what we’re having.

Do you know what you’re having?

This has always struck me as a strange turn of phrase considering the fact that I’m pregnant and percolating a foetus and not, say, hanging out at a cafeteria sandwich bar.

When I first heard about the Toronto couple that chose not to disclose the sex of their child, Storm, before I had a child of my own, I thought it was all pretty over the top. I appreciated the sentiment in theory, for sure, convinced as I am that socialization affects people little and old so much more than any of us realize, but it seemed a bit contrived. And I thought, if anyone wants to help us change diapers at any point, I certainly don’t see myself refusing. But now, I’m quite tempted to take a page out of their book.

The toddler boy child I’ve had the utter pleasure of mothering these past years is such a well-rounded, colourful, joy-filled and creative little being. He loves anything and everything with wheels, is voracious in his love of books, bright pink pants, cooking make-believe meals, jumping, kicking balls around, and a little purse that he uses to “do groceries” around the house and yard.

Being on the farm this past year, and hearing my once-regular-city-child now be referred to as a “little farmer,” or hearing neighbours talk about how great it is we have a boy because we’ll have someone to “take over the farm,” I’m pretty dismayed. Maybe a girl child would also get pegged this way (regardless of her inclinations), but I sense she might not. And, in all fairness, I don’t get called a farmer nearly as much as he does.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with ‘traditional (more stereotypical) boyhood,’ but there is something problematic about forcing that identity and self-definition onto people, perhaps especially when those people are quite young and don’t have the critical wherewithal to appreciate that those assumptions and expectations are just that—someone’s else’s idea, not a Truth that they need to embody. (And I really fear the day will come when my child refuses to wear his fave pink cordoroys—to do or wear or be something he is—because of something someone said to him.)

Throughout this pregnancy and in thinking about this second child, I’ve been mentally preparing to field discouraging questions and react to irksome (albeit well-meaning) comments—either of the “you’re a mother of boys! It’ll be all dirt and fart jokes and trucks from here on in!” or the “you must be wanting one of each” variety (as though there are two types of one-dimensional people out there: girl people and boy people).

And while it’s true that I’ve ached for more women friends and woman strength on this farm, my child is not the gruff man who lives in town and calls me ‘little lady,’ nor is he the neighbour who rolls into the driveway talking about P.’s farm/tractor/pigs/you-name-it. The pull of shitty hegemonic masculinity might be great, but I need to have faith that any boy child my partner and I raise will not become that man. I also refuse to believe that I will necessarily have a stronger bond with a daughter than a son; that I will only get to talk about periods, or porn, or feminism with a child of one sex; that our son will get along better with a brother; that a male child won’t want braids (or that a female child will want them); that a daughter will be more eager to knit with me.. and so on and so forth.

Having felt quite strongly, as a child, that some of the men in my life would maybe have loved me better had I been a boy, I’m especially sensitive to this obsessive over-gendering. It is limiting and it can hurt a lot.

We’ll probably end up disclosing the sex, but I say kudos to that family committed to progressive pronoun use and to diligently not letting anyone box in their kid.

And what I hope I’m having? The opportunity to bring a new healthy babe into this world (in a way that feels safe and empowering for me) and to raise the child as though no one gives a damn about his or her sex. And rest assured, the child will wear all of his brother’s gorgeous pink hand-me-down sleepers and onesies regardless.

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work clothes.

In a city jaunt last week, we stopped by a ‘work warehouse’ in the hopes of finding insulated coveralls for both P. and I and instead, it appeared we stumbled upon the warehouse of very segregated blue collar/pink collar work clothes. Construction/Outdoors etc. workwear in the « Men’s » section and scrubs and office-like workwear in the « Women’s » section.

 

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Sociologically fascinating, of course, to see such a prescriptive and backwards division of men and women’s labour force choices, but scrubs won’t help me much on the farm. And a 36" waist just won’t hold up either.

On my previous trip to that place a year ago, I left in a similar frustrated huff after having a choice of exactly two steel toed work boots in women’s sizes — and only one option in the non-pink category. I’m not against pink, far from it, I just don’t need ALL my work clothes to be that colour to, you know, like remember I’m a woman.

If anyone has any leads on where to find smaller sized farm/outdoor work attire, I’d love the tip. Ordering online from any other retailer also an option.

 

 

 

on ‘boys will be boys’ and the like.

