Both Part 1 and 2 of our Women in Agriculture mini blog series have focused on women involved in, and driving, tourism diversification projects. For Part 3, we interviewed Emma Gray who is predominantly known for being highly successful in sheepdog breeding and training, a diversification project in itself but perhaps more traditional. Emma, her husband Ewan and son Len have recently featured in BBC Two’s documentary series “This Farming Life”, all about farmers and their experiences over the course of a year - well worth a watch on BBC iPlayer if you didn’t catch it!
With Emma’s experience running both her own farm ‘Fallowlees’ and her joint venture with Ewan at their new farm on the Isle of Bute, we asked her what she thinks women bring to the agriculture table and who she views as a female role model in her industry…
“I think women have better empathy compared to men, and I think this translates into a better understanding of people and animals needs, beyond the obvious
As for my first role model… it would be my mum. She wasn't from a farming family but was expected to deal with everything from the get go. Then later Katy Cropper. I remember devouring her book and being very impressed by the fact that she was still very feminine and was well respected in the industry and she didn’t have to act like a man to get that recognition. Later on I was to discover Julie Hill as well, also a well respected dog handler and the only female winner of the Supreme International Championship. These two women really trail blazed the sheepdog industry and farming as a whole for me.
Sheepdog breeding and training is more than a job for Emma, it's something that she is hugely passionate about. At 23, Emma wrote her first book “One Girl and Her Dogs” which details the period of her life where she built her own life and path to success. We asked Emma what her most proud moment would be when she looks back on that path so far…
“My proudest moments have been winning the Nursery final the second time and beating the world record a second time, because it proved it wasn't a flash in the pan! The second time meant I was getting consistent not lucky”
In the last couple of years, Emma has also “diversified” into motherhood, and raises son Len alongside running her farm businesses with fireman turned farmer, Ewan. We asked her how she’s found the progression to motherhood as a farmer, and her answer was admirably honest, but also hugely familiar to so many who live such a full on, independent life…
“Having Len was a real struggle, I'm not a natural born mother and am naturally very independent. It felt like my wings were clipped, but now we have progressed past the newborn stage I feel much better about it. I do feel guilty often, but I think guilt and motherhood go hand in hand!”
Well we’d definitely agree with that one. Being true to your own passions and dreams does carry a level of guilt for any mother but we’re firm supporters of all women (not just in agriculture) being able work their way towards their own goals. We asked Emma what her advice would be to any women who want to get involved in agriculture or who want to grow their involvement in the industry...
“My advice, don't try to be someone else, just be the best version of yourself. At the beginning I was always trying to emulate other people, trying to copy their path, trying to be a woman, being a man, in a man’s world. Now I've realised it's much more fun being a woman in a man's world!”
Advice that probably applies to life, not just agriculture!
If you would like to read more about Emma’s life, her book One Girl and Her Dogs is available on Amazon and you can catch up on This Farming Life on BBC iPlayer now.
Following on from our interview with Lucy Tile in Part 1 of our ‘Women in Agriculture’ mini blog series, we caught up with Louise Nicoll, co-owner of Newton Farm Holidays with her husband Graeme, near Forfar in Angus.
Newton Farm Holidays offer rural breaks, farm tours and alpaca experiences and are proud winners of 2 of Visit Scotland's Regional Thistle Awards for the Most Hospitable B&B/Guesthouse and the Best Outdoor Experience.
Up to and beyond winning those awards, Louise and Graeme work hard to create a great rural experience for their visitors, but how long ago did they start diversifying their farm business into agritourism?
“We initially started offering B&B in 2006 which would be our first diversification although I don't believe we really had an agritourism business until 2012”.
From our own experience, we know there can be challenges in building up an agritourism business. We asked Louise what the most difficult part of starting something new was and what was difficult about bringing the public onto the farm...
“The hardest part about bringing the public onto the farm was our own misgivings I think. It was all too easy to blame the farm, the estate, insurance, health and safety, environmental health as causative factors which would prevent us. In the end it was all pretty straight forward and everyone was really supportive
I think seeking advice is my number one [recommendation for people looking to diversify], don't go in blind and there are many people out there who have valuable experience that they can offer.”
Newton Farm Holidays, like Jacksons at Jedburgh, are members of Go Rural Scotland, a community of farmers across Scotland who are all passionate about promoting rural tourism and produce, and engagement with farming life. The group offers support and guidance to members along the way as we all hope to see greater awareness of what farmers and rural communities can offer. Go Rural includes lots of fantastic women, like Louise, who have been born into farming or have married into farming and are now significantly adding to what agriculture can offer.
We asked Louise who her female business or agriculture role model is and why she feels, in comparison to other areas in agriculture, there is such a strong female presence in diversification projects on farms...
“My role model was my Mum. Clear and simple, she had a difficult time in an abusive marriage and ended up as a single parent in the mid 70's, juggling to look after a baby and both her parents who had strokes and in those days there were no benefits to help you.
