Tabitha Salisbury is an Education and Public Engagement Programme Coordinator at LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming). Growing up on a tenant farm in the South West, Tabitha went on to study Agriculture at the Royal Agricultural University. She is currently based in Morpeth, Northumberland.
Growing up in a farming environment truly is a privilege. I’m the youngest of three girls, our parents were tenant farmers in the South West, dairy until 2006, and then when I was 10, a new venture into sheep and beef with a diversified equine establishment on farm too.
You truly learn the hardships from a young age. But I would go back and do it all over again if I could.
I’d always planned to take over the family farm, a silent ambition that was never voiced. So alas, when the landowners wanted to sell up, my parents gave up the farm and have moved to a quieter life, running a farm consultancy business based in mid-Devon, and passing years of experience onto others.
I’d like to think everyone should have the opportunity to experience, even just for a short while, the wonders of being outside, new life, new growth, and inevitably the hard things too. It’s grounding, and, whilst many of the current population find themselves moving so quickly amongst concrete that they don’t realise it, it truly is in our nature.
I went on to study Agriculture at the RAU, before applying for a job at LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) the leading sustainable farming organisation, whose very own CEO, Caroline Drummond, is one of the most inspirational women within agriculture.
LEAF runs a number of public outreach programmes, namely, LEAF Open Farm Sunday – the farming industry’s annual open day, that sees around 400 farmers open their gates to welcome a quarter of a million visitors on farm every year.
I’ve been fortunate enough to find myself in a position where I may not be actively farming, but I speak to farmers every day, enthusiasm shining through and a real hope to boost the image of British farming to the public. A want to open their gates to show just how passionate, hard working and genuinely caring they can be.
An opportunity to showcase the very best of British Agriculture, the highest standards and all that farmers are doing to care for the environment. It’s a wonderous task, a 24/7 job with no breaks, no days off, no time out. It’s certainly hard, but the passion is undeniable.
I’d truly urge any farmer to open their gates for one day a year to showcase just how wonderful a job they do. Now, perhaps, more than ever.
Educating the public is imperative for the future of British Agriculture, not only via things such as LEAF Open Farm Sunday, but also education from a more baseline level.
My work crosses into LEAF Education, working to engage, inspire and motivate young people, by offering a balanced and informed insight into food production, farming and the environment.
Offering these young people the chance to learn about the careers in farming, the possibilities available to them. Experiencing, learning, the chance to take something away from a farm visit, but also a chance to boost their health and wellbeing.
Farmer Time has been an enormous success, warmly welcomed by teachers – the chance for a farmer to establish an ongoing digital connection with a class of school children, bridging the gap from the very bottom, allowing them to make their own, informed choices, without needing to physically step onto a farm.
It’s something I feel incredibly passionate about, it’s also a job I never knew was an option until a good friend passed on the job advert. I work with numerous brilliant farmers, many of those women, taking a stand and representing agriculture at its finest. We also have a strong female cohort within our team, working towards producing a more sustainable, balanced view of farming moving forwards.
Having said that, it’s hard not to question the strong historic male stereotype within agriculture.
I sometimes wonder if I had been born a boy, would I have already gained the confidence to find a small piece of land to rent in order to run my own flock of sheep, or start putting in bids to get a tenanted dairy farm somewhere across the country?
Would I be more respected when I call a farmer up and ask how well their wheat is yielding, what rates of fertiliser they’re applying, how their lamb price is comparing to others at market? Should there have been more than five women on my BSc Agriculture course at university? The list could go on.
Stereotyping in general has come a long way within agriculture over the last few years, more awareness of diversity as a nation is bleeding into the less penetrable industries.
Young women walking into agriculture today have many inspirational women to look up to, right to the very top - the president of the NFU, Minette Batters, many CEOs of reputable, successful agricultural businesses, the Defra Farming Minister Victoria Prentis.
Young people need a role model to look up to in order to feel like the option is there, the gates are open, and their dreams are achievable.
On International Women’s Day, and beyond, these women in agriculture need shouting about. It’s not only those looking up to these women who will be the next generation working in agriculture, it’s the next generation of consumers who will look up to these women and trust them with their own health and wellbeing, which is perhaps, equally as important.