Eco-feminists believe that women and nature share certain traits and are innately attuned. Both women and nature cycle through rhythmic patterns of death and renewal. And women, as caretakers of community life, have a greater awareness of the complex community-level interactions of ecology and nature. Eco-feminism builds upon this understanding, arguing that there are important connections between the exploitation of women and the degradation of our natural environment. As a farm-raised young feminist who identifies very strongly with land, this concept resonates deeply with me.
While on-farm gender relations have never been just, agricultural industrialization over the past forty years has accentuated gender inequality. Women’s roles on industrialized farms are increasingly reduced to providing a supportive and subservient role to the male ‘farmer’. Running for machinery parts; making meals; paying bills. None of the tasks that fall upon industrialized farmwomen explore intellect or enable feelings of ownership.
In the industrial farm production paradigm, both women and land are exploited as tools to serve the primary goal of profit maximizing. One way in which the rural woman escapes this situation is through seeking off-farm employment. Often, this off-farm income is necessary in order to keep the farm going. While urban-based feminists may view an off-farm job as advancement for farmwomen, I view this trend as the ultimate exclusion of women from land and from the essential work of food production.
Farmwomen, as the caretakers of family and community health, are most aware of the inability of the food-as-commodity model to meet basic needs for nutrition, environmental continuity and living community. And, while true intentions are hidden behind a veil of farmer-friendliness, it is clear that Harper’s Conservatives are only friendly to a particular type of farmer and care little for women’s concerns. A Harper Farmer labours in an industrially integrated enterprise of at least five thousand acres that is enslaved to corporate agri-business companies. A Harper Farmer produces commodity crops for an export market and never questions his relationship with consumers or other farmers at home or abroad. The Harper Farmer is a man.
The Conservative government most clearly undermined the engagement of women in agriculture in its recent move this summer to restrict votes in the [supposedly] farmer-owned, farmer-directed Canadian Wheat Board. Previously, both the husband and wife in a farming partnership owned a quota book and had the right to haul grain and the right to vote in Wheat Board business. Now, only one member of a married couple is legally entitled to vote. When the male partner on a family farm is most commonly viewed as the primary producer, guess whose voice this decision explicitly seeks to exclude? This move, in combination with the recent changes to the long-form census, which drops question 33 concerning unpaid work raising children and in the home, will utterly invisibilize farmwomen’s lives. The message from Harper is clear: farmwomen don’t matter.
Despite these challenges, a burgeoning grassroots movement for a life-friendly food system is emerging. Women and their allies are reinventing the food system and empowering farmwomen to undertake the hands-on work of creating and renewing life. They are creating spaces for young families to engage in non-exploitative farming partnerships. This movement is rejuvenating the diverse but suffering rural communities of Western Canada. In rural Manitoba, one such organization engaged in initiating change is the Harvest Moon Society, where rural and urban folks alike are coming together to imagine and implement a localized food system that serves both land and community. The ongoing role of women in family food provision and increasingly in local scale agricultural production positions food and agriculture as one of the most important feminist issues of our generation.