Picture an Aussie farmer. An image of a man clad in flannel likely popped into your head. That’s understandable; in 2011 72% of farmers in Australia were in fact men. It’s interesting to note, however, that alongside this staggeringly lopsided statistic is this little nugget – 49% of on-farm income is generated by women. Women have always played a vital role in agriculture and now women in leading farming roles are gaining visibility.
On International Women’s Day we take the opportunity to celebrate some very special women in farming.
Lauren Mathers, Wonder Woman extraordinaire
Lauren Mathers runs Bundarra Berkshires Free Range Farm with her husband Lachlan – a 100-acre biodynamic farm on which she raises heritage breed Berkshire pigs and creates award-winning pork products. All the butchering is also done on-farm, allowing for a truly nose-to-tail philosophy.
I have always admired Lauren for her community-minded approach to farming, she’s raw and honest and fights for what she believes in; particularly when it comes to better standards for animals. This passion has seen her head up many initiatives beyond her very busy day-to-day life which includes full-time family raising and farm management. One such project Lauren is particularly excited about is the cooperative micro-abattoir in Barham she has helped to establish with a group of other like-minded farmers in the region.
The inspiration for this, Lauren explains,
“We all want the same thing. Highly skilled and respectful humans carefully carrying out a stress-free as possible humane kill with the best quality meat and access to all the offal as well.”
In the lead-up to International Women’s Day I had a chat with Lauren to discuss what being a female farmer means to her. I will also add that she provided this articulate insight driving back from being reunited with her Golden Retriever who had been missing for six weeks and was found in pretty bad shape more than 250km away from home, in suspicious circumstance (her other pooch is still missing). Her composure in the wake of such an experience and her ability to give time to this chat is testament to what a rock star she is!
What does it mean to you to be female and a farmer?
I’m immensely proud because I get to raise a family and do what I’ve always known how to do. I’ve always been on a farm, so it’s natural to me. I looked up to my mum growing up and she was always on the land, I had a great role model.
Does it challenge the stereotype, illicit any interesting responses?
It’s very normal now, especially in our circle of friends. There are so many things to do with running a farm, like marketing and sales which blokes might not be so into, so having the input of women is really helpful.
We’re from a little town without a daycare centre, so juggling many things at once has been stressful. My mental health has suffered at points over the years because of it, but I also acknowledge how fortunate I am to be able to have my family around and do something I love.
Are there times when your gender presents as a challenge to your farming?
The meat industry is really male dominated. It has been really hard to gain that respect within the abattoirs.
Taking back control by starting a meat co-op, which is 50/50 run by men and women, has been a great way to gain some balance. Women tend to respond quicker to community-minded projects and are naturally better communicators, so having a woman running the co-op brings a different, more open feel. We bring our kids along to meetings and that is now seen as completely normal.
“What I will say is that although it is amazing to have so many wonderful women to celebrate, the co-op only works because it is fully supported by men as well, which is amazing to see.”
What would you say to people who might be thinking that farming is a ‘man’s job’?
Behind every man is a great woman. In my experience, a farm is never run by just by men. There’s so many moving parts to a farm business and you need that support. Women bring beautiful things to farming; they think outside the box, they’re willing to take more risks, they are good multi-taskers, they have that tenderness that men might not have, especially when it comes to handling animals.
What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
It is a great day to give women recognition. It’s a huge movement for women to have more equality across the board. I think it’s great to have International Women’s Day, but I don’t think we should forget about the men who support us. You can’t be a great woman without having great support.
Also, my Nan died on International Women’s Day, and she was somewhat of a trailblazer, so I always take a moment to remember her.