Why the Female Farmer has the Toughest Job in Austria

Plus how you can help a farmer survive in Tyrol

It’s official. The farmer’s wife has the toughest job in Austria.

Let me rephrase. The female farmer has the toughest job in Austria. It would be an injustice to refer to her only as a wife.

Women farmers raking grass on a mountain slope in the Stubai Valley.
Two women rake grass on a mountain slope in the Stubai Valley.

Although I always suspected this, it was confirmed (in my opinion) at the first international conference about the role of women in mountain regions in Alpbach last week.

32% of Austrian farms are run by women. Even where a woman isn’t the official farm manager, chances are good she is still doing most of the work. Besides doing physical farm labour, the administration on at least 60% of farms are done by women. And who do you think raises the kids, cooks, cleans and cares for elderly parents?

Women farmers showing their handcraft in Austria.
A female farmer not only raises the kids as part of her job, but is also the one who transfers traditional knowledge to the next generation. These two showed off their handcraft in Reith in Alpbachtal.

No wonder every second young woman between the age of 20 and 29 consider leaving their rural villages for the city.

Believe me, if you shy away from hard physical work, you don’t want to be part of even the extended family of a farmer. Because when more hands are needed on the farm, guess who helps to rake the cut grass (later compacted for winterfeed) or harvest the potatoes? Every capable brother or sister, aunt or uncle, niece or nephew. It’s only the bigger commercial farmers who hire migrant workers for the job.

Mountain farmers have it particularly difficult. We have watched in awe as a female farmer on the wrong side of 70 rakes grass under a scorching sun on mountain slopes. Where the slopes are too steep for a tractor, the cutting is done by hand or something resembling a lawnmower that must be pushed.

Farmland between Rinn and Tulfes in Tirol.
Mixed farmland outside Tulfes in Tyrol.

Despite their big share in the successful running of farms, women are still underrepresented in decision making bodies. The women’s working group of the Austrian Association of Mountain Farmers and Smallholders (ÖBV-Via Campesina Austria) are now fed up with this. They demand fair conditions for farming in mountain areas, including gender equality and the fair distribution of housework and care.

This statement pretty much sums them up:

“We are peasant women. We have experience and plenty of ideas.”

Many of these ideas focus on organic farming, but industrial agriculture and factory farming receive higher subsidies than ecological farming. The women farmers therefore also demand targeted support for small, eco-efficient farms.

Signs from female farmer protesters in Austria.
Signs outside the conference centre in Alpbach demanding a fair deal for all farmers in Austria.

What does this have to do with you?

In fact, there is a lot that you as a tourist or ordinary Tyrolean can do to save the small Austrian mountain farmer, and especially the female farmer, from going under.

1. Book a Farm Stay for your Next Holiday

Why don’t you stay on one of 330 Tyrolean farms for a holiday with a difference? Experience first-hand what it’s like on a mountain farm in Austria. Feed the animals, collect eggs, watch how the cows are milked, and learn a little bit about Tyrolean culture. If you’re lucky, you can feast on traditional dishes freshly prepared by (none other than ?) the female farmer.

There are different categories of farm stays, including family friendly, horse riding, vitality and barrier-free. The accommodation ranges from self-catering apartments to bed and breakfast in the farmhouse. The best part is that it’s generally cheaper than staying in a hotel. From the farm, you can still explore the surrounding area.

The organisation responsible for promoting farm stays is called Urlaub am Bauernhof or Holidays on the Farm. You can also book through them.

2. Buy Directly from the Farmer

Harvest festival offerings from farms in Rinn.
Farm fresh produce on a wagon at the harvest thanksgiving festival in Rinn in Tyrol.

Where we stay in Tulfes, many farmers sell milk, eggs and other products directly from the farm. I buy 10 organic eggs for €2,80 (compared to around €5 in the supermarkets), and a litre of milk costs €0,80 (compared to at least €1,20 for the same quality in the shops). Some villages also have farm shops, where you can buy from freshly baked bread to cheese, cured meats, jams, honey, vegetables and schnapps. People drive far to buy from our Tuxerbauer.

If you can’t go to the farmer, the farmer will come to you at a selection of farmers’ markets throughout the region. Here are some of the most popular ones:

Interesting Facts

  • Today, 102 people are fed off one farm in Austria compared to only 4 people in 1950.
  • The current number of farms in Austria is 160,000. Twenty years ago, it was 239,000.
  • Austrian farms have become bigger over the past 20 years. In 1995, the average size was 31,5 hectares. Today it is 44,2 hectares.
  • Two-thirds of Austrians live in rural areas.
  • Almost half (47,6%) of Austria’s surface is covered by woods.

Why don’t you look for a farm stay in the Stubai Valley? Check out these 4 fun things to do in the Stubai in summer

 

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