TractHER co-organizer Angela Field, right, of Admaston/Bromley Township, said the event was a great way for participants like Addy Russell of Pakenham to learn the basics of operating farm machinery. Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Renfrew – Sixteen women climbed aboard various pieces of farm equipment Saturday as part of TractHER Day, an event encouraging women and members of under-represented groups to explore various pieces of farm equipment and learn basic operations and safety measures in a fun and friendly environment. 

The event was held at the Renfrew Fairgrounds. The idea of creating a TractHER Day began over a year ago when local farmers Jenn Doelman, Angela Field and Travis Smith got together and discussed the need to create a forum that gives local women who are part of a farming family the opportunity to operate large machinery without worrying about making mistakes or being judged. 

“Last year Travis Smith told Angela (Field) that he was amazed and a little concerned that so many women who live on farms have never actually had the chance to operate a tractor or harvester or other pieces of farming equipment,” Mrs. Doelman said. “A lot of the times we are the ones who are called in after hours or in an emergency and we need to be able to move these things and we have not had training on how to use these machines.”

The participants who came out Sunday came from Carp, Carleton Place, Perth, Calabogie, Renfrew and other areas around the Ottawa Valley. According to Mrs. Doelman, the number of participants could have been higher, but the organizers wanted a small group for the inaugural workshop.

“We were so encouraged by the response,” she said. “First we had to find a date that was convenient for our volunteers, our instructors and a location where we could host it. We couldn’t host it on a local farm because most have the crops in the ground so we looked at the fairgrounds and we are so happy the Ag Society allowed us to use the facility. 

“Once we settled on a date, we decided to keep the group small so that all the ladies had enough time to learn the basics and were able to get behind the wheel without feeling like everyone was watching or judging them.”

Krista Rogers, who resides in Calabogie, said her boyfriend and his family own a trailer park and he runs winter snow plowing equipment. She said she never had a chance to operate a tractor or other farm machines. She jumped at the chance to sign up for the workshop as it offered her the rare opportunity to climb inside a cab and get hands-on experience. 

“I was a little nervous at first and I wasn’t the only one who was a rookie out here today,” she told the Leader. “I got to drive a million dollar harvester and I don’t think I would have ever had the chance if I didn’t come out today. It was fun, but I also learned a lot and I will be much more confident if I have the chance to do this on an actual farm.”

Along with the basics of how to operate the machinery, the primary theme throughout the day was farm safety and learning the best way to avoid farm accidents. Douglas Ryan Dick, with Workplace Safety Prevention Services, was one of the volunteers on site and his primary role was to share best practices to help the participants learn the basics of safely operating the machinery to avoid potential accidents.

“I was teaching an overview of basic safety principals before the ladies actually go out on the various types of farm equipment,” he said. “Today we are stressing the basics like properly mounting procedures, being aware of the hazards and recognizing potential hazards on the home farm as well as checking the areas around the tractors before they start them up.”

He said it is the simplest little things that farmers forget about when operating machinery that cause accidents.

“Sometimes the accidents occur during harvest season when long hours and fatigue start to have an affect on the operators,” he said. “Staying hydrated, getting enough shade and checking for little things like your blind spots can help reduce accidents. Overall the number of accidents are going down on farms, but the population of farmers is going down faster so workshops like this can help reduce that number.”

Ms. Field said the event not only benefitted local farm families, but the template created by the organizers may be adopted and used throughout the province. 

“This event was hosted by the Renfrew Federation of Agriculture and it has caught the attention of OMAFRA (Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs) and we were told this could serve as a template to use throughout the province,” Ms. Field said. “There is definitely a need for this type of course that stresses safety on the farm and encourages women to learn how to operate farm machinery.”

She said getting everything organized requires timing and patience when scheduling an event like this.

“Everyone has busy lives, not just farmers, but safety and hands-on experience is so necessary for farmers and their families that we have to make time for something this important,” she said. “We are so lucky that so many of our volunteers are willing to come out on a beautiful sunny day in July and they are sharing their knowledge and experience with our participants.

“Once the women learned the basics of farm safety, they had no problem taking the wheel and don’t have to worry about being judged. Our goal was to introduce the various machines to the ladies out here today. They gained so much experience and confidence that we intend on holding another event next year and many who signed up today said they intend on coming back next year if we bring it back again.”

By Bruce McIntyre Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jul 26, 2023 at 06:17

This item reprinted with permission from   The Eganville Leader   Eganville, Ontario
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