Alberta farmer Katelyn Duban didn’t know anything about agriculture when she decided to start farming. In fact, she was doing pretty much the opposite, working a nine-to-five job at the University of Lethbridge. But a lack of knowledge didn’t stop her from leaving her corporate job behind for farm life, even though she admits it was a huge adjustment for her self-proclaimed type-A personality. “I traded my heels in for my boots and quit my full-time job to learn how to be a farmer and what that meant,” she says.
Taking all that she’s learned while spending time outside with her goats on the organic farm she runs with her husband, she’s spent the last couple of years working in the field (literally) while also finding time for her podcast, The Rural Woman Podcast, which showcases the stories of women in agriculture.
We spoke with her about how she became a farmer and transitioned careers, how she maintains a beauty routine while driving a tractor and the realities of being a woman in agriculture. Armed with her business background, words of wisdom for other women in the farming industry and some of the John Frieda Go Blonder products, she’s proving that women’s empowerment in agriculture is very real, even with professional obstacles. As she notes, “the best thing you can do is try.”
From city life to farm life
Though Duban grew up in Lethbridge, Alberta, close to where she is now, she wasn’t raised with a farming lifestyle in mind. “I always say I’m a city girl-turned-farmer,” she explains. ”I actually grew up about 20 minutes from where our farm is now. But I did not grow up in the agriculture industry at all. I would say I had the pretty standard two-parent household, they both had nine-to-five jobs.”
Duban went to college and earned a diploma in office administration business, and then settled into a nine-to-five job, and then fell in love with a farmer. She says, “the rest is kind of history after that.”
Even after meeting her husband, farm life wasn’t immediately part of the plan for Duban. “So we got married over five years ago now, and it was never my intention to leave my job and quit my career to be an active member of the farm. But we were married for about nine months before I traded my heels in for my boots and quit my full-time job to learn how to be a farmer and what that meant.”
Since making that choice, Duban has been working on the farm full-time since 2017, and her career has grown from there. “In 2019, I launched my podcast, The Rural Woman Podcast, because I was looking for a podcast while I was driving the tractor and wanted one that had things to do with agriculture and farming and highlighted women’s stories specifically, and when I couldn’t find one, I decided I’d better make one,” she says.
A career before farming
Before working on the farm, Duban was focused on business. While studying in college, she got a summer student job. “They just kept on telling me to come back every six months or so when my contract was extended, so I ended up working in post-secondary education right out of college,” she says. “I guess it would have been eight years or so [ago]. So that was my full-time career. After college, I worked for the [Lethbridge] college and I worked for the university in Lethbridge.
While her life on the farm is different from her earlier career, Duban uses those business skills in her day-to-day now. “So, you know, there’s typically the misconception from the outside that farming is like everybody just wears overalls and drives a tractor. But the biggest part, a component of what we do is business,” she explains. “So there are backend things and records because, you know, you have to do all of the business things on top of growing food and a crop or whatever it is you’re doing. So I definitely use the skills that I did learn in school and then again in my career as well.”
A typical day in the life of a farmer
When it comes to a typical daily routine, farm life varies throughout the year. As Duban says, “We definitely work within the seasons, and depending on what season we’re in would give you my answer. We’re heading into the spring and summer, which is our ramp-up to the season.”
Typically, Duban is an early riser, and takes care of office-type tasks first thing. “I come to my office and do podcast stuff and other office work before the sun comes up. When we go outside it’s time to work.”
What does that work entail? “I have some animals on the farm, so I make sure they’re fed and then kind of whatever it is that needs to be done that day,” Duban says. “So if we are getting ready for seeding, I’ll help with the drill, then fuel up equipment, if there is anything that needs to be picked up in town for parts, [I’ll] run and grab those and then head out to the field for any fieldwork that needs to be done. So whether that’s tillage that we do or running the drill.”
This can all add up to long work days. “So typically on our busy days, we’re working between 12 and sometimes 16 hours in the day to get the crops in and then with harvest to get the crops off. So really, it just depends on the season and then I get to it all over again the next day,” she says.
Furry friends on the farm
Though their farm is now predominantly a grain farm, animals are a big part of Duban’s life. “Much to my husband’s dismay, he married an animal lover,” she says. “We’re actually not a full livestock farm.”
