Moms Make it Work: Erin | Work from Home Farming Mom in Canada

Today on the Moms Make it Work series, Erin tells us about her life as a Canadian farmer. This is another reason that I love this series---because how cool is it to peek into the life of a mom in a different country, working at a completely different kind of job than my own. I hope you all enjoy this one as much as I did, whether you can personally relate to Erin's story or not!


Hi everybody! I’ve really enjoyed reading all of the stories in this series, and hope you enjoy reading mine.

My name is Erin, I am 31 years old, and I live with my husband Ryan and our daughter, G, on a farm in the province of Québec, Canada. Although we’re in Québec (which is francophone), we are very close to Ottawa (anglo!), which is a city of almost a million. My husband is finishing a PhD in Geography and moving on to a PostDoc in the new year, and while we both share in the work of the farm and raising our girl, I am the “main farmer”, and the main caregiver for our daughter.

We’re a bit camera shy…Here we are taking a peek at our flock of Icelandic sheep.

-What is your background story? What was your career/schooling before you became a mom? And where are you now?

I grew up on a farm in Alberta but left home to see the world and get an education. In 2007 after some traveling and some schooling, I got my BA in Canadian Studies (for me this meant a mix of Women’s Studies, History, Politics, and Environmental Studies) at a small university north of Toronto. My husband and I met there in 2003 and have been together ever since. We got married this past December on our 10-year anniversary.

For a few years after my degree, I worked in government and the non-profit sector. I enjoyed many aspects of having a more typical employment situation – the regular pay, semi-regular hours, having colleagues and working on issues that are really important to me – things like poverty and inequality, food security and sustainable agriculture. But like many others in the non-profit sector, I was burning out incredibly quickly, in the last year of my employment I was constantly stressed out and itching to leave. All throughout my time living in the city, I kept in touch with my farming childhood by working casually/seasonally on different types of farms (often in exchange for food!)

We knew we wanted to start a family, and when my daughter was born in the summer of 2012, I began my year of maternity leave excited about the change of pace, with an open heart for motherhood, and with a determination to NOT return to typical out-of-the-home employment – if we could manage it financially. We get 50 weeks of paid parental leave in Canada (and in Québec, my husband also gets 4 additional weeks of paid leave, supposedly to encourage bonding between the second partner and the baby). During my mat leave, I took the opportunity to plan how I could generate an income for myself from our farm, and I prepared to go from having a farm just-for-us to a farm that actually pays some bills.

Trying out an antique tractor at the fair

Today, we have a small organic farm where we raise sheep for meat and wool, and pastured pork (these are the commercial aspects of our farm), as well as chickens for our own meat and eggs, a cow and calf for our own milk, and a big garden for our own vegetables. It is a thriving small farm and I am making a small income for myself, producing the majority of our own food, and keeping our daughter at home. In the future when our daughter (and hopefully, a sibling or two) are school-age, I’d like to grow our farm big enough to generate a full-time income for myself. I always wanted to be able to stay at home with my kids, and I’m a real homebody – so home on the farm truly is where I want to be.

-Tips on how you make your situation work for you:

Overall, our situation really works well for us. I don’t like living in the city and my husband can’t be too far away from it. We both like our work – mine in the home and on the farm, and his in academia – and enjoy having different things to do at different parts of the day/week/year. For sure, this kind of setup relies on us both being equally committed to our lifestyle and our work and family choices. We’re on the same page, we’re willing to change if things get un-workable, and we’re committed to helping one another reach our own personal goals, as well as our family goals. And, we talk about these things a lot.

So this is what the day-to-day usually looks like for us:
Springtime swimming lessons…

In the mornings, I head out to do the chores while my husband gets my daughter up and ready for the day, and makes breakfast. Milking, feeding the animals, checking the sheep, letting the chickens out, and taking the cow and calf out to pasture take me an hour or more. My husband filters the morning’s milk and does the milk dishes. Generally when I get back in from chores there is breakfast (mmm, eggs!) almost on the table and a clean or semi-clean kitchen to start the day. My daughter has a bit of cartoon time in the mornings. If my husband has to go to town to work for the day, this all just happens earlier.

