PEI

Agriculture group trying to reduce barriers for more women to work on P.E.I. farms

Mary Robinson wants to help more women take advantage of job opportunities on Island farms. She's hoping a proposal by the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture will help make it happen.

'I hope it means we address our labour gap'

Women make up less than 20 per cent of Island's farm work force, says Mary Robinson of the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture. (George S. Zimbel/Getty Images)

Mary Robinson wants to help more women take advantage of job opportunities on Island farms and she's hoping a proposal by the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture will help make it happen.

The federation submitted a written funding proposal in January to Status of Women Canada. The three-year project would explore the needs of women seeking jobs on farms, and with an eye on barriers that are getting in the way.

"The misperception that agriculture is a certain type of work that women aren't suited to is exactly that, a misperception," said Robinson, a past president of the federation and sixth-generation Island farmer from Augustine Cove.

P.E.I.'s farm labour force is chronically understaffed, said Robinson, with women making up less than 20 per cent of workers — a labour shortage expected to only get worse.

Under-represented groups

"There are three under-represented groups in agriculture," Robinson said. "They include women, people with disabilities and newcomers ... We have just not successfully connected with people who would enjoy the work and the project will help us do that."

The project would be managed by a local consulting firm, Winding Path Inc. of Charlottetown. The firm is currently doing work on the role of women in Island politics.

The misperception that agriculture is a certain type of work that women aren't suited to is exactly that, a misperception.— Mary Robinson

"It's going to require looking at the sector with a different lens," said Kirstin Lund, a partner at Winding Path.

"They will come together in a collaborative process to do some gender analysis ... to look at what are some changes that could be made and create an action plan to implement those changes."

The proposal would set up working groups to explore barriers for women who want to work on farms. Those issues might include child care, transportation and working hours, said Lund. 

'Live up to its potential'

Women who currently work on farms would be included, as well as others in the farm community such as members of commodity boards. The proposal would set working groups across P.E.I. to tackle issues in local communities.

Robinson, right, with daughter Catherine, is spearheading a proposal to study barriers to Island women working in agriculture. (Laura Meader/CBC)

Local farmers and farm businesses have pledged support. The proposal to the federal government includes letters from 15 local farmers and farm businesses, according to Robinson.

"They have all agreed that they will make some level of investment to address the barriers that prevent women from being employed in agriculture now," Robinson said.

The proposed project has yet to receive approval from the federal government. If given the thumbs up, the federation hopes to begin the project this spring.

"I hope it means we address our labour gap and have an industry here on P.E.I. that can live up to its potential," Robinson said.

About the Author

Brian Higgins

Videojournalist

Brian Higgins shoots video and reports news on Prince Edward Island.