A few years ago, Duban also started thinking about goats. “In 2018, I had a weird love of goats, and I just thought they were so cute and probably because I’ve seen them in petting zoos or however many videos on YouTube of them in PJs jumping around. And I’m like, ‘Well, if I live on a farm, I should be able to have a goat.’ And my husband said, ‘Well, if you’re going to have these animals, first of all, you need to know how to care for them, and second of all they need have a purpose for being here; they’re not just pets, they’re livestock.’ So I took what he said and did my research and learned all there was to know about goats and the demand for them in our area.”
“So back in 2018, I started raising goats. Then I always called myself a seasonal goat farmer, primarily because I would buy them in the spring and sell them in the fall so that I wouldn’t have any livestock over the winter. Winter is usually the only time we’re able to get off the farm together for any extended period of time, but it’s nice to be able to go on holiday and spend time with your husband outside of working with him. So that’s what I did.”
Now, Duban has goats and even more animal friends on the farm. “But this past year, I ended up keeping the ones that I had, and now they’ll be my breeding stock going forward in 2023, I guess,” she says. “I am the goat lady, and I also somehow have a lot of farm cats that do their job of keeping mice out of my house. I’m really happy about that. But yeah, the goats are the only livestock that I have out here. And then so many freaking farm cats, and the trusty old farm dogs.”
The biggest myths or misconceptions around farming
For people not involved in farm life, it’s not always clear what farm life entails or how a farm like Duban’s runs. As she explains, “I think with agriculture as a whole, there [are] obviously a lot of misconceptions when it comes to how your food is grown, how animals are raised. So I think in agriculture, we need to do a better job of sharing exactly what we do. But you know, when you’re working 16 hours a day in the field, it’s kind of hard to share your story.”
These false ideas can also include gender roles when it comes to farms. “And I think some of the biggest misconceptions really is a lot of times people just assume that on a farm, the man that is there is the one running the show and the operations and is the farmer and the woman is, you know, a farm wife,” she says. “And you know, that may be the case, but I’m a farmer and I’m a farmer’s wife. But at the end of the day, he’s a farmer’s husband too.”
“I don’t think people really understand the level of intensity of our job and working in our season – we have one shot to make a paycheck each year,” Duban says.” And there are so many things that we don’t have control over. So, yeah, it can be a challenge to kind of portray that in the sense for everyone.
“So for instance, for me, not coming from the farming background and then coming into this, outside people [don’t really understand my] schedule. [They’ll ask] ‘why can’t you come to my wedding in September?’ Well, that’s when we harvest our crop and no, we can’t stop the tractor even for that amount of time. So it’s difficult. But overall, I think agriculture, you know, the misconception of how we grow our food or is it safe or what are we doing for the environment, [we should remember that] farmers are of the land. If we don’t have great soil and we don’t have healthy animals, we don’t get that paycheck at the end of the day. So we are environmental stewards.”
The most challenging parts of being a farmer
Working on a farm, there are many things that are simply beyond your control. As Duban notes, this often starts with something as elemental as the weather. “So the biggest one, we don’t control the weather and we don’t know what it’s going to do. And we kind of have to adjust and change our plan, depending on something that we really don’t know the future of. So when you look at your 21-day forecast that’s great, but it can change in 24 hours or even two, it’s actually depending on where you live. So that’s kind of the biggest challenge.”
Other world events and money matters can impact a farm immensely, as well. “Depending on what’s happening in the world, [that] can definitely impact things like what crops to grow, what resources you have, there’s fuel shortages – we think about the gas in our car, but when there’s fuel shortages you can’t put gas in a tractor to plant the food that you need,” she says.
This unpredictability has been an adjustment for Duban, as she’s settled into the farm lifestyle. “[There are] just so many different things between the weather and markets that are just so uncontrollable and variable. I hate using the word pivot, you know, two years later, after I look at everything but really we’ve had to. So just being able to kind of go with the flow, and I’m coming from a bit more of a type-A personality – to be flexible with that was really a struggle for me in the beginning. And it still is sometimes, but I think I’m getting better. At least I hope I’m getting better.”
The best part of leaving the nine-to-five behind
While farming can be challenging, there’s plenty to love about it, too. “I actually really love working within the seasons, and I’m lucky enough [that] I get to work outside all day if I want to go and be outside in the elements,” Duban says.
“For me, that’s been one of the biggest changes. I worked in an office for however long, and I couldn’t tell you what the weather was like all day. But now I get to be out in it all day,” she says. “It’s really rewarding to be able to plant the seed, nourish that, watch it grow and harvest it and know that what I’m doing is feeding people and nourishing people. I might never meet that person face-to-face who is buying our product, but to know that I’m helping build a healthy, sustainable system is really a neat feeling.”
