Albertan author highlights farm wives in new book
Albertan author Billi J. MIller has recently published her first book “Farmwives in Profile,” which takes a look at 17 farm wives and their experiences on the farm. Amielle Christopherson/Camrose Canadian/Postmedia Network
After she married a fourth generational farmer in 2010, author Billi J Miller noticed something she hadn’t before.
“I didn’t come from a farming background,” she said. “I all of a sudden looked around at where I was and was absolutely in awe of these unbelievable women that were, to me, holding these farms up.”
Seeing the farming women around her was the inspiration for her recently published work, Farmwives in Profile.
“I think there’s no shortage of history books talking about the men and their roles and their work, and I thought, ‘What about the women?’ These women are absolute unsung heroes,” she said.
Over the course of four and a half years, Miller interviewed 17 farm wives between the ages of 55 and 90 in the Lloydminster region and asked each of them 17 questions.
“I talked to them about their lives on the farm. What their roles had been, what the best parts have been, what their husbands’ roles have been, different things like that,” explained Miller. “Some of these women have been married 60 and 65 years, so I asked them, ‘What is some advice to keep a marriage strong?’”
Miller said the project was an educational experience for her as she learned about the farming culture she was relatively new to and the women within it, some of it very encouraging.
“I think there’s a lot of mom guilt that exists when it comes to younger women working off the farm. And they may feel judged by the older women who stayed home to look after their kids. An older generation farm wife said to me that, ‘It’s only good for the kids if it’s good for you to stay home.’ That was great for me to hear from that older generation because it kind of alleviated that guilt.”
Miller said one of her favourite answers came from an 86-year-old farm wife.
“One of the questions was, ‘What do you do when you come home and you’re bagged after a long day? You’re too tired to plan a big meal. What do you do?’ A woman who was 86 at the time said, ‘Easy. Make the men make the dinner..” Miller found this enlightening. “That wasn’t a typical thing for an 86-year-old woman to say, and that was beautiful to me because it just showed me people are just people. That was how she found a way to work in her home.”
In addition to the women’s answers, the book also includes photographs that Miller took, as well as favourite farm table recipes.
Now that she’s finished her first book, Miller is already planning out a second one that she hopes will take her across Canada to interview a younger generation of farmwives, whom she thinks are making a more conscious decision to stay on the farm.
“I think there’s a difference in the sense that, before, many people farmed because they were born into it and there weren’t a lot of options,” she said. “I think now you’ve got a lot of kids temporarily moving away from their farms to educate themselves and very consciously making a decision to come back.”
Through the process of writing her book, Miller said many of the women were able to see their history on the farm in a different light.
“I think these women really needed and deserved the recognition that this book has given them,” she said. “I think that it’s helped them to see in themselves the true gifts they are to their families. And not just to their families, but their farms, their communities and, honestly, this country. They are unbelievably strong, unbelievably humble, they’re so passionate in what they do and nobody can do the work that they’ve done like a woman can. I think without them farming would not exist.”
Farmwives in Profile is available at Books For You in Duggan Mall. For more information on the book or Miller, go to www.farmwivesbook.com.