Advancing Conservation through Educating and Empowering Women Farmers and Landowners in the Southeast

Final report for EDS22-40

Project Type: Education Only
Funds awarded in 2022: $49,998.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2024
Grant Recipients: American Farmland Trust; Black Family Land Trust, Inc.; Kentucky State University
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Gabrielle Roesch-McNally
American Farmland Trust
Lillian Alexander
Black Family Land Trust, Inc.
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Project Information


Roughly two million non-operating landowners (retired farmers, farm widows, and family members who have inherited farms) own ~38% of America’s farmland. Women compose 37% of this non-operating landowners’ group. Based on the 2017 USDA Census of Agriculture, 35% of farmers in KY and 33% in NC are women. This project will engage and educate women non-operating landowners and farmers who have been overlooked by conservation practice and land access programs. Additionally, Black and other farmers of color have been explicitly and implicitly disenfranchised by U.S. farm programs. Racial discrimination, coupled with gender discrimination, can lead women of color to feel left out of conversations and initiatives regarding farmland preservation, stewardship, and land access. 

American Farmland Trust (AFT) utilizes an innovative approach to greater conservation practice adoption focused on peer-to-peer networking gatherings: Learning Circles. Women landowners (both operators and non-operators) and farmers share their experiences, network, and learn from each other and agricultural technical service providers about conservation practice adoption. Additionally, agricultural technical service providers are trained to serve women landowner and farmers’ unique needs. The Learning Circle model, which is successfully used nationwide, is gathering momentum in both NC and KY. By educating partners, women farmers, and landowners in these states, including historically underserved women, tailoring our approach to the regions’ needs and sharing our learnings, we will advance access to conservation resources and greater adoption of sustainable agricultural practices.   

Project Objectives:

We have three ambitious objectives: 

  1. Engage women landowners and farmers in Learning Circles on conservation practice adoption, soil health, and climate resilience, topics previously identified through scoping. We will implement 4 Learning Circles, 2 each in KY and NC, focused primarily on Black women farmers and landowners. Since around 18-24 women and agricultural service providers participate in Learning Circles, we aim to reach ~75-100 women farmers and landowners. 
  2. Support women landowners and farmers in KY and NC in accessing resources and information on conservation practices, soil health, climate resilience, and farmland preservation strategies via the deployment of 4 virtual Learning Circle trainings, 2 per state. These will focus on agricultural service providers who want to develop strategies for effectively reaching women landowners and farmers, especially the socially disadvantaged. Partners include NRCS, SWCD, Land Grant University Extensions, and local non-profits. The key partner in NC will be the Black Family Land Trust, and in KY, KY State University. We aim to reach 20 practitioners in each training and ~ 80 service providers. 
  3. Provide resources to foster ongoing success with outreach and engagement of KY and NC women farmers and landowners. We will produce a curriculum and toolkit of resources that will extend the value of our events and promote sustainable agriculture practice adoption among women in the region beyond the scope of this project by enabling our partners to deploy their own Learning Circles. We will also develop an online forum for continued networking and engagement among women and technical service providers in each state to help regional partners maintain these connections after the grant’s duration. 


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Educational approach:

We are using two primary modes of education for this project. The first is being deployed in support of our first objective of providing 4 learning circles. Our learning circles are built on peer-to-peer educational models that foster learning and sharing, focused on a less hierarchical and expert-based model for adult education. Our work focuses an asset-based model for engaging historically underserved producers, in this case women and predominantly women of color. We design the circles to emphasize learning goals that have been identified as critical and priority among the communities we seek to serve by connecting with partners and local producers/hosts to design experiential learning opportunities that will best serve the needs of the participants. The learning circles typically last 6-7 hours, centering the day with lengthy introductions, creating space for technical information regarding the topic of the day, team building activities, farm tours with experiential learning followed by reflection and evaluation.