We received an invitation for a brainstorm day a while back and part of the email included a piece about kids not being welcome because they can kill concentration. They totally do. Hands down. Work days with kids are double work days, for sure. (We don’t all have childcare though, so it is a barrier, but that’s a point for another day). It was framed as boy children being hard to manage, which really irked me. So I drafted a response, but forgot to edit and send it off. And since it’s been so long and I don’t know the sender personally, I thought using this as a writing exercise to be better equipped to verbalize these things on the spot later is more appropriate anyways.
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« About the kids piece, I need to share a point, just because I spend a lot of time thinking about this. I know that statements like « we have too many boys to keep it sane » really mean « we have too many toddlers/preschoolers to keep things under control, » but I feel that the popular stereotype that boys are more rambuctuous and harder to manage is not only false but also damaging to both boys and girls. To boys because it fits into the « boys will be boys » narrative that says it’s okay and ‘natural’ for boy children to wreck things and to be less respectful (which unfortunately doesn’t stop in toddlerhood, but is an expectation society has of boys and men). And damaging to girls because the underlying assumption here is that girls are « easier » to raise because they’re more docile, obedient, quiet; which is really problematic if we’re hoping to have strong outspoken women in positions of power and girls expecting (and negotiating) egalitarian partnerships as they grow up. I realize being nit-picky about language can be grating and seem uptight but I think that inviting children to be and to experience a whole wide range of emotions and behaviours, regardless of their sex and gender is our best tool for curbing gender inequality, for getting both men and women to take a stand against violence against women, and a surefire way to create a culture of consent good and early in the next generations. Hearing adults say that they act/behave a certain way because they’re boys or girls (whether or not the shoe fits), impacts their self-perceptions and, I’m convinced, spirals into self-fulfilling prophecies. Children are also the strictest gender polices once they crack the code of adults’ gender rules, which further reinforces a sub-optimal status quo. If we use more inclusive language, we all win. »
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(The revolution will start with language.)
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And on that note, I had some really fruitful conversations with our friend D this summer about how one can shift a culture, about what makes people start thinking, talking and behaving differently. I had been feeling weighed down by having to bring up gender issues, women’s issues, LGBTQ issues, children’s rights issues ALL THE TIME. You get called uptight a lot for shit like that. But in our conversations it clicked : we are conscious and particular about how we communicate, about the words we use and the words we teach because it effects the way we think, the way we classify information and what we think (/what we communicate) is important.
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My favourite example :  despite the fact that kiddo can tell (and will tell) if a (fully clothed) visitor has a penis or a vagina, he refers to people not as women or men but as people or children. He knows that there are biological males and females out there, he just doesn’t think (or hasn’t been encouraged to think) it’s the most salient characteristic about them. De quoi je suis bien fière.
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(Also, any pointers on how to talk about issues non-confrontationally when it’s something that folks just don’t have on their radars would be much appreciated. Because I don’t think I’m there).
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womenfolk.

 

From snow and frosts (bringing with them the stress of not having completed our frost-free winter water pumps project), to t-shirt weather (bringing renewed hope that we’ll get the potatoes out of the ground before they’re frozen solid), the farm emotions roller-coaster continues.

 

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Again, we’ve been so fortunate to have had so many good friends come to spend time with us at the farm and that so many have come with a great willingness to roll up (and muddy) their sleeves.

Our latest visitor has been an inspiring femme-à-tout-faire here, a Jill-of-all-trades, if you will.

 

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It’s been great to have the help of a can-do fellow farmer, of course, and for me, it’s been especially soulful to have another woman in this home, a competent, assertive, kind soul who knows what she’s talking about and holds her own in our pipe trenches, working with P. and the male contractor. I breathe easier living with individuals who subvert stereotypes and dated social norms. I am less on edge, more able to go about my business of garden tending or child minding, knowing that someone here is pushing the boundaries, broadening the scope of what women and men can (and choose to) do here. Both in my mind and for the older neighbours, farmers and contractors around who sometimes make it so hard for me to have any hope that I’ll choose a career/project path without having my main motivator be « I’ll show them! »

Having her company this past week has confirmed for me the importance of having other women on the farm. Both for my sense of safety and to open up the realm of what is possible. To foster the alternative and progressive home base we’re both, P. and I, longing for.  And to show them, quand même.

We will miss you , A.

 

the cattle side of things.

 

in three weeks’ time, the farm stay of our beloved friend d. will sadly come to a close. it occured to me that i should take full advantage of having a third adult here to spend my afternoons (sans kid) working with p. learning more about the cattle side of things. i’m appreciating this time of out of doors problem solving. to walk through these late fall pastures along red hills. to get this very real sense of why p. does what he does and why he loves it.

as much as i claim to love the great outdoors, i spend an awful lot of time indoors.

and there is something to be said about songbirds and flocks of geese. muddy boots and the smell of these trees.

