Cathy Brin admits she “had absolutely no knowledge of farming, let alone dairy farming” when she married her husband and moved from town to country in the early 1990s.
Her timing couldn’t be worse either; The year I moved to Putnam, Ont., it was abnormally wet.
“It just rained and it just rained,” Brin recalls. “I remember calling my mom home, closing my eyes and saying, ‘What did you do? “
Now, she’s co-owner of Breen Acres Dairy Farm, a 400-hectare fourth-generation dairy and crop company that she and her husband bought from his parents.
Statistics Canada’s latest census on the state of agriculture in Canada found that the number of women working on farms increased in 2021 compared to 2016. According to the census figures in 2021 79,795 women considered themselves farm operators, up from 2016 when there were only 77,970.
According to the federal agency, this is the first increase in the number of women working in agriculture since 1991, when Brin began her farming career.
Brin said her husband and mother saw her as an equal on the business side of the process, and that really helped in those early years.
But it was her mother-in-law who really convinced Brian to officially allocate her place on the farm.
Recognized for roles
“When they used to do farming and bookkeeping, she would do all the bookkeeping, ride tractors when she needed to and help her in any way they could—and they would never consider her a farm owner or member of the farm,” Brin said.
“30 years ago, when I came into the picture, she was the one who pushed me to be an employee or an owner owner and get the benefits of filing an EI and CPP and all the taxes and everything. Getting the benefits of that.”
Brian is in the process of transferring the farm to her daughter, husband, and their three children, who will be the fifth generation to run the farm.
Angie Koch thinks it would be great if more women would want to go out like she does on a farm. She started her own operation 15 years ago and has watched it grow ever since.
“We were really young. At first I was only on two acres pretty much on my own with a pile of volunteers who rescued me,” said Koch, owner and operator of Fertile Ground in St. Agatha, west of Waterloo.
Fertile Ground Farm is now approximately four hectares in size and employs five seasonal employees.
local organic growth
Koch said she grows a long list of vegetables, greens and seedlings that are sold through community co-farming and some local retailers.
Koch said it’s great to see more women taking on roles in agriculture and that’s reflected in the census.
“It means there are more women in leadership positions and making decisions about their operations, and that sounds like a really positive shift,” Koch said.
She said there is a greater demand for local and organic produce, and that could partly explain the growing number of female farmers.
“This is where we see a lot of women working in agriculture – both in the local and organic sectors. So this is probably one of the reasons why there are more women in agriculture, because the sectors we tend to work in have a higher demand for those products.”
Farmers are also getting older, with the average age of farmers ranging from 55 to 56 and the number of farms declining between 2016 and 2021 as a result of both aging operators and farm consolidation, according to Statistics Canada.