Case Study – Stella Owen

Stella Owen is a farmer, based in the stunning foothills of the Brecon Beacons. She lives with her husband and two children. Farming has always been a huge part of her heritage, having been brought up on a farm as a child.

Stella has played a leading role in the success of the Cows on Tour movement, which raises awareness of farming to the general public and to children at schools. This has been particularly important to urban and inner city children who have little contact with the countryside and a lack of understanding about where their food comes from.

Stella is the brainchild of the She Who Dares Farms conference. The event brings women involved in farming businesses together to share knowledge, smash gender stereotypes and give recognition to these ladies who are not afraid to muck in and ‘get their hands dirty’ to run successful enterprises.

1. How long have you been a farmer for?

I’ve been farming all my life. I was brought up on a mixed beef, sheep and arable farm. As a child, I was always told to “tog up” – which basically means “get your wellies on and get out of the door!”

I graduated from university in 2002 and worked for the National Farmers Union. In 2007, when I got married, we moved into my husband’s family farm where we are raising our two children.

2.   Do you think there are there many common gendered misconceptions about women in farming?

I think so. Women are largely thought to be inside the farmhouse cooking and not getting involved on site doing the hard graft. 

Little do people know that there are so many generations of women that play such an integral part in the running of a farm! It really is a team effort and everyone contributes in different ways, but it’s all valuable.

The term “farmers wife” also irritates me and doesn’t help the overall image of women in farming. It minimises their role when the reality is that women are often holding the business together behind the scenes!

3.  How has the farming industry changed in terms of diversity (and not just necessarily from a gender imbalance perspective) over the years, from what you perceive / experienced?

There has definitely been a change in the number of young women entering the industry, be it contract shepherding, getting their own flock of ewes, shearing sheep or milking cows. I have seen many women driving tractors, trailers and lorries, so things are definitely changing. Women are becoming much more visible in the job. It’s visibility that will change current perceptions that farming isn’t a job for women.

4.  Do you think enough is being done to address the gender imbalance in farming? And do you think it has succeeded, to some extent, with its efforts?

The key is to get women recognised as being a vital part of a farming business. It’s not about women taking over the industry. This is about being inclusive. That said, I’m sure there are women out there who might be interested in farming but just don’t have the confidence to enter a male dominated profession.

We have tried to address this issue at our She Who Dares Farms conferences. I feel very passionate about gender parity in the industry, which is why I’m doing my part to change attitudes by creating a platform for women to be recognised, supported and celebrated for the vital part they play in one of the most important sectors in society.

5.   What did you do prior to being a farmer? Did you have alternative ambitions?

I always remember a careers talk I attended, telling us that farming was not really a ‘career’ and it stuck with me. But I think perceptions are changing because many have chosen this as a career path. Afterall, running a farm is running a business. It’s about making decisions, investments and engaging, motivating and retaining a strong team.

We should all be ambitious about growing our farms as well as celebrate our fantastic industry. Being a part of the National Farmers Union allows me to do this.

6.   Have you ever encountered prejudice, inappropriate comments or jokes – either from general public colleagues, acquaintances or friends etc – because of your profession?

As a mum, I think the biggest issue was having a girl first, because there was an unspoken pressure to ‘have a boy to farm or to do the contracting’. This is a historic view, and one that’s often said or joked about. That said, our daughter Lexi is mad about farming and is up for any challenge!

I think we have a responsibility to educate future generations so that these sexist misconceptions will eventually die out. Little did I know that something like She Who Dares Farms would ever be such a concept back in 2012!!

7.   What obstacles (if any) did you face as you progressed?

I am very fortunate to have been respected in Union meetings, whose attendees have on times all been male. I did have concerns about setting up the first She Who Dares Farms conference, as I did not want to offend anyone!

8.   Juggling parenting and career – how do you manage it?

It’s chaos. The children are both back in school, which means a lot less organising for me. But there are days when I get to work thinking: how did I get here? My morning comprises doing an early lap around the sheep shed, getting the kids to school and then wondering if I remembered to change my clothes! But the NFU has been fantastic and the kids know my county chair’s names as if they are their friends at school.

9.   What have been your career highlights / proudest achievements thus far?

100% setting up She Who Dares Farms. What was achieved that day at launch was phenomenal for the Union and for those who attended. Seeing some ladies coming to meetings and gaining confidence has been amazing.

Getting to do a Will Evans Rock ‘n’ Roll podcast was also rather cool. She Who Dares Farms has led me to do media interviews and become a spokesperson for the farming industry. I had always shied away from doing opportunities like this but I got a lot of help from the NFU Cymru comms team and now I feel much more confident in my abilities because of what I have achieved.

10.   And the worst parts? How did you deal with these challenges? 

The worst part can be dealing with negativity about the industry –  usually around  misconceptions of what farmers actually do. But if you’ve got facts at your fingertips, it’s always good to expect challenge and stand up for the industry.

11.   Who inspires you – if anybody – in career and life? (could be a colleague, public figure or friend)

Minette Batters (President of the National Farmers’ Union) is an inspiration to me. She has shown great leadership in these challenging times. I would also say dairy farmer Abi Reader. This year she was named Farmers Weekly Farming Champion of the Year for using her incredible social media following  to highlight all that is great about British Farming. She is a positive force and always finds a way of encouraging people – something I always try to do: encourage and help wherever possible. That is so important to me.

12.   Advice to anyone, particularly young girls, who are interested in becoming a farmer?

Go For it. Never think there are barriers – there are always open doors; it’s just finding them. Positivity is key. 

13.   How would you like the industry to change?

I think the industry is evolving all the time. Potentially there is a need for more farmers to start selling what they do and be proud of it. So many people are scared of social media but it’s where things are at. And if you’re proud about what you do, why not show it? Some celebrities have even started farming themselves, which benefits the farming industry, given their influence. Attitudinal shifts also need to be ratified at the highest level: government and the general public need to recognise farming is a career, a profession; it’s not just a way of life.