Our first tractor operation and maintenance workshop geared specifically for women was a hit! Led by local farmer Danielle Hutchison of Beacon Village Farm, the workshop provided a safe environment for women to learn how to maintain and use tractors on their farms. Attendees ranged from college students to retirees in their 60/70s — including apprentices, landowners, and growers who sell at local markets.
For 3 1/2 hours, the group actively engaged in discussing safety and tractor maintenance, with lots of hands-on interaction. Danielle created an open learning environment to encourage participants to ask questions.
“This workshop gave women an opportunity to be educated in an area of agriculture that has been stereotypically not accessible or unwelcoming,” said Suzanna Denison, workshop attendee and director of WNC FarmLink (SAHC’s Farm Pathways partner). “I think there is an assumption that women in agriculture will be doing things other than operating machinery. Farm education in tractor and heavy machine operation has historically been limited for women — whether intentionally or not. It’s somewhere you usually don’t see women. For example, in my experience as a farmer, I didn’t receive the same training as male counterparts on how to operate a tractor. Perhaps it wasn’t assumed that I would want to — or even should — be trained in this area.”
Danielle led the class in an overview of personal protective gear and safety practices — like using safety glasses and hearing protection, keeping hair pulled back, avoiding loose clothing, and wearing a seatbelt and close-toed (ideally steel-toed) shoes. She demonstrated the procedure for starting a tractor (clutch, brake, gears) and standard safety procedures on and around a tractor during operation.
Danielle talked about maintenance of the tractor engine, hydraulic system, coolant and steering fluids and filters — including how to drain and refill these — how to check air pressure and lug nuts on tires, and more. She explained how different implements attach to a tractor, demonstrating the 3-point hitch and hooking up the bush hog.
Many of the questions brought up during the workshop focused on drivability of tractors and what is unique about this vehicle compared to other manual transmission vehicles. Attendees used real-life scenarios to frame questions – about driving techniques for different farm operations (such as discing in a field, cultivating, or driving on the road) or specific circumstances.
The workshop ended on a positive note, with several women interested in continuing for a follow-up. In the future we may expand our Tractor 101 for Women workshop into a 2-part series to offer driving instruction as well a basic tractor overview.
Thank you for all who attended and to Danielle for being an excellent instructor! Check our upcoming workshop schedule periodically, as we add new farm workshops throughout the year.
This workshop is part of Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy’s Farmer Education Workshop Series, funded in part by a grant from The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina. This work is supported by the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program grant number 2016-70017-25341 (Farm Pathways: Integrating Farmer Training with Land Access) from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.