Rural Women as Agriculture Leaders

Final Report for CS05-034

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2005: $9,980.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Region: Southern
State: Georgia
Principal Investigator:
Mikhiela Sherrod
Southwest Georgia Project
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Project Information


The purpose of this project was to assist and enable groups of rural black women that are small-scale producers in southwest Georgia, to develop viable businesses based on vegetables, herbs and other agricultural products. The project helped these women organize as individual counties and a collective group in addition to planning how to develop their businesses and community partnerships.

This project supplemented and expanded the training the women received as participants in a year-long Risk Management Education course. The workshops engaged women through planning sessions that fostered discussions on methods and means to cooperate and use individual resources to expand the groups resources to ultimately develop sustainable marketing and economic development projects.


The purpose of this project is to enable groups of small scale, limited resource black women producers in rural southwest Georgia to develop economically viable businesses and market systems for products based on vegetables, herbs and cut flowers.
The target area for this project is southwest Georgia, a region that is mostly rural and suffers from persistent and pervasive poverty.
The women who participated in this project are members of the Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative. The Initiative is designed to help women in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi become engaged in community and economic development and advocacy and policy initiatives.
These rural women all have limited resources and access to land, and at the outset were interested in small-scale agriculture-based businesses
In addition to this, the participants needed help in formulating ways to network together while allowing for their individual differences in goals, resources, and interests. The majority also had limited knowledge about production methods and processing requirements but were eager to learn.

Project Objectives:

Workshops and Planning Sessions

To hold workshops and Group planning sessions. The workshops would provide information and the planning session would provide an opportunity for structured exploration of ways in which the information presented in workshops could be applied to specific businesses. Through the proposed planning sessions, the women would also be able to build consensus and develop a working network.

Recruitment Activities

Since there is strength in numbers, the project staff and the participants sought to publicize the project activities and recruit more women like themselves who are interested in developing agriculture-related businesses.

Outreach Activities

In order to replicate the project in other areas or for other groups, the participants would look for opportunities to communicate with women from their community and communities in Alabama and Mississippi.


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  • Shirley Sherrod


Materials and methods:

Workshops with Planning Sessions and Organizational Development:

Women participated in the series of workshops, planning sessions and organizational development activities and acquired information and skills pertinent to their own business plans. The general format included presentation of information, followed by facilitated discussions to assist the group to apply the materials presented to their own situation and help them formulate plans.

Presenters included outside experts and staff who have worked with the women. Both presenters and staff prepared printed materials for use in the sessions.
***Other material included exercises to illustrate the information presented, and books that were given out to participants from each county group for independent study and as an additional resource.

a) Goal setting and Decision-making: Participants set personal goals for their enterprises and began to make decisions about how to proceed by exploring values, needs, and preferences and how these all related to business planning. Once a set of values was established, participants developed goals for their businesses, so as to focus on the most important aspects of the business and honor them in making business decisions.

b) Resource Evaluation: Participants learned how to evaluate their resources and needs (knowledge, skills, interests, goals, access to land and other production elements, and capital) and formulate ways of maximizing their usefulness.

c) Production and value-added processing: Participants learned the essentials of relevant value-added processing methods and began discussions on how to apply this knowledge to their own plans.

Production: Focused on selection of crops and products with the highest potential yield per unit of resources (labor, land, capital).

d) Organizational, legal and business management: Participants learned how to identify and evaluate alternative forms of organization and cooperation, incorporation.

e) Marketing: Participants learned how to identify potential markets and outlets, including how to use the internet as a resource; describe and quantify potential customers, reasons for buying, current price levels, costs and benefits of accessing specific markets; and analyze competitive factors.

f) Financial: Participants learned the essentials of financial management, including revenue and cost projections, budgeting, analysis of actual results, credit management, and profit and loss analysis so as to monitor and control the performance of their businesses.

Outreach and Recruitment:
To reach out to the community, the participants presented the project at local conferences and events.

Brochures were created to give out at community events and conferences and for use as recruiting materials.

