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Daughters of the Soil: The Women behind Agriculture

Discover the women in agriculture across Northumberland and the Scottish Borders in a new portrait exhibition, Daughters of the Soil, by Joanne Coates.

Flower farmer Paula is featured in Joanne Coates' Daughters of the Soil exhibition
Paula, Mill Pond Flower Farm. Flower farming is the exception to the rule, more women are present in this sector than men © Joanne Coates

Women in agriculture take centre stage in powerful new portrait exhibition, Daughters of the Soil.

This insightful exhibition by award-winning documentary photographer Joanne Coates is on at Berwick’s Gymnasium Gallery.

It is the culmination of 12 months of work researching gender and agriculture in Northumberland and the Scottish borders.

A shepherd's crook hangs on a fence
Fransjes shepherds crook. Only 15% of farmers in the UK are women. © Joanne Coates

Daughters of the Soil

Coates grew up in rural North Yorkshire. She remains deeply connected to the countryside.

Collaborating with more than 40 women from across the regions, this exhibition is a curated collection exploring issues women face in farming.

It combines documentary photography with socially-engaged methods to create a distinctive visual motif rooted in lived experience.

“The project offered the opportunity for me to chronicle the lives and stories of these women,” said Coates.

“Women aren’t as visible as men on farms, but we are seeing them more.

“The female workforce are driving tractors, having a social media presence, and can be seen on the telly but they don’t often inherit land or work in leadership positions.”

The work explores questions around land inheritance, farming stereotypes and the history around who works the land.

Poppy laying over a hay bale, part of the Daughters of the Soil exhibition
Poppy, taking a break while helping her dad in harvest time. Poppy is a vet and farmer’s daughter. © Joanne Coates

The role of women in farming

Women make up 15% of the farming industry in the UK.

Their contribution is significant but often overlooked, with underlying barriers such as access to land, class, motherhood, and lack of clear leadership roles assisting this.

During a residency with the Maltings and Newcastle University’s Centre for Rural Economy (CRE) and Institute for Creative Arts Practice, Coates worked collaboratively with Professor Sally Shortall, Duke of Northumberland chair of rural economy, whose research focuses on gender relations in agriculture.

Prof Shortall said: “Joanne’s work brings women’s stories to life and capture the essence of their world.

“I’m delighted this exhibition raises awareness of the important role played by women in farming today.”

Coates’ work has featured in The Guardian, BBC, Financial Times, The Telegraph and The British Journal of Photography.

She is a winner of the Magenta Foundation Flash Forward Awards.

In 2021 she was a joint awardee of the Jerwood/Photoworks Prize.

Exhibition details

Daughters of the Soil takes place every Wednesday to Sunday from 11 am to 4 pm until May 29 at the Gymnasium Gallery, Berwick-upon-Tweed.

It will also be shown at Vane, Gateshead, in August 2022 and tour to a further venue later in the year.