The Gleaner
Agriculture

Combining feminism with agriculture

“We mothers stand still, so our daughters can look back to see how far they’ve come.” – Greta Gerwig, The Barbie Movie, 2023.

April Stewart is a sixth-generation dairy farmer, who works in both agriculture and ag-related public relations, and in particular advocates women’s place in farming. Almost 20 years ago, Stewart was feeling the disconnect between consumers and farmers. She shares that though everyone eats, only two per cent of people farm, which can lead to some misunderstandings surrounding the industry. She says this led to her thinking, “I love to advocate. I love farming. I love writing. I love communicating. How can I put this all together?”

Around this time, McGill University launched a new public relations program. Stewart knew that this was her chance and went back to school. After receiving her diploma, she launched her company, Alba PR, and says, “I started my company with the intention of always being able to promote agriculture.” One of the things that Stewart’s company does is produce The Farmer’s Survival Guide, which is a collection of communication tools and techniques for farmers, “all about how to communicate with 21st-century consumers.” She shares that the idea was born during “one of those tractor moments,” when your mind just wanders.

More recently, she launched a variation called The Farmer’s Survival Guide for Women. This features things like feminism in agriculture, taking up space in the industry, and “the three C’s: confidence, credibility, and contribution.” The initiative was inspired by “The Dream Gap,” an idea spearheaded by a Barbie marketing campaign. “Basically, by the age of five, girls already have started to develop these self-limiting beliefs that they can or can’t be something,” Stewart explains. She adds that construction and agriculture are the two fields that are currently furthest behind in terms of gender representation. This can lead to young girls feeling like there is no place for them in these fields.

Stewart has a young daughter and wants her to feel like she can do anything. “For every generation, you want the next one to be better, to be easier. And I just wasn’t seeing that happening as fast as I thought it should be.” This was part of the inspiration to contribute to the change with The Farmer’s Survival Guide for Women. She hopes that her daughter will be able to feel welcome in whatever fields she chooses to explore.

 

April Stewart splits her time between public relations and agriculture PHOTO provided

 

A few years ago, Stewart conducted a survey to get a sense of gender equality in farming. “I asked people on a scale of one to 10, how quickly would you say women are advancing in the ag industry? The majority of them responded with seven. But then when I asked them, ‘Do you feel that the pace of change regarding women in agriculture is keeping up with other industries?’ Only 14 per cent said that we’re keeping up.” This, in part, is attributed to agriculture still being a very patrilineal world, where sons will often inherit the family farm even when daughters are doing just as much of the work nowadays.

On top of her own company, Stewart has also been a writer for Country Guide, an agriculture-based magazine that has been around for over 140 years. Last spring, she was made associate editor after being with the magazine for about six years. “The best part is I get to push Quebec articles into it, and again, pushing women-based articles into it more so than before,” she shares. She jokingly calls this her “secret agenda.”

One project that she worked on with Country Guide was a story about dads and their daughters who were taking over their farms. “We got emails from people who were very much out and about in Canadian agriculture. They said please don’t stop writing this because there are a lot of women out there who feel like they’re being edged out,” Stewart says. She urges that if you ever feel dramatic or like you’re exaggerating about the state of things, your voice is valid and needs to be heard.

“When we don’t give women enough opportunity to step up into a space, then basically that defaults to we’re expecting boys and men to do it,” Stewart says. She urges people to start teaching kids young that certain toys and professions aren’t for certain genders, to be cognizant of the language used and internal biases so that, hopefully, a more advanced world is created for the next generation of daughters.

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