Women Who Dig

14 August 2019

Women Who Dig: Farming, Feminism, and the Fight to Feed the World
by Trina Moyles
Published by University of Regina Press
Review by Kris Brandhagen
$34.95 ISBN 9780889775275

Trina Moyles traveled for three years to eight countries to conduct research for her book Women Who Dig: Farming, Feminism, and the Fight to Feed the World, upon learning that her great grandmother farmed singlehandedly in Saskatchewan while her husband and sons fought in WWI. Moyles thought that the stories of other female farmers might also be hidden, and felt passionate about bringing them to light.

Moyles limited her research to specific areas and conditions, such as the Maya-Mam in the Comitancillo province in Guatemala, whose farms are threatened by the presence of a Canadian gold mine, and undocumented Mexican women in Sonoma County California who pick grapes all night long, facing possibilities of abuse, violence, rape, illness and injury. A goat farmer in Salt Spring Island BC uses loopholes to provide raw milk to her community; a woman in Peace County Alberta has started a community supported farm, where members pay for the product in advance; and an Edmonton urban farmer plants on vacant lots in exchange for produce. Farmers in the Rio San Juan region of Nicaragua are vulnerable to economic and political hardships brought by industrial palm farmers; these women are learning how to plant at all levels, with trees, bushes, and crops together, decreasing soil erosion and reducing the need to burn down more of the rainforest. Women in Southwestern Uganda, who are referred to in the local language as “women who dig,” face such barriers as polygamy, law, healthcare, domestic violence, and murder. The men own the land, and the women do all the work.

The chapter on India is even more alarming, but Moyles guides her reader through such difficult subjects as rape, murder, infanticide, and farmers committing suicide as drought and extreme monsoons sabotage crops. In the heartbreaking chapter on the New Congo, another name for the Nakivale refugee camp in Uganda where women were given lodgings, rations, and a small farming plot, after being forced out of the Eastern Congo, sick from rape, and traumatized from having to watch their husbands’ brutal murders. As one Congolese woman puts it, “work is the best medicine.”

There is an inspiring and hopeful end to this book. When Soviet assistance ceased in Cuba, so did the availability of fuels, fertilizers, and animal vaccinations that Cubans had become dependent on. The government encouraged urban farming, and created schools to teach the old techniques. One woman transformed a garbage dump into rich land for fruits, vegetables, and flowers using permaculture. While it is still a patriarchal system, women fought and gained their health, reproductive, and educational rights.

Moyles’ writing style is vivid and full of poetic imagery. This makes the book a pleasurable read despite the tearful moments. I would recommend this book to those doing research at the post graduate level, and to those who are interested in sustainability, alternative forms of agriculture, and learning more about how women survive (and some even thrive) in difficult or horrific conditions.


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