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Coldbrook farmer helping to redefine evolving role of farm women through book project


COLDBROOK, NS - Along with several other farm women, Coldbrook agrarian Amy VanderHeide has been featured in the recently released book Farmwives 2: An Inspiring Look at the New Canadian Farmwives by Billi J. Miller.

VanderHeide is involved in the operations of Coldbrook Farm, which focuses on poultry and crop production and is owned by her husband’s parents, John and Jenny. Along with her husband James, she owns and operates Mountain Base Farm, which focuses on cattle production.

VanderHeide said she grew up on a cattle farm in Prospect that belonged to her grandmother and she loves the animals. Her grandfather passed away when VanderHeide was very young and her grandmother and aunts kept the cattle farm going.

She said she lived beside the farm but was there more than she was home. She always knew that farming was something she wanted to do.

“I think farming is just in your blood and if you have that passion in you, it’s hard to find something else that makes you as happy,” VanderHeide said.

The mother of three boys said she’s always been a hands-on person and this is certainly the case with the cattle operation. She said the cows each have a distinct personality and it’s easy to get attached. VanderHeide enjoys this connection with the cattle.

She said it was her and her husband’s goal to ultimately work together on the farm. They have been married for 12 years and VanderHeide worked off the farm for the first two. She decided to stay home after having her first child and became more involved in the agricultural operations, doing whatever needed to be done. She enjoys being busy and credits her grandmother for instilling this trait.

VanderHeide said she met the author of the Farmwives 2 book through social media. Along with her friend Katie Keddy from Valley Harvest Sweet Potatoes in Lakeville, VanderHeide started a Facebook group called the Maritime Ag Women’s Network a couple of years ago as a way to connect and network with other farm women.

Miller ended up joining the group. VanderHeide said Miller put out some feelers to see who might be interested in being interviewed for the book and VanderHeide agreed. She thinks it’s really important to demonstrate that women are stepping up and fulfilling roles that have traditionally been considered male oriented.

“Especially with farming, the stereotype is an older man in coveralls with a pitch fork, where really a huge number of farms are now owned and operated by women, or they’re more hands-on and they’re more involved in the farm,” she said.

VanderHeide wanted to put herself out there and meet other women who are doing the same. She said, “you never know who you’re going to inspire along the way.”

VanderHeide said the term “farmwife” is somewhat controversial to some people. It has typically meant a wife who looks after a farming husband and family but it carries a different meaning for her and others like her. VanderHeide is a wife who works on the farm but her role is equally important as her husband’s.

“I think you’re married to the farm as much as you’re married to your spouse because you’re tied down by it. So, for me, that farmwife term is just what it is, I’m a farmer and I’m a wife,” VanderHeide said.

She said family is a huge part of farm culture and she couldn’t do what she does without that support. Perhaps the greatest lesson she learned from her farming grandmother was perseverance. After her grandfather passed away, there wasn’t even a conversation over whether or not her grandmother and aunts would keep the farm going. They just picked up and did it.

“I take a lot of pride when I talk about both of my grandmothers,” she said. “They’re certainly huge influencers in my life.”

VanderHeide worked at Oaklawn Farm Zoo as a teenager, where she was introduced to her future husband. She is currently part of the Annapolis Valley Chamber of Commerce agriculture committee, a Kings County Federation of Agriculture board member and she’s involved in the West Kings 4-H Club.

From the author

Miller said Farmwives 2: An Inspiring Look at the New Canadian Farmwives is a self-published project. Farmwives in Profile was her first published book. This work celebrated and honoured 17 traditional farmwives between the ages of 55 and 90 from eastern and central Alberta. Miller said the book was released in January 2016 to great interest and success.

“I wasn’t raised on a farm, so when I married my fourth-generation cattle and grain farming husband in 2010, I quickly became enamoured with the dedication and steadfastness of the farm women around me,” Miller said. “I felt that they needed to be held up to their community for what they’ve done. Thus, the Farmwives Book Project was borne.”

Farmwives 2 is the second part of the project, giving voice to the next generations of farm women. Miller said that, in the past, “farmwife” was a role that women wore proudly on their sleeve and many continued on with traditions and roles passed down to them. However, she recognized that not all women today were comfortable in those traditional roles. She felt that this necessitated Farmwives 2.

“This second book interviews more than 20 women Canada-wide to show just how life on Canadian family farms is changing,” Miller said.

She said these women brilliantly portray the fact that there are more ways than one to be a woman on the farm. They farm just as much or in some cases more than their husbands. Miller wanted to talk to the women about how perspectives on the term “farmwife” are changing.

“I wanted to talk with them about their favourite parts, the hardest parts, about their worries for tomorrow. But, most importantly, my aim in this project was to celebrate these women for all of the ways they are looking after their families, their farms, and how they are moving Canadian family farms into the future,” Miller said.

She said the women in the book are as diverse as the varied and beautiful parts of the country they hail from. When she started researching women across the country for her second book, VanderHeide was someone who Miller frequently came across on social media. Miller said VanderHeide is a proud farmer, mother, wife and agricultural advocate who was perfect for the project.

Miller said VanderHeide spoke of her farming grandmother with great admiration and Miller valued that piece, considering that so many younger farmwives have older women to look up to.

“I chose Amy because I can tell her heart is in her farm. Her family and the Annapolis Valley is lucky to have her,” Miller said.

Farmwives 2: An Inspiring Look at the New Canadian Farmwives is available through all major online retailers such as Amazon, Chapters and Barnes & Noble, with links available at www.farmwivesbook.com and at www.farmwivesbook.com/buy-books.

Kirk.starratt@kingscountynews.ca

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