The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is “Choose to Challenge”, shining a light on the struggles women face in the workplace and beyond. International Women’s Day is an opportunity to make strides, challenge the status quo and do things differently.
My journey into farming was a personal one, and one that seemed natural to me as the next step of my life story. From growing up in Malaysia, to pursuing a career as a model, to moving to the UK to raise a family, food and how it is produced has always grounded me and given me a sense of connection to wherever I found myself. Farming for me felt like a return to my rural roots, and a homecoming of sorts.
The decision was a natural one for me, but as I took my first steps into farming, it was daunting to see very few people like me in the same roles.
It the UK, nearly one in five farmers are women, but you wouldn’t know that from the popular image of farming. The farming community itself is a welcoming one, which is more interested in what you want to do, than in who you are. It’s the wider world that needs to catch up if we’re going to create a level playing field. From the day-to-day comments such as “you don’t look like a farmer” to a lack of access to educational and technological programmes which help move the sector on from an outdated emphasis on physical labour, women face barriers both entering the sector and working in it.
As I often do in these situations, I set out to look for examples of women who had already paved the way for me. And, as I often find, inspirational stories of women in farming weren’t so hard to find.
Maria Walsh, Irish MEP and farmer has spoken out on the lack of support for women who want to enter the farming industry. She has highlighted the potential of online training as a way to give aspirant women farmers practical skills and demonstrate examples of successful women farming entrepreneurs. Or Minette Batters, the current President of the 47,000-strong National Farmers Union, who has made strides in helping transition British farming to a sustainable future. Women like these are the role models we need to show that it is often women pushing the boundaries in farming, and indeed it always has been.
Across the world, there are many examples too. I particularly look up to Lisa Kivirist. Lisa is Senior Fellow at the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture and has been recognised by multiple publications and organisations as one of the “world’s leading women in sustainability and social reform who are fiercely changing the game in their world”. Lisa has authored numerous books which help farmers across the world including Soil Sisters: A Toolkit for Women Farmers, which compiles advice, support, and resources from over 100 women in the sustainable agriculture movement. She also runs a podcast series featuring interviews with modern women farmers and programmes which raise awareness internationally.
Women like Lisa are helping to change the popular image of farming, but also demonstrating that farming can be something different to what it has been in the past – that it can give back to the earth instead of taking from it. As I work to bring sustainable produce from the farm at Ewhurst to the Good Plot in Notting Hill, and to your family table at home, I am grateful for the example these brave women set in choosing to challenge all over the world.