After breakfast he will head to his office (in our home) to work for the day, and I will switch to mama-mode for much of the day. In the mornings me and G hang out, do a grocery run or errands in town and make a stop at the playground, spend some time in the garden, walk to the creek to throw rocks and look for berries - and always, every day, the sandbox. My daughter is an amazing napper (thank goodness!), and on most days I take advantage of her 3-hour nap to work in the garden or do some farm work. My husband working from home on some days is essential to this, because he is there in the house if she wakes up. But, on days when he has to go to town, I use that time to get stuff done in the house and yard where the baby monitor is in range. This is also very seasonal – in the winter, those few hours are for stuff in the house – I do a lot of our marketing/advertising, networking, learning, and reading for our farm in the winter. And baking….and sewing…and having a clean(er) house…and now and then being just plain, gloriously, lazy!

An autumn walk in the field.

In the early evening, my husband will finish his work for the day, and we will tag-team everything from that point on. If the weather isn’t horrible, we’ll take our daughter out with us to do the evening chores. As she is getting older it’s been easier and easier to have her tag along while we’re working outside, and, she likes being with us and feels proud of being our helper. We split up all of those miscellaneous things that get left to 5pm…the load of laundry that never did make it to the dryer or the clothesline, getting supper picked and planned and on the stove, or an extra little farm task that really needs attention. If one of us is away for the evening, the other one just makes it work, doing the most important things and leaving the rest for another time. On days when we both have in-town commitments, we’ll either bring our daughter with us (like, for a sports team, if its nice out), or drop her off at her Auntie’s or Grandparents’ house for the evening. While I was still nursing, my husband would do bathtime, and I’d do bedtime, but now that she’s fully weaned we switch off bath and bedtime – whoever didn’t get much time with her in the day will do the majority of the bed-and-bath routine. (Or, whoever can’t bear the thought of cleaning the kitchen gets to do bedtime.)

Friends helping to make hay, and a successful climb to the top!

We try to plan the big farm jobs – things like making hay, sheep-handling days, fixing fence, big garden projects, building things, and fixing the many things that break – for the weekends when we can get friends and family to help and babysit. But this doesn’t always work out (like the time I broke my haybine before I even started cutting hay and had to call the hubby down to help me fix it….after a sheepish phone call to my dad, 3 hours of filing and hammering and grinding, and a lot of grease all over everything, I was up and running, but he was stuck with our by-now awake daughter and a work day that had never really got started...)

With a farm and a garden, what keeps me busy changes a lot throughout the year. In the spring, we are preparing and planting the garden. The sheep get shorn. They need a lot of care as they get ready to lamb and in lambing season it’s around the clock periodic checks and the odd assist. The new lambs, though, are a joy to watch. Once the lambs are all on their feet and the grass is growing well, all of our grazing animals go out to pasture, and for the rest of the warm season they will be moved every 3-5 days to fresh grass. We get our pigs as weaned piglets in the late spring and throughout the season they eat more, and more, and more… A few times in the summer we make hay: cut at the beginning of a sunny stretch, then a few days later bale, haul to the barn, and stack. A big, fun job out in the sun but also really stressful wondering if the dry weather will hold. The summer also means lots of time in the garden: weeding, mulching, harvesting, preserving veggies for the winter to come. In the fall this reaches a frenetic pace, and almost every day includes a batch of salsa in jars, a haul of onions set to dry, or a batch of veggies blanched and into the deep freeze. At this point we’ll wean the lambs and the sheep are shorn again. In late fall the pigs and the meat lambs (those who have not “made the roster for the season”) are sent to the butcher. Customers come to the farm to pick up their meat orders and all of the remaining animals come back to the barn for the winter. The winter is quiet. Everybody is close to the house and easy to watch. We’re feeding hay stockpiled in the loft, so chores are a bit easier. All throughout the year there is milking, and making cheese and yogurt, keeping the chickens happy and fed and clean, and eating all of those glorious eggs.

