(A Farmer's Wife Analysis.)
Like the faded paint on the few remaining collapsing rural barns, recent statistics claim that Saskatchewan is losing farmers quicker than anywhere else in Canada. Corporate farms with colossal farming equipment are getting larger as mid-to small-sized family farms and ranches are hanging up their spurs. It's the story of the giant department store coming to town with mass produced cheaper goods and the little corner grocer scribbles For Sale on the front door. The world beyond what was once called Canada's Bread Basket, has formed an economic venue where only the sturdy and strong survive.
Farming as we know it - is an endangered species, and here on the Canadian prairie we have a front row seat watching its final performance. This doesn't affect or bother many people but I find it unsettling. Farm life is unique, I love it. Since his father's illness, then death, for about fifteen years Fred and I have been farming the land where he was raised. I have great respect for our neighbours and the friendships I have formed with incredible, unwavering and classy women like Alma, Iris, Jayne and other farm wives. I have learned much about life from them and this declining industry called farming. Time, industry and technology have changed its face, but the heart of farming has remained the same.
I have thought much about the role women have played in farming. In a land and time when the Canadian prairie landscape was speckled with active family farms, most young farm brides after marriage would uproot and live on their husband's family farm. Many wives moved from a town or city or another community or even country as in the case of War Brides. Thousands of young women suddenly found themselves immersed in an unfamiliar way of life in a remote harsh backdrop. Distance prevented any type of support because it didn't take long before she discovered the farm was "her husband's" family farm, all the neighbours were his family and life-long friends. She was simply, 'the wife.' It was accepted without challenge that the passing of the family farm went to 'the boys.' Many farm women realized though they were hard working in the home and farm operation, they lacked influence, input or voice in decisions made by their spouse.
Even today the notion exists that men's work is more important and women's tasks are controlled and even undermined by the men. The farm wife is still expected to nurture the children, see to everyone's health and also provide emotional support. She is the one who detects her husband's stress and sadly, unseen or noted by others, she and/or the children become easy targets for the husband's irritability. With almost all of the variables in the business of farming out of the farmer's control inherently, alone he assumes the weight of personal failure. Although others can't understand it, farmers have tremendous personal pride in the land and believe in keeping their troubles to themselves. It is an alienating attitude that too often results in serious depression. There is truth to the old story that a farmer will sell cattle to go to Hawaii just so the neighbours will not suspect how bad life really is. Denial is easy when one lives in the illusive enhancement of 'next year.'
Unfortunately, today there are many farmers' wives who receive no recognition, wage and dream of being treated respectfully and as an equal and as a cherished partner. They receive no sick leave, maternity leave or vacation time and cannot contribute to the Canadian Pension Plan. Although most farm corporations subscribe to Workmen's Compensation, individual farmers do not have it for themselves or their wives because it is costly.
I know the satisfaction that my Fred the farmer experiences when he is working a field, walking it, checking the crops; his feet following the invisible imprints left by his father and grandfather. It is his legacy, it ties him to the past and we thought at one time, also the future. There are no words to describe how he feels about this being the end of the line for us. Though we would like to know our children would also come to walk and love the land, that dream has taken the first flight out of the province. The stability of life back home on the family farm no longer exists.
Saskatchewanians are waiting for spring. It has a very different meaning to a small farmer. In the good years it's exciting, to feel under his feet the pulse and awakening of the earth. Regrettably more and more farmers are running short of 'next years' and each new spring allocates thoughts of cash flow, pleading with the banker, uncertainty and hanging out the For Sale sign.
Nothing at all is left of the farm or yard where I grew up. The pine trees, even the yard access today is nothing but field. Today as I write this, if you walk down our drive and look to the west beyond a hedge of scruffy lilacs and caragana, there is a wide, bare area that once was a huge vegetable garden. To the north, a grove of old gnarled trees is all that is left of a once beautiful and thriving apple and pear orchard. Mostly, sometimes I shift my gaze North West, past our field and remember the patch of road where Fred's eighteen year old brother was killed in a car wreck.
Nothing can change what was or what is coming and I find the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) haunting: "Here once the embattled farmers stood, and fired the shot heard round the world."
Sask. Farm Facts:
*Following a husband's death in the late 1800's, Saskatchewan farm wives could not inherit property and were denied any return to work on the farm. She was the last in line with rights to household property and land after the husband's father or his children. Almost all Canadian land and all the income was legally owned and controlled by men. Life became more tolerable with the Saskatchewan Homestead Act of 1915, which forbid a husband to sell, mortgage, transfer or bequest the family home or the land without the wife’s written consent. Women finally gained the right in 1979 to equally share in matrimonial property and assets when the Saskatchewan government passed the Matrimonial Property Act.
*In 1991, according to AgCensus, there were roughly 78,000 farm operators under 35 in Canada; by 2006, there were less than 30,000.
*Saskatchewan still has 20 per cent of all the farms in Canada.
*Saskatchewan still has 20 per cent of all the farms in Canada.
*In 2006, the average age of Saskatchewan farmers has increased to 53 from 50.