On paper, it looks like Katie Gleeson has been farming her whole life. Having garnered a huge online following over the past several years (largely thanks to her self-taught skill in photography), she shares daily snippets of her life on her Instagram feed (@katieinthecountry) and partners with brands and organisations as a farming influencer.
Her snapshots of life on a Co Tipperary dairy farm with husband, Phil and children Daniel (nine), Faye (eight) and Jack (six) – and, of course, their herd of Friesians – provides followers with daily doses of “farm envy” in the best possible way.
Despite her knowledge and skills, however, Katie does not come from a farming background. She often jokingly refers to herself as a “townie” – she was born in London and then moved to Templemore, Co Tipperary, as a young child.
“I grew up on a housing estate in Templemore after my family moved back,” she tells Irish Country Living.
“Like most young people in the ’80s, they had moved over for work. My dad was a stonemason and my mum was a preschool teacher. We had no connection to agriculture in our daily life, but the estate backed out onto the countryside. I spent my childhood playing in fields, climbing trees, building camps in ditches and searching for frogspawn in drains.”
Marrying in Her husband, Phil, attended secondary school in Templemore. However, the two didn’t meet until a few years later when Katie was in college studying to be a hairdresser.
“I worked three part-time jobs at the time and one of them was in a video rental shop,” she recalls. “That’s where I first encountered Phil. I thought he was a movie buff as he seemed to rent an awful lot of films. One Saturday night, I bumped into him in the local nightclub and the rest was history. I subsequently discovered that Phil wasn’t that much of a film fanatic and I’m certain that the video shop’s profits dipped after that night!”
Phil and Katie spent their formative years working and seeing the world – they both love to travel. Early on in their relationship, she says the farm was “always in the background” but not a huge part of their lives until they married and built their home.
She maintains that those early years of marriage, which included having their three children in close succession, were a bit of a “whirlwind.”
Phil gradually moved toward full-time farming and, while their children were young, Katie ran a small hair salon out of her home. When their youngest, Jack, was born in 2017, she decided to close the salon and become a full-time mum.
“This was probably the busiest role I have ever worked to date – but for the first time in my life it gave me a chance to just exist in the present moment,” she says. “A lot of us spend the first 30 years of our life chasing goals and ticking boxes. Even though we were still incredibly busy with three babies and a dairy farm, it felt like we had found a lovely balance to life.”
Love at first click Soon after closing her business, Katie’s life changed when she picked up her camera. Utilising her love of nature, she would go outside and take images of the Irish countryside, the farm or her kids playing in the fields. She started her Instagram page at this point and, once she started sharing the images – which were often edited in a whimsical or ethereal way – her following quickly grew.
“Having one foot in the farmhouse and the other foot in the farmyard, I rediscovered that childhood wonder and joy that the countryside brought me,” she explains. “Like a lot of mums, I loved taking pictures of my kids but I also turned my camera towards the farm, with its ever-changing skies and landscape. Around that time, Instagram was very much a photography platform so I began to share my photographs and thoughts online. People seemed to enjoy the insight into family life on a dairy farm.
“Naturally, I’m a very curious person,” she continues. “When something interests me I like to ask a lot of questions and discover as much as I can. The lens led me into the farmyard, where I promptly launched my own sort of ‘townie inquisition’ towards my husband. The more I discovered, the more my mind was blown. There are so many facets to farming – a lot more than people realise – and I really enjoyed documenting it on my Instagram.”
Farm quest While Katie’s Instagram account grew, at the same time she was becoming more passionate about farming itself. She tells Irish Country Living that, like most of us, her first jobs included standing in gaps and running errands in town. However, she grew so fond of the cows she found herself keen to get into the milking parlour as much as she could.
“It’s not always possible with school runs and after school activities, but every time I step foot into the parlour I learn something new,” she smiles.
“Some might say being married into a farm induces a form of agricultural Stockholm syndrome – if you can’t beat them, join them! But for me, I see the value of what farmers do. There’s great satisfaction in the work and every day is different. Phil is a brilliant dairy farmer, he works incredibly hard. He has an enthusiasm and optimism that’s grounded in common sense when it comes to the farm, whether that’s incorporating new technologies, welfare or sustainability practices.
“An enthusiastic mind-set is contagious and he motivates, encourages and supports me, which is incredibly helpful when you’re trying to learn something new.”
Telling the story
While not full time in the milking parlour, Katie’s additional work in agriculture – how she helps tell the story of farming in Ireland – is just as important. She has found a way to combine her love of nature and sustainability while sharing the practicalities of food production.
“We are in a dynamic time when it comes to agriculture; the world is changing and farming as we know it is going to encounter a variety of challenges and opportunities over the next 20 to 30 years,” she says. “My passion for sustainability is driven by the environments that have shaped me: that childhood love of the landscape and the farm I live on, where generations have worked and hopefully will continue to in future.
“The more I learn about agriculture, food security, climate change, and agri-environmental policy, the more it spurs me on,” she continues.
“Being from a non-farming background, I feel I can communicate that effectively, because I’m now answering the same questions I asked as a non-farmer not so long ago. There’s nothing that gives a deeper understanding than lived experience.
“In my experience, people are not overly interested in your SCC count or your grass wedge, but they do want to know that farmers actually care about their livestock and the environment,” she adds.
This past week, Katie started her latest adventure in agriculture: returning to college as a mature student. She was accepted into a new course at TUS (Technological University of the Shannon) which both suits her interests and her busy lifestyle.
“I’m very fortunate that the good timing was on my side,” she says. “The kids are all in primary school, Phil and his parents have a good balance on the farm and the new course, agricultural science and sustainability [including the green cert] became available on the TUS campus in Thurles, which is less than a 30-minute drive away. I was hoping to complete some formal agricultural education, and when I came across this course at the Dairy Women Ireland conference in TUS last November, I felt it was the right fit for me.”
Becoming a woman in ag
Irish Country Living’s annual Women & Agriculture conference is just around the corner, taking place on 25 October in the Lyrath Hotel, Kilkenny and Katie will be in attendance. She believes participating in conferences and discussion groups is important not just for professional growth, but in growing a community.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” she says. “Life on the farm is incredible, but it can also be isolating. While Phil had his discussion groups and all, a few years ago there wasn’t as much for women on farms.
“Women in agriculture, like me, often find themselves being a jack-of-all-trades between the farmyard, the farmhouse and family. Often, you have a completely different life to the one you grew up with, and it’s hard to know where your place is in the agricultural community. Groups like Dairy Women Ireland or conferences like Women & Agriculture are fantastic for connecting and empowering us.”