 

 

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here the yearlings are grazing in the fields that have recently been combined. we have about four tons of oats and a dozen bales of straw to show for it. some of those oats will be for ursula (our dairy cow) and the straw will be used mainly as bedding for her, for the hens, (and any other animal needing it), and for the garden (there will be no weeding between rows next year! and hopefully fewer potato beetles and no late blight).

 

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helping move fences to give the cattle fresh pasture. giving me an appreciation for the migration patterns that intensive rotational grazing seeks to mimick.

 

 

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i drove the quad for the first time (standard driving? no problem!). oftentimes when the cattle are moved to a new pasture, the pasture pumps need to be moved as well. p. used to do this with a wheelbarrow, but we’re taking advantage of the farm quad this year.

 

 

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in the spring, we signed up, p. and i, to take part in an organic plant breeding trial with the university of manitoba. we’re growing some wheat (including some red fife!) for them and ourselves. sadly, we seeded in fields that aren’t tiled drained, and that haven’t gotten enough love these past years to be able to absorb the rainfalls. we’re working on it, but in the meantime, i’m not sure we’ll get great yields. hélas.

 

 

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there are days and weeks when i still really wonder what i’m doing here and what will come of all of this. and there are others when i’m traipsing in wet fields with these two and feeling pretty grateful and content that we get to work together, to learn and to create this together. the rest just might sort itself out, j’me dis.

 

baring it all

 

so a group of young women farmers created an indiegogo campaign to buy farmland. they created a calendar and a short video with quasi naked photos of themselves and women farm workers they’ve worked with in the past. it’s selling like hot cakes and to date, they’ve raised 15,000$ more than the four grand they were initally hoping to raise.

a number of farmers i know shared the link and today, it was posted on a young farmers’ network’s page, with folks saying it was a great campaign.

 

une parenthèse : i’ve recently vowed to speak up when i encounter things that i feel are wrong or unjust. i’ve been too good at keeping it in, fearing the confrontation, but it’s been an unworkable strategy, especially since living with a child. we need to model the behaviours we want to encourage, and we want this little person to be as feminist and social justice-minded and kind and authentic as this world needs him to be.

so i piped up a bit. and a friend who agreed eloquently backed me up. but the internet is a bad place for piping up, really. (so instead i’m going to write about it on a blog. ha!)

 

i believe that using this type of power (female sex appeal) undermines the real power that women should (and more often than not don’t) wield in society. i think it plays into a status quo that keeps most women down (economically, socially, politically) and that it teaches young girls that being beautiful and heterosexually attractive is top currency.

i get that all of this is macro and that at the personal level, these four farmers are probably super awesome, that they thought of this cool idea and ran with it, got loads of support and had a bunch of fun. they have beautiful strong bodies, nice old farm machinery and it totally worked.

i get that they (and all women) can make all sorts of personal choices and that they aren’t victimized or traitors to the cause or anti-feminist for it.

i have no beef with them.

 

i have a beef with the ugly intersection of capitalism and patriarchy where this is the primary and often the only power women wield, where you get ahead by « playing the game » and in so doing, often end up working against others who are trying to get ahead by changing the game. i have a beef with individualistic solutions to social problems (access to land is a huge issue for young farmers. it requires political pressure and important policy changes. i realize that those take time and that down payments don’t grow themselves, but it irks me, especially when an organization is seen as advocating for methods like these instead of engaging in systems thinking.) i have a beef with how little structural analysis is present in our discourse and thinking (even the responses to my comment — and i realize one shouldn’t read comments usually but this is a young farmers network — questioning that this initiative is a great and creative way to raise funds for land is met with : « people who have a problem with this campaign are uptight/are bitter and envious/are against naked bodies » etc. engage with and critique the argument, don’t settle for personal attacks). and i’m kind of baffled that so many people think this is a great and novel idea. if i started advocating for law students to strip tease to pay for their studies, this wouldn’t be seen as creative problem-solving, i’d wager.

 

as a woman who’s getting into farming and trying to be taken seriously in a pretty traditional and male-dominated farming community, i have almost daily reminders that the people we work and do business with in this town don’t appreciate that i am an equal partner here.  i am at best a good gardener, a useful translator, an administrative worker. i appreciate that this isn’t every woman’s experience, but i doubt it’s mine alone.

and i can’t help but feel that this sort of thing sets us back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

on safety.

