Feb. 9 2024 09:08 AM

This farm safety event encouraged and allowed farm women to build their confidence with the machinery they or their families work with.

Community members volunteered their time and equipment to help Renfrew, Ontario, farm women gain experience with large farm machinery in a safe and welcoming environment. Simply being able to start, turn off, or move tractors, skid steers, choppers, and more equips those around farms with a valuable safety strategy.

A local tragedy involving farm equipment provided the spark for an event in Canada to help farm women feel more confident about operating farm machinery, especially in emergency situations.

TractHER Day was created by Angela Field and held last July in Renfrew, Ontario, Canada. It was designed to give women in agriculture an opportunity to explore and learn to operate farm equipment in a safe space. It would allow them to become comfortable with moving, operating, or simply turning the machines on or off in an emergency.

“A friend lost her husband suddenly from a farm accident where she was unable to assist because she and her teenage children did not know how to operate the equipment,” Field explained. “It was devastating to the family and the community and spurred me to bring this up once I joined the Renfrew Federation of Agriculture.”

The Renfrew Federation of Agriculture is one of 51 county and regional federations across the province supported by the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), and Field recently served as president. Renfrew Federation of Agriculture represents the voice of agriculture in the local community and advocates on behalf of Renfrew County farm families on local agricultural issues. OFA is the largest general farm organization in Ontario, representing 38,000 farm family members across the province.

Access and instruction

TractHER Day was for women who live and/or work on farms and, for whatever reason, may not be comfortable around farm equipment, Field said. “I also personally know many women who stress that they cannot learn or be taught by their husbands or fathers or bosses and were looking for anyone to instruct them.”

At TractHER Day last summer, Angela Field (standing) brought together volunteers to help farm women become comfortable with farm equipment so they can operate it more safely and help others in case of emergency.

The event was created with the help of two other women, but Field was the driving force. She wanted to foster a fun and friendly environment to allow women to learn basic operations and safety measures. She shared information through social media, word of mouth, and a local radio station.

“Things like tractors, implements with power takeoffs (PTOs), skid steers, loaders, and sometimes even just trailers can be very intimidating to many women,” she described. “Safety is a concern in these situations, and a person who can’t start up, shut down, or move a piece of equipment a few feet can be at a dangerous disadvantage in an emergency situation.”

Eight experienced instructors and two safety trainers volunteered their time and equipment, either from their own farm or a dealership, for the event. Machinery covered at the event included a self-propelled chopper, sprayer, skid steer, zero-turn lawn mower, pickup truck and trailer, loader, and straight standard tractors. Due to insurance and availability, only newer equipment was used, but there were requests following the event to include older equipment commonly found on farms. Field served as an instructor with the straight standard tractor.

Field farms with her husband, Barend van Lindenberg, his mother, and his brother at Lindmilk Farms in Renfrew, Ontario. They milk 200 cows and also operate a cash crop and custom operation. In her role at the farm, she works in the barn and helps with planting, harvest, and the custom equipment, so over the years, she has learned to operate different machinery.

When planning the event, she knew she would need volunteers with a special skill set. “I picked fellow farmers and people who I personally knew to have patience and skill with their equipment and instruction,” she said. “The instructors loved the whole experience, and they all said they can’t wait to do it again this coming summer.”

She said many of the participants were nervous about even getting into the equipment, but all were confident when they left the event. At the very least, she said, the women all felt they could jump into a piece of equipment, start it up, turn it off, or move it in an emergency.

The women who attended came from all types of ag backgrounds. “We had early 20-somethings all the way up to people who were almost retired, and most had limited to no experience on any equipment,” Field said. “Everyone who took part was enthusiastic about the event and the skills they learned, and all were thankful that this event was created and that they were able to participate.”

A broader need

David Prange, owner and instructor at Valley WorkSAFE!, which provides health and safety training in the Ottawa Valley, served as a volunteer instructor for the TractHER event. After his experience, he spoke about the event in a short YouTube video, praising the concept and the participants for stepping out of the comfort zones.

“The main focus was to provide hands-on opportunities and empower women in the ag industry, give them time in a safe, welcoming environment with no distractions, and offer one-on-one instruction on different machines,” he said.

This was the first event of this kind he had attended, but Prange hoped others would look at it as a model for future events. In an emergency, simply knowing how to move a piece of equipment or shut off the PTO could be critical. Understanding how a machine works allows people to feel more confident and know what they can and can’t do, he said.

Field said she did not know of any other similar events that take place, but other farm organizations have reached out for information to possibly hold their own TractHER Day.

With four school-aged children of her own who are currently learning to work on the family farm, Field recognizes the need to teach the basics of equipment safety and operation. Based on the success of last summer’s TractHER Day in Renfrew, she is already planning a repeat event in 2024.