This year has taken me on a journey that has challenged my idea of what it means to be a farmer.
For so long, I’ve thought that until I owned my own patch of dirt and was in the dairy every morning milking cows, out in the paddock riding a horse, or driving a tractor… I couldn’t call myself a farmer.
And unless I could do all three whilst wearing an Akubra, I was total imposter.
And so, because I wasn’t fortunate enough to be born into a landholding family, and am unlikely to ever be able to afford my own farm because I spent most of my twenties studying, I thought I could never be a farmer.
My childhood Rachael Treasure and McLeod’s Daughters dreams were just that – dreams.
The Oxford dictionary definition of a farmer ratifies this – farmers are land holders or land managers. There’s no space for creative interpretation there.
Despite so desperately wanting to be included, I had no clear pathway into agriculture as a high school student. I was considered “too bright” to take any ag subjects, and besides, I liked literature too much. I was a nerd, not an aggie. What I really wanted was to study agri journalism, but was instead encouraged down a different pathway.
And so, I became a vet.
Now, this wasn’t all bad. A large driving force behind my love for agriculture was being outdoors and working with livestock, so studying veterinary medicine was also an extremely attractive pathway for me to pursue. I pursued this new career wholeheartedly, despite not being particularly high achieving or academically-minded in the university context. Also, I discovered I enjoyed partying probably a little too much.
The irony of all this was I actually had to ‘backdoor’ my way into becoming a vet. I studied science and majored in agriculture, and because I actually enjoyed the content my grades were good enough to finally secure me a place in a veterinary degree. One might say at that point, I couldn’t see the forest for all the trees.
What vet ultimately offered me was a way to be on farm, working with livestock in a way that felt meaningful. I got to feel like I was contributing in some small way. Both to the lives of the individual animals and farmers that I worked with, but also that I was making a difference to the food and fibre supply chain, helping do my part to feed and clothe the nation.
For a few years, the new and exciting challenges of being a rural mixed practice vet kept me happy, but ultimately, it wasn’t enough.
Sure, I still identify as a farm animal veterinarian, who now lives on a family farm thanks to my fiance and helps out on the property when I can. But, I thought I was doomed to a life of unrealised dreams and unfulfilled potential. In short, I still wanted to wear the Akubra.
I also recognised that despite not really feeling like one, I was beginning to be referred to as a farmer anyway. But in a way that sometimes left me feeling like an imposter, and I was concerned about disrespecting or offending those that owned or managed land in a true Oxford sense of the term. I’ve now realised that was an internalised stereotype I was harbouring, because I was assuming farmers were both narrow-minded and clique-y enough that they wouldn’t welcome me and the life experiences I offered into their fold. I’m delighted to report that the opposite has been my experience.
It’s taken some time, and lots of deep and sometimes uncomfortable conversations with some incredibly inspiring women (usually over a cup of tea or one too many wines), but I’ve now realised that being a farmer is so much more than just one job or one antiquated “salt of the earth” stereotype.
In the same way that being a scientist no longer means you have to wear a labcoat and have crazy hair. Or that being a mum means you must stay at home and wear an apron all day.
(Heaven forbid someone be both a scientist AND a mother!)
To quote formidable author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.
We are all so much more than just one identity or stereotype. We all wear many hats, and have many stories to tell. Farmers are no different. I am no different. Although, in my case now in SouthWest Victoria, I like to say I now wear many gumboots because for most of the year Akubras are both unnecessary and impractical, and I actually have a rather large head. Not only this, but I now like to say I stand with a gumboot on both sides of the fence. Because although I work on our farm, and other people’s farms, I also work in offices, online, and with some pretty cool technology and software supporting farming systems and improving animal health. I work alone, in teams, with animals and with computers. And funnily enough, I’m also a student again. Researching new and exciting ways we can ensure animal welfare on farms continues to meet community expectations and uphold the highest standards of care.
So, whether you see yourself as a farmer or not, happy National Agriculture Day to EVERYONE – because we all have an important role to play in Australia’s food and fibre systems. Whether we grow, consume, support, manufacture, there are infinite ways in which farming permeates our lives – we’re all involved in agriculture.
Cheers to that.