 

a few weeks into our living at the farm, with so much heavy work to do and a curious toddler, i had a ‘safety meltdown’.

i was exhausted, worn down by the constant need to evaluate the safety of activities, spaces, machines and foods. tired of being the more safety-conscious parent. tired of the buck stopping with me, of having to make judgement calls on things foreign to me.

 

in the months prior to finding this place, we had gone to visit a number of farms p., kiddo and i, and it had occured to me, as we walked through a bull herd’s pasture, that i had absolutely no idea how safe it was for us, or at least for me and this child on my back, to be there given that my knowledge of how to act and react around livestock was pretty close to nil. here i was, stuck in a bull pen, snow up to my knees, with a kid and no farm smarts.

when we got here, i told myself that p. being so farm-literate, i’d just leave it in his hands. after feeling too much discomfort at the thought of him babywearing while riding the quad, however, i figured that actually, even in the city, this was our (unfortunate, stereotypical) dynamic. i wanted us to wait for kiddo to be closer to the recommended age before taking him cycling with us. i wanted to wait until he was 6 weeks old to take him swimming. i wanted to avoid night cycling with him (and a whole bunch of other, not as reasonable sounding things that i seem to have erased from my memory).

i figured i needed to be honest with myself and speak up, if only so that p. and i could meet in the middle. so that my safety consciousness could pull our decision making to a more comfortable middle ground and his less cautious stance would ensure that our child got to do at least some fun farm things.

when we think farm, we often think of these idyllic spaces. wee ones running in the fields, fetching eggs in coops, playing in creeks and in hay stacks. the stuff of dreams and picture books. but really, farm fatalities are common and a sad fact is that 14% of reported agricultural fatalities (between 1990 and 2008) were those of the children of farmer/owner operators.

 

back at our farm, there’s machinery all over the place, periods during the year when we have contracted workers with even bigger machinery coming through the yard, there’s the manure pit (to which we’ve lost a calf and probably a number of barn cats), there’s the highway about 25 meters from the house, diseases related to laying hens and chicken manure, there’s the raw milk, the raw milk butter, the cattle, the sick barn cats, unknown berry-like bushes that look like « framboise! » to a 2 year old, wild parsnip in the pastures (which will actually burn and blister skin), electrical fencing, old  barbed wire fences, power tools, rusty metal bits all over the place, et on passe. (to say nothing of the safety fears that come with moving to a new/rural place : new and strange neighbours, theft on our rang,  the incidence of drinking and driving, what it means to be different in a small place..)

these things aren’t always paralyzing, but often stress-inducing.

 

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coming back from a day in the city on sunday, i caught myself breathing a sigh of relief. i know it’s not all bad. i am grateful that this child gets o tbe pretty free-range, learns about life and death, seeds and harvests, the seasons and the rhythms of the day. but i sure don’t have the cultural and safety codes of the farm down pat yet.

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i would love to hear about others’ experiences on this from farm kids and farm parents. what are some of your non-negotiables rules, what kept you feeling free and safe on the farm, what helped you carve out a good space for your kids in a rural/agricultural/more traditional setting?

what the hay.

 

one should make hay when the sun shines, so in a fencing lull, with our eye on the weekly forecast, we went about making plans to cut, ted, rake, and bale a few pastures. we need around eight hundred bales to feed the cow-calf pairs through the winter and i think both p. and i were getting pretty anxious seeing the neighbours hauling cart after cart of luscious golden hay, so the time was ripe.

 

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we were hoping to harvest at least a hundred bales and we figured we’d need at least four consecutive  days of sun and warmth to get the job done. the thermostat was to be in the 30s for a solid mid-week and the sun was set to shine. we embarked. hay making means something like sixteen hour days, endless hours bumping along in a tractor, and being super OCD about listening to weather reports.

 

 

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when p. started talking about us « entering hay season », we were all pretty stoked to partake in this true farm experience.  turns out it’s a lot of taking over someone else’s house chores (cooking, milking, etc.) and not that much excitement. regardless, all of those who wanted tractor shifts got a kick at the can. i’ll admit it was my first time driving the thing. and as a standard vehicle, let me tell you, it’s easier to drive than our focus.

 

 

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here’s the hay tedder. the teeth spin to aerate and spread the grasses out, or to « wuffle » the hay, to expose more of the cut to sunlight, air and wind and thus speed up the hay-making process.

 

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and here’s the awesome warning sticker on the tedder. the words, if there were any, have rubbed off, but that twirly body says it all.

