Growing up my mother and father had a very small farm in south Armagh, about four or five cows. They also worked off-farm as well and we lived in the heart of a rural community.
I still live in south Armagh, I’m married to a farmer. We’ve a beef farm just at the foot of Slieve Gullion.
I love farming because you’re in the countryside and you’re out in nature.
I think farming, it’s in you or it’s not in you
My children are grown up, they’re 21 and 24, so it’s different now.
My husband was working off-farm full time as well – he was working in Dublin – so it was hectic at times, but you wouldn’t have it any other way.
I think farming, it’s in you or it’s not in you.
Off-farm I’m a project development officer for the Rural Health Partnership based in south Armagh. Working in rural and community development, that would be my passion.
We’re a voluntary and community organisation, set up about 22 years now. We promote health and wellbeing among people in the south Armagh area.
I love working in this area because we’re empowering local people
Before my current role, for 20 years I was the head of income generation and marketing for the local hospice, and I loved it. But I always wanted to go back and do something with community development.
I love working in this area because we’re empowering local people. We help, particularly rural people, to access services and also understand what help is out there. It’s about bringing that back to your local area, your local people and supporting them. As farming would be one of the biggest industry areas here in this rural side of south Armagh, it’s supporting that too.
Just two weeks ago, we launched a new project, Women in Farming – More than Standing in a Gateway. We’ve received the Prince’s Countryside Fund for this. We were the only group from Northern Ireland who were successful with their application in this round of funding.
Our application just happened to be timely as well, because at the same time the Department of Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs (DEARA) opened a consultation period for ‘Breaking the Grass Ceiling’, which looks at the barriers to women in agriculture, farming in particular.
As farm families and farmers are one of our target groups, to support the farm family and to get farmers engaged, we thought we would engage with the women of the household; whether that was the farmer themselves, the daughter of the farmer or the wife of the farmer.
We divided our work into four key areas: health and wellbeing, training and skills, family support and social events.
Women on the farm, we basically feel that they’re the unsung heroes of the farming community.
What we want to do is build up a peer support group and by the end of the project, you’d have women who would be empowered to come together
We believe that they do wear capes as far as we’re concerned, from the overalls in the shed to aprons in the house.
Whilst being quite busy and juggling everything that they needed to do, they could still be isolated and feel a bit lonely.
What we want to do is build up a peer support group and by the end of the project, you’d have women who would be empowered to come together.
Initially we were just going to do this in south Armagh, in our own geographical area, but when we started putting this out there it took off across Northern Ireland, because the issues we have highlighted are not unique to our area, they’re issues that are common to all farming women.
Under our four key areas we’re organising a number of events, as well as highlighting other events that are already running. These range from a cybersecurity webinar to a trailer reversing course, cookery demonstration, an art therapy workshop and more.
Standing in a Gateway
We called our programme More than Standing in a Gateway. There’s a bit of a pun in that.
The idea being that women are more than ‘standing in a gateway’, that they’re actually the ‘gateway’ through which most of the operations of the farm happen. Whether it be looking after the farm family, whether it be the operations of the farm in terms of IT and business or whether it be out working on the farm – they’re the gateway. That’s why we see women as playing a crucial role.
The issues we’re seeing here are relevant no matter where you live in Ireland as a farming woman. They seem to be universal – recognition, equality, support and being valued for what they do on the family farm
The other thing as well is that they’re not getting the recognition in terms of representation in the hierarchies of the different farming organisations. Women aren’t up there. That’s across society, that’s not unique to farming. You see that in sectoral employment and industry representation as well.
The issues we’re seeing here are relevant no matter where you live in Ireland as a farming woman. They seem to be universal – recognition, equality, support and being valued for what they do on the family farm.
Even things like succession planning. Traditionally farms would be left to the son in the family – looking at that and making sure that young men and women are looked upon as equals in their work that they do on the farm.