. This is my first fall (apart from two maternity leaves) that I have not been commuting into the city for work and I somehow didn’t envision the ‘long winter’ being so very short! I also have to admit that I completely burned out by early August this year and will definitely have to learn to pace myself better next year. Or learn to just accept that an organic farmer will just have to buck up and work through the tired.
So if you are someone who doesn't get around to canning tomatoes every year, that is fine. Nobody is going to make you do it. Canning everything that you grow yourself may not be required of you anytime soon. Yet the way that tomatoes are grown and distributed around the world today just isn't going to keep working. Changes of some kind will have to be made in our own kitchens eventually. So can we please quit with the war and the judgments around who's doing it right and wrong? It took a long time to get us out of the kitchen. It's going to take an even longer time to get us back there. And when we go back, I think we have to do it with awareness, grace and style. This time with a little more voice over how things are managed.
And whatever you believe, please know that those folks out there that are working hard to find a better, more lasting way to provide food to our communities, they are hard-working folks. Not always for a cause, but instead because its the only path forward that they can see.
When women make it back safely to their kitchens, I will know we have found the 'right' way when it feels exactly like breathing.