Celebrate BC’s female farmers for International Women’s Day! – We Heart Local BC

Celebrate BC’s female farmers for International Women’s Day!

From our family to yours: Niklaus Forstbauer talks about his family’s farm
February 8, 2021
International Women's Day
 

Did you know that British Columbia has the highest proportion of female farm operators in Canada? 37.5% of farmers in our province are women, and that number is rising. Today, just under 10,000 women get up every day in our province to produce the food and flowers everyone enjoys. In honour of International Women’s Day, we talked to 6 of these farmers about their experiences and why it’s so important that more women choose farming. We interviewed:

  • Alexis Szarek (née Warmerdam) (Flower grower)
  • Harjinder and Manpreet Aujlay (Mother and daughter blueberry farmers)
  • Lydia Ryall (Organic vegetable farmer)
  • Rebecca Senicar (Dairy farmer)
  • Sonia Randhawa (Greenhouse grower)


 

We Heart Local BC: How did you all get into farming?

Alexis Szarek: I grew up on a commercial flower farm selling cut flowers throughout the Pacific Northwest. Some things you can't outgrow! I founded Bloom, the Abbotsford tulip festival. Last fall, my husband and I moved to the North Okanagan where we plan to continue and grow our agri-tourism business.(Check out our profile of Alexis here!)


Harjinder Aujlay: I grew up in a large farming community in Punjab, India and moved to Canada as a young woman. It had always been a dream to one day own a farm. In 2005 our family purchased 20 acres of land in Delta. . After a steep learning curve of trials and errors, perseverance, and education, we opened Didar Berry Farm.

In addition to farming, I am also an educational assistant who’s been working with children with special needs for almost 20 years. When schools are closed for summer, I focus on being a full-time blueberry farmer.


Manpreet Aujlay (Harjinder’s daughter): When my family moved to the farm, I was just in grade 10 and did not have any personal experience farming. What started off as painting handmade signs and taking photos of the farm led to me playing a large role in the image of the business as well as logistics. For years, I would casually say that I was “helping at the farm” - unaware of the role I had. Years later, I realized that I had in fact become a business woman alongside my family.


Lydia Ryall: I am a third generation farmer. I grew up on my family's flower farm. Even though the how and what is very different from what I grew up with, the passion for farming was always there. Today, I farm 24 acres of organic vegetables at Cropthorne Farms in Delta. (Check out our profile of Lydia here!)


Rebecca Senicar: I am a third generation dairy farmer in Surrey, BC. I grew up on our family farm with my 3 other siblings, 2 of which, have continued with our family farm alongside me with our parents.


Sonia Randhawa: I’m a small town girl born and raised in beautiful Abbotsford, British Columbia. I got into farming through my husband. I was looking for a career change from the corporate world of banking and it just so happened that our growing family greenhouse required support. Though I came into the greenhouse in an HR capacity, today I wear many different hats to help support our growing team.

"I think it is so important that we continue to tell our stories and showcase women in agriculture to inspire upcoming generations of young women, so they know their opportunities in agriculture are endless."
- Alexis Szarek, B.C. flower grower

 

We Heart Local BC: Why do you think its important that more women enter farming and agriculture?

Alexis: Women have been involved in agriculture for a long time, just not recognized as such. We are getting better at telling our story. Whether you are keeping the crew fed, managing the books, or sitting behind the tractor, there are so many ways women are involved in farming. I think it is so important that we continue to tell our stories and showcase women in agriculture to inspire upcoming generations of young women, so they know their opportunities in agriculture are endless.


Harjinder and Manpreet: We believe that women have always made up a large proportion of those that work in this field; they just haven’t been properly recognized for it and there are many gender-based obstacles that exist that need to be addressed. Furthermore, economic and educational opportunities should be present for women so that they can take on more leadership roles. Having women in leadership roles will not only lead to equitable representation, but it will also allow for new and much-needed perspectives on one of society’s oldest areas of employment and business.


Lydia: Women have always been there, but it is now our turn to share the spotlight or take the helm. So many women before have been mistakenly called the farmer's wife, without the full weight of their tasks being acknowledged. Farming is full of intricacies, women have the skills and are ready to take on the challenge of feeding their community and the world.


Rebecca: The growing presence of women in farming is a major win for agriculture. In the past, farming has been a more male-dominated industry with women being typecast in more of a support role, the grease between the gears. This is still an important role in all farming operations, but I believe that women are now getting the much-deserved credit for the roles we play in agriculture. It is very plain to see that every farmer is hard working and steadfast, but with the growing presence of strong female farmers, I believe more people will be inclined to enter our amazing industry.


Sonia: Being a woman that came into this industry with little farming experience, I honestly didn’t know how much of an impact I could make - but now it truly gives me a sense of pride that I have been able to help make a difference. It is vital to have more women enter farming and agriculture to set an example that this industry is a place where women can make a positive impact and flourish. It is up to us to show future generations that this is the new norm – women can, and have, made big contributions to these industries and we need to celebrate and continue building on that.

 

We Heart Local BC: What are you most proud of or passionate about (farming or otherwise)?

Alexis: What I am most proud of is how the Bloom Tulip festival I organized for four years was able to bring so many different people together to enjoy the beauty of tulips. I have met so many incredible people, many of whom have never been to a farm before. That is a special experience to share with someone.


Harjinder and Manpreet: : Both of us are passionate about equality among genders, ethnic groups, and labourers across the globe. With our roots in Punjab, India and being farmers ourselves, it is difficult to ignore the present situation in India as well as the history of how Indian farmers have been treated. With our platform as farmers, we hope to bring awareness to the situation.


Lydia: I am proud that Cropthorne farm has become a learning ground for so many young women. The last few years all of our year-round staff are women and it is great to see them learn, grow and for some eventually start their own farm.


 

Rebecca: I am deeply passionate about eating local, and the diversity of BC’s agriculture. We are so lucky that our beautiful province has so much to offer. With the impact of COVID-19, I took it as an opportunity to choose more local options when I had the chance; from local meat and cheeses, to locally harvested produce or breweries. We also found it as an opening to diversify our farming operation and have begun a beef herd to provide our community with a local option for beef.


Sonia: I am proud that our farm is in a position now to be able to help many others who have come to this country to work towards a better life just as my grandparents, parents and in-laws did years ago. Farming is in my blood and it gives me a great sense of pride in knowing that as a child of immigrants I have the opportunity to sit here today and answer these questions to hopefully help spark more individuals just like myself to join these industries.


These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity. To hear more from these farmers and to join the conversation, check out our facebook and instagram communities, where we’ll be sharing more about these amazing women this month.