Scotland’s female farmers: Custodians of the land

(CNN)Lorraine Luescher came from a long line of Scottish farmers, but two generations ago her family sold its farms.

However, her connection to the land felt so strong that she bought it back.


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“When I am in this environment, I feel very insignificant,” Luescher told photographer Sophie Gerrard. “I feel I am part of something much bigger. I’m just here for a very short time and it’s the opposite of feeling in any way that I have power over the land.”
Luescher is one of six female farmers photographed by Gerrard over the last four years.
After living in London, Gerrard returned to her native Scotland with a sense of nostalgia. She was on a mission to explore the landscape and try to understand the people responsible for maintaining it.


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“The more research I did, the more I realized the story was always told from a male point of view,” Gerrard said. “So I really wanted to explore it through a female point of view.”
That desire sparked the idea for her project, “Drawn to the Land.”
Gerrard found that although the women she met had completely different stories, they all shared an intimate relationship with the Scottish grounds they help shape.
She spent a lot of time getting to know the women and says they often talked about being custodians of the land rather than landlords.
Mary McCall-Smith told Gerrard she believes she has a moral obligation to leave her land in as good, if not better, condition than it was when she inherited it.
Their land “means a great deal to them,” Gerrard said. “There is an emotional connection.”
Sybil MacPherson’s farm has been in her family for more than 170 years. From an early age, she had a hunger to work on her family’s farm. The idea of working in an office and sitting at a desk all day sounds insane to her.


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“I am lucky to have lived here all my life,” MacPherson told the photographer. “My father would walk me about the farm on his shoulders. I loved it. I’ve always loved it. … The cold … watching the seasons.”
Sarah Boden, on the other hand, returned to farming later in life. She grew up on Isle of Eigg in Scotland and moved to London for a career as a music journalist. In her 30s she moved back to Scotland to work on a farm that was once tenanted by her uncle.
Despite farming some of the most hostile and secluded rural areas of Scotland, the women have a simplicity about them, Gerrard says. They are all very modest and have earned the respect of the men in their communities.
“It is vital that our landscape is protected by those who have a sense of custodianship, people who want to improve it,” she said. “These women are an important part of that process.”

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