My husband’s schedule changes a lot through the year, too. Being in the academic world, he may have a semester with lots of teaching or no teaching at all and lots of research, or he may have a few conferences all back to back and out of town. There are stressful times and much more normal-paced times, it all just depends on where things are at with his various projects and commitments.

We’re working in the barn…and she’s getting stuck in a bucket.

-What are the best parts of your situations? What are the challenges?

Well, let’s start with the challenges. One of the biggest ones is that with a farm, it’s hard to ever leave! We have animals that need to be cared for 365 days a year. Sometimes we do get friends to stay for the weekend so we can leave, but it’s not easy, they need to be trained, and if a problem occurred while they were here it could be a disaster. So, we rarely leave. The spring/summer/fall is amazing and beautiful, but it is so much work. I’m often so tired at the end of the day that I’m ready for bed as soon as my daughter goes to bed. If my husband is having a particularly stressful or busy period with his work, or if he’s away for a few days and I’m in the middle of a busy time with the farm, it can be quite hard. And it’s also challenging to juggle a toddler and the occasional farm emergency – like the time I had to lock my toddler with an iPhone in a little lambing pen while I helped sick lamb. My daughter was technically happy with the iPhone, but I do not feel good about hypnotizing her with technology – you can’t predict those situations and you just have to deal with it when it happens. Another challenge is that we’re not in a real farming area (with farm stores and machinery stores and people who make their own feed), and my family is scattered across the country. Farm ‘situations’ are really way easier to deal with when you are surrounded by other farm families (ideally, your own). But, having a super-supportive family and an amazing group of friends really makes everything a lot easier. Even if they can’t always be there to haul in the hay with us, knowing that they’re on our side and pulling for us makes the challenges a lot easier...and often, more fun!

Throwing rocks in the creek, but really, I’m trying to go check the sheep with my little helper.

The best part of our situation is that we’re living a life that we love. I am so happy to have my daughter at home with us and my husband working from home quite frequently, it’s wonderful how much time we both get to spend as a family and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. My husband is pursuing a career that he loves, and I love our little farm. I am truly grateful to be back on the farm and I love being able to share those values with my family. I also love feeling that direct connection between my work every day and the food that we – and others – get to eat. I feel great that my daughter knows which berries are good to eat and which ones she should ask about, that she calls her milk “Fanny Milk” (the name of our cow), that she knows that eggs come from the chickens and that she tries to pick the weeds growing in the driveway (“Mama I’m weedin!”). Sharing these tiny experiences with her are invaluable and precious.

-Is this how you expected it to be pre-kids?

I guess I always hoped that I would be able to find a way to stay at home with my kids and have a farm, so yes, basically this is what I wanted pre-kids. Having my daughter was the incentive to truly live the life that I believe in.

-Is this your ideal situation? If not, what is?

We are pretty close! I feel so, so grateful for my family and the life that we have. Ideally, I think we would be co-farming with another family. That would ease a lot of the vulnerabilities and stresses, allow us to get away once in awhile, and allow us to scale up significantly. Plus, it would be nice if there were other kids nearby, since we aren’t within walking distance of any other kids. These are things that we will look to do in the future. Also, ideally my husband would have a permanent job – he’s so far been paid to do all of his schooling, but it’s always 2 years of funding here, a 4 year grant there – which can make long-term financial security quite stressful. He’s just not quite there yet in terms of his career track. It will come with time, and will mean a big transition (and very likely a move), but that will ease a lot of financial planning worries.

On a walk when G was still tiny!