A website was developed and promoted using the avenues listed above to reach participants on a wider scale with information on the opportunities for rural women to become involved in Agriculture.

Research results and discussion:

This project has provided useful models of enterprise for rural women, increased their income, contributed to locally produced products sold in the community, and created job opportunities and training for younger and older individuals.

Group Stories:
In 2006 and 2007, the Dougherty County (Albany Georgia) group were certified and participated in the local Women Infant and Children's (WIC) market. The group has sold produce and participated in other trainings and events that provided opportunities to introduce the community to the project and the concept of sustainable farming on a small scale as an income producing activity and career.

In 2006 and 2007, women in Early County (Blakely Georgia), reached out to the community by giving away their produce to families in the county. This provided an avenue for them to introduce others to the project and the concept of small-scale farming and cooperative marketing.

Short- and Long-term IMPACT:
In decades past, negative experiences with farming had discouraged many black women from viewing farming as an attractive career. This project has positively impacted communities in Southwest Georgia by presenting small scale farming and value added production as an attractive alternative to large farms. Seeing southern rural black women growing and selling produce and value-added products has motivated other women to be open to the idea of farming as an incoming producing activity.

This in turn has provided older women an avenue to involve younger community members in an incoming producing activity that can lead to productive careers in agriculture.

Communities are being motivated to begin developing community gardens to expand the opportunity for participating to women and men irregardless of past farming related experience.

We have heard testimonies from women stating that they now believe in their ability to own and manage a business.

The results of this will have lasting and far reaching impacts on the economic development activities taking place in these poor rural communities in southern Georgia.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

Rural Women Agriculture Leaders


Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

The project was successful in accomplishing the objectives set forth. Women in five counties in SWGA decided to work together cooperatively to market their vegetables and begin production on a line of value-added products. One woman from each county was chosen to serve as a representative for decision-making purposes and the group approached a local cooperative and formed a partnership which will allow the women to help supply some of their markets.

The groups defined their farming goals and developed plans for growing herbs, cut flowers and other vegetables in raised beds. Other plans emerged for growing collard greens, snap beans, and squash on a larger acreage.

Many of the county groups have already had increases in their income as a result of establishing ag-based businesses. Some of the groups were able to hire others to help out.

Overall, as a result of the workshops the participants were able to identify ways to make their product(s) unique and learned how to use the internet as a resource for research and to identify the customers they were targeting .

Information about the project goals, and workshops, and opportunities in Agriculture was disseminated to SRBWI members, farmers associated with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives and farmers in general via email, mailings, and announcements at local meetings in the counties and other gatherings.
Our goal to recruit 20 new women was met by introducing women leaders in additional counties to the project and using them to recruit women interested in small-scale farming as a business enterprise. Recruitment also took place when the original groups of women promoted their work locally.

In 2007, four women presented this project and their individual experiences farming at the Federation of Southern Cooperatives Annual Farmers Conference. The Rural Women as Agriculture Leaders project has been presented at other local events and at the SRBWI State Wide Women's Conference.

Brochures have been developed describing the training and planning sessions and the opportunities for rural women in agriculture.

A website ( has been developed to promote the project and inform others about the opportunities in agriculture.


Potential Contributions

The reintroduction of agriculture as a viable business opportunity for African Americans can have several potential contributions on these communities.

1. Prevent black land loss.

2. Encourage young people to consider farming related job opportunities and businesses.

3. The creation of community gardens which can bring people together and build stronger communities.

4. Promotion of sustainable agriculture practices.

5. Promote healthy eating.

6. Open communities and individuals to entrepreneurship and working co-operatively.

7. Create jobs and training opportunities in poor communities.

8. Promotes owning agriculture-based businesses by rural black women.

Future Recommendations

To further advance this project, it is important to include young people in the planning sessions. In doing this, the entire community can be drawn in and the project can implement plans for succession.

In the future, having an advisor that has successfully established a value-added agriculture based business as part of the team and present at each meeting would help focus the process.

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 or SARE.