Who holds the potential to influence our rural landscape and agriculture future? The surprising answer is women. According to data from Iowa State University, over 47% of farmland in Iowa is owned or co-owned by women, with more sole owners, primarily senior and widowed landowners who inherited family farmland. This statistic, indicative of landownership throughout the Midwest, has sparked a groundbreaking new training program in Wisconsin this year: "Women Caring for the Land."
Women Caring for the Land workshops bring together female conservation professionals and area women land owners to set goals to improve soil, air and water quality on their land. These workshops are sponsored by the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) and the Women, Food and Agriculture Network (WFAN). The four Women Caring for the Land Workshops will consist of a facilitated discussion in the morning followed by a free lunch and a guided tour of area farmland to see these principles and practices in action. The Wisconsin workshops run 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on:
Wednesday, Aug. 15 in Richland Center
Thursday, Aug. 16 in Green Bay
Monday, Sept. 17 in Lancaster
Tuesday, Sept. 18 in Darlington
The workshops are free and lunch is included but pre-registration for each workshop is required. See www.womencaringfortheland.org/wisconsin for registration information or contact Lisa Kivirist at 608-329-7056 or firstname.lastname@example.org
"Women Caring for the Land builds on more than a decade of work with women farmland owners in Iowa," said Lisa Kivirist, director of the MOSES Rural Women's Project which provides training and support to women farmers. "Through the various pilots WFAN organized, we've learned that this group of women consistently demonstrates strong conservation values, however, many of them are inheriting farmland from partners or fathers and have not participated in management decisions in the past. These workshops provide a crucial link between these women and the resources they need to achieve their conservation goals."
Topics for discussion range from managing soil and water conservation to government cost-share programs to how to talk with tenants about changing management practices.
The program uses a customized curriculum with activities that tie-in imagery close to the heart of this female group to bring issues such as diversity and soil erosion to life.
"We have had wonderful feedback from participants," said Lynn Heuss, WFAN Program Coordinator who will be facilitating these Wisconsin sessions. "Many of them just need to network with other women landowners to give them the information and confidence they need to improve soil and water conservation on their farms."
Program response has been very positive, both among farmland owners and agency staff. "This has been so informative and helpful; I'm excited for the future of my father's land," wrote one eastern Iowa woman farmland owner. "I know that if I can get conservation information to women, they are likely to act," commented an Iowa watershed coordinator.
"Women Caring for the Land provides a needed connection between women landowners and the array of land conservation resources and programs we have available here in Wisconsin," explained Valerie Dantoin, Organic & Sustainable Agriculture and Food Educator with the Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay and the host partner for the Aug. 16 workshop. Dantoin and her husband also run Full Circle Farm, an organic dairy in Seymour. "The College is looking forward to bringing these landowners together and providing the start for new relationships and network support for the future."
The program has a Conservation Innovation Grant from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and funding through the McKnight Foundation to expand into six Midwest states including Wisconsin. Additionally through this project, a specific curriculum guide will be developed so any organization or agency could host such a session in the future.
"The impact of Women Caring for the Land holds strong potential for stewarding our rural landscape," Kivirist added. "These women landowners are some of the most dedicated conservationists in the state, but are typically overlooked with traditional conservation outreach. This program uniquely addresses their needs and learning styles."