-Do you see yourself making a career change (whatever that means) in the next 5-10 years? Or is this current set up staying put for the long haul?

I do not forsee changing this lifestyle, but if things stop working for whatever reason, then of course, we’ll go with the flow. If I need to take on more work, or get a job in town, I will. If we need to move to a city for awhile, we will. But in the long run, this is the place and the life for us.

-How do meals work in your family?

My husband and I share the cooking pretty equally. Things are super-easy when I meal plan, but I only do that about 1 week per month. I just can’t get it together to do it on a regular basis. In the summer I meal-plan for the day based around what’s growing in the garden. Which means some weeks we eat a lot of green beans. We grocery shop about once a week, and I stick to a list, but most of our groceries actually just come from home – the challenge is always using things when they are fresh and ready. In the winter, we love having people over for a big farm supper once a week or so and I truly love making a big Sunday feast!

-How do you keep your house clean?

Uhhh…….First off let me say that before we had a kid and a farm, my husband and I had pretty dang clean house. These days, we have a nice and clean house in the winter, and a dirty house in the summer. I have resigned myself to that fact, although I don’t like it. Our kitchen is always clean, that is non-negotiable. We handle raw milk in there, and fresh eggs, and veggies straight from the garden. It must be cleaned. Otherwise, stuff gets tidied up every day and true cleaning happens once in a while. My daughter is responsible to pick up her toys every night, though it’s mostly me steering her from one thing to another and helping her put them away. She’s getting better at it. She’s also surprisingly good at putting things away while I vaccum. (Although I’m pretty sure she does this out of fear that I will vaccum something up, and I feel a little bit bad about using that to my advantage, but I do it anyways). Everything else we tackle when we can, which is, sadly, not that often. I actually can’t remember the last time I washed the floors. The bathrooms are on an as-needed basis. Laundry is my nemesis. I can get my daughter’s clothes washed, but my own? It ain’t pretty, folks. Ah well. Maybe we’ll find a better solution for this in the future.

My little helper, doing the dishes.

-How do you handle mommy guilt?

To be honest, I don’t really feel mommy guilt. I used to, right after my daughter was born, but as I started to gain a bit of confidence, I stopped feeling pressured to meet up to others’ expectations. The way I see it, there are a million amazing ways to raise a child and be in a family, and we’ve found one of them that works for us. Sure, I make a gazillion mistakes and I have many small regrets, but that’s just part of life. My daughter doesn’t get to do very many toddler activities, like music class or playdates, but she’s learning and growing and she’s going to be an amazing person anyway. I feel good about that, and about the choices that we’re making as a family, even though they’re different than the choices that lots of other families make.

At the lake on one of those rare hot days this past summer…

I also try to speak up and get involved in the things that matter to me and my family, although I don’t do it as much as I feel I should, or as I used to. I think that it is super important – we have the power to change our communities – and being even a tiny bit involved makes me feel a little bit better about the situations that happen in my community and my society that I don’t feel good about. So, I’m trying to get back to doing more of this kind of activist community work.

-Advice for new moms struggling with returning to work outside of the home? Or struggling to decide if staying at home is the right choice?

I don’t know that I have any advice, but I will say that having family-friendly social policy (like 52 weeks of partial-pay parental leave, universal healthcare, and $8-per-day childcare available to all) really makes a lot of these decisions feel less pressurized. I really wish that everybody had access to these kinds of supports; I feel like they are good for all kids and our community(ies) as a whole.

I guess all I can say is just try to do what your heart tells you is right. Do whatever works for you! You can do it! And if you try something and it doesn’t work, you can always change it up later.

Thanks Julia for hosting this terrific series! I think it’s so great to read about how other moms are making it work.

{Thank you, Erin! Find the rest of the MMIW series here}


  1. This was a really interesting read, thanks for sharing! I had several friends growing up who lived on farms and I have SUCH fond memories from visiting them. I can only imagine how much work it is, though!


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