With a view to create a group where rural women could come together over a shared passion of art and craft, Beth Heaton has found herself managing a growing social media phenomenon.
Kate Chapman talks to her about why the group is important to rural women across the country.
“No-one understands the farming lifestyle until they have really lived it,” says Beth Heaton, who threw herself into country life after moving on to her partner’s cattle farm in Mold, North East Wales, a decade ago.
Coming from a non-agricultural background, Beth, 39, has found the transition an interesting one.
After previously working as a recruitment consultant, she says social media has been a particularly helpful resource, connecting her to other farming women as she immerses herself in the lifestyle.
And now she is using her own experiences to support and bond with other rural women through her own Facebook group.
Since its launch in June 2018, The Artful Farmer’s Wife Facebook page has attracted more than 6,000 members, who share common passions and interests through their connections to farming and their love of crafting.
As members of the group, they can showcase their home-made and hand-crafted items, home-grown produce and diversification plans, as well as seeking hints and tips and asking questions.
“I am a member of a lot of farming pages on Facebook and they have helped me learn a bit more about the way of life,” says Beth, who lives with partner John Rogers and their three children Eleanor, George, Jack and Arthur.
“I started joining the sales, livestock and machinery pages but because I am not clued up on all the lingo. The world of farming was still a bit alien to me – I felt like I couldn’t ask some of the silly questions I wanted to ask.
“Some of the female farming pages had posts of items people had made, but lots of the pages are against advertising and selling things, so the idea just came to me that there was a gap for a page where people could show off their craft items.
“It can be quite isolating living in rural communities. We’re quite lucky because although we’re surrounded by fields, we can jump into the car and be in town in 10 minutes.
“But there are others who can’t do that and it’s easy for women to lose their confidence.
“It’s nice for them to be able to share their handiwork on the page I’ve made and have it appreciated.
“I show John the things I’ve made and it’s not that he’s not interested, but he doesn’t always appreciate them; it’s nice to get praise from elsewhere.
“I chose the word ‘artful’ as I hoped it would sum up just how resourceful, skilful, multi- tasking, adaptable and creative farmers’ wives can be.”
Beth, who paints and sells jute bags, started the group by inviting a few women she knew through other social media pages to join, and membership has snowballed from there, with women from America and Australia coming on board too.
Members share pictures and details of their creations which include artwork, cakes, clothing, blankets, homewares, furniture, decorations and more, and discuss other rural issues.
Last Christmas, more than 80 advertised their crafts for sale in an online catalogue compiled by Beth, and 170 took part in a digital Secret Santa.
She says: “When I set it up, there wasn’t really an aim. I just thought it was a nice idea and as it’s getting bigger I’m quite proud of what’s been achieved.
“Because I have a recruitment and sales background, I love working to targets and networking.
“With having kids now, although I have the structure of the school run, I target myself to sit down on a Friday morning after my jobs are done and do a bit of networking on the other farming pages and encourage new people to join and it’s working.
“We’re very supportive and there for the women from non-farming backgrounds who have found themselves in farming one way or another.
“Farming is a lovely lifestyle, but it’s got its downsides too and, for some, can be lonely.
As the group strengthens, you can clearly see how influential the page is as numerous posts highlight some potentially challenging themes that can affect anybody in the industry.
One post began by saying it had taken ’a lot of courage to write this and, tonight I made a phone call to the Samaritans’.
After divulging one woman’s struggle with post-natal depression, it continued to say that if any other rural women needed a helping hand, to reach out to those on the group or ring a helpline straight away.
Many women ask for advice on issues such as TB testing, proving that a problem shared could, as the saying goes, be a problem halved.
Since launching the page, Beth has received much positive feedback from members who are enjoying the camaraderie, as well as those who have been inspired to try new things and pick up forgotten hobbies.
“One lady in particular contacted me to say she had stopped sewing a number of years ago due going through some sad times in her life,” says Beth.
“She fell out of love with crafting, but the group has encouraged her to start again and she has since set herself up with her own Facebook page, got a new logo and cleared out an area of her house where she can do it, which is fantastic to hear.”
On a personal note, she has particularly enjoyed finding out about the lives of her peers and how they differ.
“For me, the farming chat is good; I like to hear how other farming women manage their time,” she says.
“I find it quite interesting to look at all the different women’s lives. I am not a farmer myself, but I am in awe of those who are out there at four in the morning, milking cows or lambing ewes, all before the school run.
“There’s a good mix and I like that people are asking questions and talking about other things to do with farming, like their sick calf or their sheep and dogs.
As well as making new friends online, Beth is also hoping to arrange some Artful Farmer’s Wife meetings, so members can get to know each other away from the computer screen too.
“The group gives farming ladies that chance to support other farm women and hopefully help them to contribute to the family income, even if it’s just a few pounds here and there,” says Beth.
“It also shows off crafts directly from farm houses across the UK and beyond.
“We’re all trying to look for diversifications and new opportunities to make money, so it’s great to see other people’s ideas and how they’re working. Now, when I suggest something to John, I have evidence from others’ experiences to back up what I’m saying and that’s given me a confidence boost too.”