Maintaining a beauty routine while working in agriculture
Working long hours and spending a lot of time outside, Duban’s career change plays into how she cares for herself. “Yeah, it definitely has a factor in how I take care of myself mentally, physically and appearance-wise,” she says. “My husband always laughs [and says] ‘you were the one with your nails done and eyelashes and extensions and all of these things,’ and now he’s like ‘most of the time you’re covered in dirt [and] probably smell like a barn.’”
Jokes aside, taking care of herself is key for Duban, who notes that “you know, if I have a clean face, I’m a happy person. But definitely taking care of my skin and my hair, [wearing] sunscreen for sure, protecting my hair from the wind and equipment [is important]. Because when you’re a female farmer – and I know a lot of other female farmers who have said this to me before too – [it’s important to watch your hair] if you ever go near a piece of equipment. [So my hair is] often in a ponytail or braids or whatever it is. But yeah, I know it makes it pretty minimal. But I have to say, like when I do my skincare routine or I put some moisture in my hair in the morning, I feel like, you know, that’s put together for a day.”
When it comes to her hair, Duban uses products that are made for blonde hair like hers. “I use the Go Blonder shampoo and conditioner by John Frieda. Obviously, I like to keep my blonde looking good and clean. I am quite particular about that type of blonde that I have in my hair, and I don’t really like the brassiness that can come with being a bottle blonde, so I really like to keep the colour lasting as long as possible.”
Products that can help keep her blonde looking its best are especially key for a busy farmer like Duban. “Actually, in our busy season, I can’t go to the hairdresser as often as I would like,” she explains. “When I have a good, clean hair day, it feels like I start the day off and on the right foot… and then obviously we live in one of the windiest places in the world, so keeping any moisture in my hair [with the John Frieda Frizz Ease Lightweight Serum] is always nice depending on the season, either hot or windy or cold and dry, so it takes care of my hair.”
As a woman in agriculture, maintaining a beauty routine that works for her is a way to express herself in a tough field. “There’s the saying ‘your hair is like your crown,’ and all of these things, [so] I like to have fun with my hair by doing a different braid or things like that. [It’s me] showing that part of [myself] in an industry that I haven’t been a part of my whole life. While some people have and they feel comfortable, [this is] me showing up and being myself with an industry that maybe doesn’t have a lot of first-generation farmers that look like me or like me and work and operate the way that I do.”
Lessons learned as a woman in the agriculture space
When it comes to how to be a farmer, Duban takes an open-minded approach. One lesson she’s learned? “I think for me, being open and willing to listen to folks who do things differently than you do on your farm.”
This openness is a factor to success for a farm like theirs: “For us, we’re certified organic, so we don’t use any chemical pesticides or synthetic chemicals on our land. We do things a lot differently than our neighbours do. And I’m a firm believer that there’s no one way of doing anything on a farm or ranch. So I’m open and willing to learn from other people and listen to how they do it versus how we do it and just respect them to know that they are doing the best they can with the knowledge that they have and whatever it is they’re producing on their farm or ranch that is not only safe for them, but it’s safe for consumer consumption. So I think that for me [gave me a lot of] growth.
“Like I said, like, we don’t do things that typically our neighbours do. So when you see or hear people doing things the exact opposite of you, you can kind of doubt yourself and be like, ‘Oh, should we really be doing this, nobody else does it this way.’ But knowing your land and knowing what’s best for you and your operation is really important. So being open to hearing different ideas from your own in this industry, you would think that, you know, in the year 2022 you would be more used to that in our industry but it’s not really the case.”
Advice for other women who might want to get started in the farming industry
Duban’s advice for women looking to step into agriculture? “I always say, learning to do what I do and be in this industry has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done for myself. I was not planning on being an active member of the farm, and I think there was a lot of fear that was in that choice,” she says.
“So really focusing on what those skills are and what’s holding you back and really sitting down and looking at it and going through all these fears, then if it’s time for reflection or if you are scared to drive that piece of equipment because you’ve never done it before, if you take the time and practice and learn and know why it is that you want to do things, then those fears are really kind of morph into this excitement of being able to learn something new.”
“Whether it is that you’re first-generation and you’re just getting into the industry or, you know, you may be getting into it or you’re in it and you’ve just never tried before [or] you’ve been too scared, you know, there’s only so much damage you can do. The best thing you can do is try. And if it doesn’t work out and you don’t like doing it, at least you tried something new. And honestly, I truly think people need to learn where their food comes from and what better way to learn than to grow it yourself. “
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