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WOMEN AT WORK: KRISTIN GRAVES

 
What does a day in your work life look like?
 
My work days start early in the morning, before the heat of the day takes hold. I enjoy a cup of coffee in my sturdy to-go mug, while I wander out to the garden to start the day's harvest. Whether it is tender greens, such as lettuce and arugula, or garlic scapes, most crops are best picked when it's cool and the morning dew is still on them. After the harvesting is finished, I carefully wash everything and divide it for any upcoming orders. One of my favourite parts of the day is delivering my fresh veggies to the local restaurants that I supply to. In my "downtime" I am most often tending to the rows and weeding the garden, or working on equipment. The days usually end with irrigating my garden, especially during a drought like this summer! By the fall, I spend my days and evenings hauling grain for our family's grain operation. There's often one or two weeks where everything overlaps and I split my time between the garden, the garlic and the grain. Fall time is very chaotic on our farm, but I actually really love being a part of harvest! During the winter months, things slow down slightly. Winter is when we process the bulk of our garlic (peeling, dehydrating, roasting or smoking it). I spend most of my weekends at markets connecting with local food enthusiasts and sharing our unique garlic products!
   
What made you start doing the amazing things that you do?
 
I grew up with a deep appreciation and love for our farm, but never actually imagined myself as a "Farmer". Originally, I had trained as an x-ray technologist and worked at a leading trauma institute in our province. I was somebody who truly loved their job right up until one fateful night when the most devastating trauma I have ever seen came in. One case and everything changed. I stopped sleeping because I was plagued by night terrors. I became cold and distant because it was the only way I could make it through my shift. I had to stave off panic attacks every time the trauma team was called. It was suddenly abundantly clear that I needed to make my mental health a priority and remove myself from that environment. The farm was my safe place during those hard times. It was where I began to heal, between the rows of vegetables in my garden, and I couldn't help but think, "I wish I could do this every day." At the time, I struggled to imagine myself operating machinery but I was determined to try, and somewhere along the road, a spark was lit inside of me. Once I made my decision, I knew there was no going back. I formulated a plan, one that included a business of fresh produce subscriptions, and spent the next two years building it up to justify leaving my life in x-ray. I was scared to walk away from my career and a steady pay check, but I was even more afraid not to. While I wish there wasn't so much heartache in what fueled my drive, I know that it was a necessary step to getting to where I am now. The need to find something new led me to my true passion and I feel unbelievably lucky to be able to now pursue a career in agriculture. I am also so grateful to be able to carry out my family's legacy and to continue growing towards a more sustainable future for our farm. In the years since starting Fifth Gen, my business model has changed and shifted to adapt to a more balanced lifestyle (something I find incredibly hard!). Instead of adding more subscription boxes, I began growing produce for local restaurants, giving me the opportunity to work closely with their very talented chefs. It helps to reduce my workload and I greatly enjoy seeing the full "Farm to Table" journey of my veggies to their tables. I started growing a large scale garlic crop in more recent years as well. The garden is quite seasonal with 4 very labour intensive months and then a very quiet winter. Garlic is something that has transformed into a year-round source of income for me. By being able to process it and create various garlic-forward products (like dip mixes or smoked garlic spread), I am able to prolong the harvest and broaden my reach by selling at winter markets. The work is evenly distributed between the seasons, and the ability to use equipment with the heavy tasks, such as planting or harvesting, helps immensely! Garlic is something I never saw coming and I am having a lot of fun with it!
  
Did you complete any training? If not, how did you learn your trade/skill?
 
I don't have any official form of training for this - I have learned from spending countless days working in the field, soaking up knowledge of farming and cultivating crops from past generations. I've learned to operate farm equipment by putting in many hours in the seat, practicing over and over until it became second nature. When I planted my first garden, my mom showed me how. As I started my business, I read every book on the subject, researched online, and spoke with other producers to learn the tricks of the trade. My skillset is largely gained through trial and error, learning from my mistakes as I go with years of hands-on experience.
   
What did you want to be when you were growing up, or a little kid?
 
In my kindergarten yearbook, I stated that I wanted to be a "country music singer just like Reba". While I do still love to sing, I've set my sights on different dreams and am so grateful to have found my way home to the farm!
  
  
What do you have to sacrifice to be good at what you do?
 
