Last fall, Dirk and I attended a vegetable farmer “meet-and-greet” lunch. We spent the afternoon mingling with other farmers, exchanging tips of the trade, and of course, eating each other’s kale or cabbage salads. Towards the end, we sat in a circle and had the opportunity to ask the whole group questions on challenges that would be ameliorated through brainstorming. Among the group, Dirk and I were the only childless couple and I watched as the farm-grown children scampered off, at ease around equipment and dirt.
“Dirk and I are thinking about starting to try for kids soon. How do you make kids and a farm work?” I asked the gathered group. Opinions immediately began flying at us as everyone told us to wait as long as we could and focus on the farm for a while as having a baby the first year on a new farm would be a terrible idea. We took the advice to heart, but we never have complete control over our plans, much less our reproductive systems. Now I sit, fourteen weeks pregnant, with a perceptible rounding of my belly, and constantly wonder about farming and motherhood.
Long before I became pregnant or started farming, I decided I would be a working mother. I came from a long line of working mothers. My mother, both grandmothers, and at least one great-grandmother had all raised kids while working outside the home. While I never had the chance to talk to my grandmothers about the challenges; I learned from my mom that working and raising children is challenging. My mom, a compassionate and talented nurse who loves her work, cut back from full time to part time and switched from working on a floor with long shifts to the dependable hours of a clinic so she could spend more time with us kids. Yet I have always admired how my mom found joy in both working and mothering.
Being both a farmer and mother isn’t an insurmountable challenge. Farming is just another job, albeit a job that is demanding. I’ve heard it said by many farmers that “the farm will take all you can give and more”. The challenge with farming and being a mother is the commitment required by both. To a certain extent, people with office jobs can leave their physical work at the office. Farmers step out of the door and are at work. Farmers make strange boasts like “I work 24/7” or “I can’t remember the last time I took a vacation” as a way to show their commitment to the farm. With motherhood, or even an attempt at wellbeing, this attitude just isn’t possible. For me, farming is a vocation, a holy call, and a passion, but I would drop growing vegetables instantly for the sake of the human growing inside me.
The search for balance between work and family is not new for women. I’m another woman in a line of billions realizing anew the complexities of our system and unseen expectations for women. I always planned on being a working mother, but until I saw my child on the ultrasound screen and heard its heartbeat, I didn’t realize how much I wanted “mother” to outrank any work I accomplish. I want to be a good farmer, to feed and nourish people and the soil. But I want to feed and nourish my child more, to raise my child into a person who is gentle, loving, compassionate, curious, and conscientious. Fortunately, my job can help show my child one example of living out those attributes, I just have to figure out how to make the farm work for my family.