No Country for Men: Meet the Feminist Farmers Championing Gender and Biodiversity

No Country for Men: Meet the Feminist Farmers Championing Gender and Biodiversity
Jennifer Creery

What you need to know

The ecofeminist community 'Land Dyke' gives hope to female farmers striving in a profession dominated by men.

I found myself lost in the hills of Taiwan’s eastern county of Yilan (宜蘭), with only the hum of distant motors to accompany me. It is a tranquility that for many makes the area an ideal escape from the hubbub of urban life. A few minutes pass before a figure appears over the horizon and races my way. Its rider smiles and gives me a nod of recognition. “This way”, Joelle (蔡雪青) says.

We enter their storage house packed with produce and packaging machines. “Farming is a job where you have to do more things than any other job, and you have to do it all at a professional level,” she says. Her task is made easier by working as a collective; except this isn’t any ordinary farming team.

Tucked away in Shengou Village (深溝村) in northeast Taiwan's Yilan County, a collective of six feminist farmers toil the land, cultivating fruits and vegetables under the name of “Land Dyke Feminist Family Farm.” Their experimental farming group is known in Chinese as Tulake (土拉客), which means “land to greet the people”. Established in 2012, “Land Dyke” has expanded its production to Dazhou Village (大洲村) and Toufen Village (頭分村), as well as a fruit orchard in Zhenshan Village (枕山村).

The name “Land Dyke” was coined from the ecofeminist back-to-the-land movement of the 1970s, where lesbian women sought to build their own farming communities. Why live in a patriarchal society, its followers believed, when you could create your own? However, unlike the separatist ideas touted by early lesbian farmers, “Land Dyke” takes inspiration from its principles of collective cooperation in order to create more community-based agriculture.

Jennifer Creery
The Land Dyke group grows yams in northeast Taiwan's Yilan County.

“Working as a group changes your perspective on the way you do things,” Ya-min (林雅敏), a newcomer to the group, says – in doing so it’s members are able to share tools and organic farming methods. But as Ya-min explains, it has its limitations: “There are lots of benefits to working in a group, but the more people, the more complicated.”

Joelle adds, “There are a lot single women in the community who do just fine themselves [working solo].”

Ecological activism

The concept is simple – to push back against gendered farming traditions that marginalize women as mere “helpers.” But there is nothing radical about this principle; for centuries women have farmed, while their work is often dismissed as domestic labor.

Huang Ya-xuan (黃雅旋), another member of the group, agrees: “Women who are farming have always been considered to be farming because of men.”

It is this perception that Land Dyke wants to counter – by bringing gender awareness into agriculture, it hopes to create a space where female farmers can flourish outside of conventional family structures.

Farming, however, is not easy. “It is a job where you have to do more things than any other job at a professional level, such as grow produce, do sales and deal with climate change,” Ya-min says. According to the group, climate change is an increasing problem, affecting a type of Taiwanese orange native to the island that can no longer be grown organically. Still, the group is committed to not using chemicals, instead practicing organic methods passed on by a local farmer.

What about marriage?

“One thing that we as women coming to villages in Taiwan have come across a lot, is that locals constantly ask us why we haven’t gotten married,” Joelle explains, “It is strange to see women who are farming but have no connection to a man who is farming – women have always been farmers, in addition to raising kids and housework.”

It is a stereotype that she believes applies to women in not only agriculture, but any kind of intense physical work: “It is a way of invalidating the role of women because it is always seen through the lens of a man.”

As such “Land Dyke” hopes to increase visibility for female farmers in the field and beyond. In the past they have promoted LGBT+ family rights, as well as organized a lecture series called “Farming Herstory.” Today the organization continues to support and hold events, while many of its members are involved in political activism. Joelle explains, “It’s not erasing or negating the original principles of Land Dyke, but moving beyond them.”

Those interested in finding out more about the Land Dyke group in Taiwan can visit their blog here (in Chinese).

Read next: Coffee Production in Vietnam Faces Dark Future Under Climate Change

Editor: Morley J Weston