Early on, I realized that the farm almost always has to come first. During my second season, I had made plans to go away for a weekend, not realizing that 72 hours without moisture during a drought and extreme heat is too long for most seedlings. I came home to plants that had withered away and was devastated. After that, I recognized that this is now my livelihood and I alone am responsible for it's success. Unfortunately that also means that I miss out on a lot of things -- family dinners, girls trips to the mountains, even just a day off without feeling guilty for it, etc. Sometimes I think I course corrected a bit too far, but I am constantly working on finding a work-life balance that works for me, and thankfully I have the most understanding partner in my life.
  
What scares you?
 
I am terrified of heights, like a knee buckling and type of fear. Don't ask me to climb a grain bin. EVER.
   
What do you want people to know about being a woman in your field?
 
Women in agriculture isn't anything new. My grandmother milked cows, my mother swathed grain. The only difference is that now I am the one out front. Female-led farms are rising in numbers across North America, proving that we are more than capable, and yet, I still have countless interactions with people who assume I am working for my husband's or father's business. It can be very disheartening to have all of your hard work discredited simply because you do not fit the build of a stereotype. I'm not your average farmer - I'm short (5'3), young, and a woman. I have had to learn to adapt, ask for help (begrudgingly) and work with equipment to find another way to do the tasks I'm not strong enough or tall enough for. To be a woman in agriculture is all about finding balance between the fierceness that makes it possible, and the natural grace you carry, it's ok to have both. For the first time in five generations of our family, the land and knowledge acquired through years of farming is being passed down from father to daughter. I aim to continue our way of life by promoting the importance of female farmers that embrace their femininity and strength, creating a new way forward for the agriculture industry.
  
What are the top five things that are always in your pockets?
 
My pocket knife, earplugs, seed packs, twine and zip-ties.
  
Tell us something surprising about you.  
 
I love music! I have a playlist for everything and listen to nearly every kind of genre. If you ever pop by the garden, you'll likely find me with my headphones in, dancing down the row or singing along.
 
How do you encourage other women to start doing what you do?
 
I am always open to talking it out! Farming is my favourite thing to talk about and I am happy to share any wisdom or insights I might have to help someone else get started. I know that at times it can feel a bit awkward to reach out, or some people are worried about looking like competitors, but a friend once told me, "The world needs more farmers", and I couldn't agree more. The green industry is friendly and welcoming, and you'll find that most people will choose companionship over competition every time! I love being able to share my passion with other women who may be interested in it as well. I grow to cultivate connections - connections between farmer and consumer, as well as connections with other like-minded women!
  
Who’s a role model who helped you in your journey to where you are?
 
My dad. He is the hardest working person I've ever known, and yet always makes time to help me with my own farming venture. Patience isn't a word commonly used to describe any of our family members, and yet he has taken the time to introduce me to his world and nourish a love for our land deeper than I could've ever known.
  
 
  
  
If you could give your younger self advice, what would it be?
 
Be open to change and losing control. When I was 20, I thought I had my whole life figured out. I was going to work in healthcare and travel, live in a certain style of house, and have X-number of kids by a certain age. The idea of change terrified me. My whole world fit neatly into all the right categories and I would become very stressed if things didn't happen the way I had wanted them to. Farming has taught me countless lessons, but most of all, it has shown me that you can't control everything. Mother Nature can be quite unkind. Hailstorms can wipe out your crop in just a matter of minutes. Your backup plan may need it's own backup plan at times! This way of life has allowed me to embrace the chaos and let go of the need to control it. I quit my job and threw a massive wrench into my carefully laid plans, something that would have induced extreme anxiety before, but now, I believe that life has a way of working out just the way you need it to! I wish I could tell my former self that sometimes the harshest conditions bring out the best flavour (like dry years and radishes!). Being open to change will let you enjoy it more!
   
What does workwear designed for women mean to you? What does it mean to you, how does it affect your life and why is it important?
Finding a brand of workwear specifically designed for women made me so happy! I have spent years trying to find something that fit me right, often resigning to wearing Youths versions to accommodate for my small stature, but sadly they never held up against my day to day tasks. I work hard, my workwear should too. I am indebted to the women who took the time to design something to fill that gap! I also really appreciate that there was a Ladies option that wasn't pink. Now don't get me wrong, I like a good shade of coral, but I hate that everyday tools, coveralls, etc, are made to set us apart. I want to be recognized for being good in my field, not just for being good for a woman in my field. I am overjoyed to say that I now wear a women's workwear brand that looks good, without sacrificing function.

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