“Changing clichés about women starts in schools”

Marguerite Legros, flower grower in Brittany

Earlier this month, French agricultural real estate company FEVE, that provides financing and support to help beginning farmers set up their agro-ecology projects, launched a series of portraits of women in agriculture in order to get more visibility for women in agriculture. An initiative we at Women in Ag Mag support by sharing these profiles! Here is Marguerite Legros’ story.

What’s your speciality?

I’m a flower-grower in Brittany. My time is divided between training (40% of my time) and growing crops. Right now, it’s the height of planting season, so I’m out in the fields a lot! Before that, I have worked in communications for several years. Since 2019, I’ve been making the switch to my new job.

Would you say there are more women or men in your farming profession?

With the exception of the Var region, where there are still family farms built on a traditional model (the man leads, the woman supports), floriculture is a hyper-feminized profession. The industry collapsed in the 70s under pressure from the Dutch market, and has only been rebuilding in France since a few years. There are around 500 of us – most of them women – and around 80 new flower growers set up every year. Which is not to say, of course, that we don’t need more men in the business.

Do you think it makes a difference in your profession to be a woman?

I work on a small farm, but I don’t believe the difference is about something physical. You have to be athletic, of course, but women’s bodies are resilient.

I did however notice that tools are not made for women’s bodies. Brushcutters have long handles, and tractors are adapted to men’s legs, calculated for 1m80 heights. Agricultural clothing is almost non-existent for women. So the choice is between being tight around the hips or flapping at the waist in otherwise baggy pants, or paying more for clothes that are often tight, pink and pocketless.

It is also my feeling that I have not been properly prepared for manual labour in my upbringing. I lack a bit of self-confidence when it comes to tinkering, repairing and mechanics. Recently, my colleagues and I set up dry toilets on the land I cultivate. We did it as women, so I knew no one was going to look down on me or do it for me. I do not think I would have done this on my own.

Do you encounter stereotypes?

Flowers are seen as a chick thing. And since the profession is predominantly female, it comes with its own set of clichés! When a couple is running a flower farm, people expect her to take care of bouquets and markets while he is supposed to break his back in the fields. And on the whole, few people realize just how hard a florist’s job can be, whatever our gender. Despite the image that farmers have of us (our job is not hard, according to some), it requires strength and stamina.

On a day-to-day basis, I also experience a lot of plain, ordinary sexism. It’s never intended as hurtful or mean, but it’s the man who is surprised that I am the one moving the huge pile of compost he just brought me, or a supplier who can’t help but make me feel acutely aware of my being a woman.

What do you think needs to be done about it?

We need to change the representation of farming at schools. During my formation at agriculture school, one example showed a farm where the man was cultivating the vegetables in the big fields and the woman had a small plot with heirloom vegetables she sold at the market. Obviously, the majority of sales were generated by the man. And changing these kinds of clichés starts at agricultural high schools, where we have to make a big effort to show women farmers at work, in all specialties.

On the whole, we need to stop thinking of agriculture as something masculine. Women must be represented in trade unions. Their meetings don’t have to be at 7 p.m., so that they can get there while still being able to take care of their families.

In the collective mindset, I notice that things are shifting. A good example is the “Croquantes” documentary, showing women farmers in action.

Who are the women who have inspired you or still inspire you?

All the women farmers who have taken the plunge these passed ten years inspire me. These include Marie Fischer, a shepherdess at Ferme Bacotte (@agriculturepoetique), who’s doing well for herself and speaks out on a whole range of subjects, and Hélène Reglin, a market gardener at Ferme d’Artaud, who shows that you can be a market gardener all by yourself.

What do you have to say to women who want to get started?

To try it, and if they like it, not to hesitate. Also to take a close look at what is holding you back and what scares you in order to understand whether it is just limiting stereotypes or real obstacles holding you back. All of us women can do this job.

 

Source: FEVE

© Photo Credit: Maison Yriss 

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