She took advantage of the new VAT system, retrained herself and started a bookkeeping business. From here she met my dad (I'm part adopted) and once they were married there was no stopping her entrepreneurial streak.
They set up and ran several different businesses over many years, always ahead of their time, including a kitchen and sauna business, an old folks home, several video rental shops and finally a B&B, which she is still running at the age of 79.
[In terms of the success of women in agriculture diversification], I think it can depend on where the women may have started from. For me, my parents grew up on farms and my dad had been a farmer but I never actually had that experience growing up so I came with a different skill set to offer. Often in my experience, the "farmer" who has grown up on the farm is entrenched in a way of life that may be difficult to see past. The reality for our own situation was, I wanted to help and prove myself as an asset to the family but didn’t have a place to fit into the farm to begin with. I took over the accounts first and once I had my twins I needed to do something more and it grew from there.
My main driver is my family and the desire to support them but also I care about the customer experience. I love to see people happy, relaxed and enjoying themselves. It is great to hear positive feedback and I thrive on that”.
If you’d like to visit Newton Farm Holidays throughout the year, visit their website now for more information on how to book! https://newtonfarmholidays.co.uk/
To coincide with our @WomenInAgriculture Instagram #TakeoverTuesday yesterday, we thought that we would explore what it’s like being a woman, not just working but leading and driving success, in agriculture.
We’ve spoken to three women and have split their interviews into a 3-part mini blog series! In Part 1, we hear from fellow local farmer and diversification boss, Lucy Tile, who runs self-catering holiday cottages at the Bairnkine near Jedburgh. In Part 2, we introduce half of the fourth generation farming duo at the Newton of Fothringham Farm and owner of Newton Farm Holidays, Louise Nicoll. And in Part 3, we hear some personal insights from a familiar face from BBC Two’s ‘This Farming Life’, nationally renowned sheepdog breeder and trainer, Emma Gray.
But firstly… Just why might women be the future of farming?
Ok well maybe not the future, not the only gender in the future - after all we are not going to eradicate men.. or are we?
More and more women are now at the forefront of farming and we are darn right here to stay. For so long the most common role for women in farming has been that of the ‘farmer’s wife’. Now that is a title I personally own and am proud of, but like so many other women in my position it just isn’t a good enough description for the many roles we fulfil each day! With help from the fingertips, brain power and the sheer determination of women, agriculture is making great forward progress. Farmer’s wife, farmer in her own right, diversification entrepreneur like myself, or commonly all three and more, women in agriculture manage their roles as expertly as a seasoned street juggler - knives and flaming batons galore! I’m not sure if there’s any industry which requires the born-with-skill of multitasking quite as much as farming!
So as mentioned above, I spent this month interviewing my fellow countryside loving, muddy-booted, scruffy-on-the-school-run gender sisters and heard about some of their experiences of their chosen role working in agriculture…
First up we have Lucy Tile who lives, and runs a tourism diversification business, at the Bairnkine, near our farm on the outskirts of Jedburgh. As she was not born into a farming family, Lucy has had to adjust to farming life and after many learning experiences, she has taken the lead of the beautiful self catering cottages at their family farm. It didn’t always feel like second nature though...
“The biggest hurdle [when marrying into farming life] was having to learn everything… fast! There was so much to learn and take in as my knowledge was zero! I think Matt had second thoughts when he realised I thought you decided on a tractor and then let the dealership know what colour you wanted! Just like a car...”
From those early days, Lucy has grown her knowledge and is now welcoming people onto the farm to stay and experience rural life in the Scottish Borders. But where does her drive and inspiration come from?
“I love meeting new people and chatting to them about what we do. We are passionate about farming, the countryside and conservation so what's not to like about letting people know? I love when they take a walk on the farm and visit one of the ponds or see a deer or buzzard”.
Despite the amazing scenery and abundance of wildlife in the local area, it’s not just farming and conservation that Lucy is passionate about. At the Bairnkine, it can sometimes be a three strong female team, and Lucy points out that their strength lies in their ability to work together whilst focusing on shared farming values...
“Compassion and drive to succeed are two of the best skills women bring to agriculture. We also work well as part of a team. Our values are the same as men where farming is concerned, we just sometimes want to go about it in a different way. Men and women work well together on farms. The partnership has been there for generations”.
And for generations, farming has been built on the memories and skills of those that came before us. We asked Lucy what her best farming memory or accomplishment was to date…
“I have lots of memories….. I love a sunny lambing! Early on when we first arrived Matt had me doing some things that I just got on and did, with hindsight and what I know now I may have said no! I was sent off in a tractor with a mower on the back to cut firebreaks on a hill. I was hanging on for dear life thinking “it must be safe as I was told to do it”. I am not sure I would be keen to be at that angle in a tractor now! My best accomplishment is an easy one - my daughter!”
If you’re looking to book a relaxing, rural staycation this summer, check out the self-catering cottages at the Bairnkine! You can visit their website here: https://www.bairnkinecottages.co.uk/