 

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despite five solid days of heat and sun, the humidity and stillness of the air did us in. on the sixth day it poured. it rained like it hadn’t in months. p. managed to bale 30 solid bales of dry stuff, 50 of moist, and the rest is still (rotting) in the fields a week later. so effin deflating. in cities, you just don’t have that sort of experience. my closest is probably when a day or two of freezing rain in february ruins the ice on the rideau canal and the city closes the skateway for the season despite an upcoming cold snap. it’s never been about livelihood for me. and these failed bales totally are. there’s also a significant strain from having a partner away for a child’s entire waking hours, from rejigging house chores, and from not really sharing daily experiences enough for true empathy. mais c’est la vie, these days.

 

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here’s p. rolling in with the dry bales in the pouring rain.

we’re going to be giving it another go in september. and undoubtedly buying a bunch of hay for our first winter.

our first town council meeting.

 

We went to our first Town Council Meeting last week. In part because it seemed like the thing to do, in part because we want to dig under a road to lay pipe and get water to cattle in fields across a dirt road (and we were told that being present at the meeting would allow the mayor and councillors to ask us questions about the proposal directly).

Given that notre village d’adoption has a population of 3,700 people and that these meetings take place at 9pm on Mondays (I suspect because the councillors have day jobs), I wasn’t expecting a huge turnout. There was a whopping 13 townspeople though, and gender parity, both in terms of councillors and citizens present. Pas pire ! Plus the mayor is a woman and during la période de questions, women were as vocal as men.

What won me over during the proceedings (other than the gender parity), was one townsperson’s empassioned defense of the community library. She had been a library volunteer for two years and had stepped down due to a lack of team spirit and willingness to make the space more organized and user friendly. She talked about the coordinator using the space for personal aims (some sort of shady massage business) and distributed copies of the town’s own ethics manual to make her case that this person should get the boot.  It was well performed. I couldn’t tell if she was that someone who always spoke out at these meetings, but I choose to believe that she is a true lover of the written word, une grande défenseuse de la parole écrite et du bouquin.

We learned, halfway through the meeting, that proposals were to be reviewed at a private Council work day later that week. But I did ask the question, receive a kind answer, and got my name in the minutes (which basically means that we have arrived).

Bonjour petit village, nous voici.

 

 

whose farm?

 

i can be set off for whole days by people coming over and talking about « p’s farm ».

yes. p. is a cattle farmer. he has been running a successful farm enterprise for over four years now. the cattle he pastures sells out quick and he is staying on top of countless infrastructure projects all the while managing two separate herds and a dairy duo on our 270 acres. he is awesome at what he does and i am awed by his creative problem solving daily.

but this is our farm. regardless of whether or not i become a big « F » farmer (regardless of whether i become more comfortable moving fences for forty large and hungry mammals, regardless of whether or not i staff the tractor half the time or know which insulators to order) coming here and calling it his makes me feel like this is the 1950s and that i am also his. or that i’m just along for the ride and don’t really matter.

and the truth of the matter (and the reason it really gets to me) is that i’ve had a hard time accepting that this is also mine, that we’re partners, equal stakeholders despite my very limited knowledge of farming. but i’ve gotten there. because it takes more than someone working with cattle to run this place. because we’ve taken on this massive debt together. because this is a shared life project.

 

the previous owner used to come around and ask about p’s tractor, p’s fields, p’s cattle, p’s sheds. we were just settling in, i was trying to find my bearings, and it almost did me in, almost sent me packing (« how can we raise progressive, feminist, kind-hearted children in a place where people think a woman on a farm is a lodger, is a house worker, is expendable?! »). he’s since seen how ridulously large (and successful!) the vegetable garden is, has seen me working tirelessly, has seen p. caring for our child and taking on reproductive work, and he has reeled in the comments. i breathe easier now when he shows up.

an unfortunate side-effect of all of this is the depreciation of all work and crafts traditionally done by women. all of a sudden it’s more important to learn to drive the tractor than to meet up with le cercle des fermières to learn about working with looms. or i temper my desire to take up sewing projects because i feel the need to be non-traditional and make the neighbours bite their tongues. it’s the exact same as foregoing pink for both girls and boys in the quest for ‘gender neutrality’ in children’s clothing. erasing all traces of femininity as though there’s something inherently wrong with being a girl, as though pink is specific and blue is not.

 

i aspire to not giving a shit about what people say or think about my role here. it’d be so nice though if people didn’t make sweeping, sexist assumptions about people’s roles, especially when a business is tied to a place and to a family. because it can be all the more alienating then.