The second approach we are developing for this project is our learning circle training. We are hosting 4 training courses for Technical Assistance providers, predominantly extension educators and state/federal resource providers by way of an introduction to learning circle approaches. Our training program starts with why we serve historically underserved producers/women and why they need different learning/outreach approaches, followed by deepening participant’s understanding of the challenges women/historically underserved producers face in navigating resources. This is then followed with some beginner tools which are focused on how to create effective peer-to-peer educational learning experiences that meets the needs of this audience.

Educational & Outreach Activities

25 Consultations
6 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
4 Online trainings
2 Published press articles, newsletters
4 Tours
1 Webinars / talks / presentations
4 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

55 Farmers participated
126 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

First Learning Circle (LC) in Kentucky: We hosted 1 LC in “Need more Acres Farm” in Scottsville, KY. The topic was focused on Climate Resiliency and Soil Health. We also wove in resources on helping women negotiate in their business dealings, focusing on them tooling up their approach to navigating tricky situations with TA providers, USDA officials, tenants, farm partners, etc.  with more confidence.

  • Farmer/Rancher Participation: 11 registered, 6 attended. All identified as women of color between ages of 20-59. All had BA degrees. A synthesis of all demographic data collected from events will be shared at the culmination of this project.
  • Agricultural Professional Participation: 4 service providers attended from American Farmland Trust, Kentucky State University and USDA NRCS. 

Second LC in Kentucky: We hosted 1 LC at Susan Miller's Farm in Lincoln County KY. The focus was on promoting soil health as a climate resilience tool. We helped women think about soil health as a climate resilience tool and engaged them in ideas on how to do urban agriculture on smaller acreage farms. 

  • Farmer/Rancher Participation: 25 registered, 10 attended. The majority of which were women of color. Based on some demographic data collected for most participants, we know that the majority were 59 years and younger, majority have some college, or a BA and 2 women identified as white, 1 as Native American and the rest as African American. 
  • Agricultural Professional Participation: 13 service providers attended from 7 different agencies, including American Farmland Trust, Kentucky State University, USDA NRCS and USDA FSA as well as Organic Association of Kentucky, State Conservation Office and Community Farm Alliance. 

First LC in North Carolina: Hosted at Old 30 Dirty Family Farm in Jacksonville, NC. The topic was focused on the basics of soil health, but we also included a number of partner organizations to help participants think about how to get cost share and savings from federal and state resources to support their soil health goals.

  • Farmer/Rancher Participation: 27 registered and 15 attended. The majority of which were women of color. Based on some demographic data collected, we know that ages varied between 30-79 years old, the majority have some college or a BA and all identified as African American. 
  • Agricultural Professional Participation: 9 service providers attended from 5 agencies, including American Farmland Trust, Black Family Land Trust, USDA FSA, and USDA NRCS.  

For our final Learning Circle in NC hosted on November 2, 2023 was focused on Improving Soil Health On your Farm, BIPOC woman led farm, hosted in partnership with Black Family Land Trust.

  • Farmer/Rancher Participation: Participants 24  participants and 29 registered.
  • Agricultural Professional Participation: We had a total of 13 service providers from American Farmland Trust, Black Family Land Trust, USDA NRCS, NC A&T State University, Durham County Government, ToxicFreeNC, Sandhill Ag Innovation Center, Thomas Entrepreneurship Hub and North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service.

We have hosted a total of four training courses. We hosted two as standalone events for NC and KY separately but hosted a third session that combined both states with regional breakouts as we determined that this would enable greater participation. We also invited service providers beyond those two states as we had some trouble drumming up demand solely within NC and KY.

Our first Learning Circle Training was hosted in April of 2023 in partnership with University of Kentucky and Kentucky State Extension. We had a total of 9 trainees (15 registrants) and four AFT trainer staff and 2 Extension administrators from University of Kentucky.

Our second Learning Circle Training was hosted in October of 2023 in partnership with North Carolina State University Extension and other state-level partners. We had a total of 23 trainees (30 registrants) and four AFT trainer staff. While this outreach was specifically targeted towards NC, we did also get additional attendees from KY and some other states in the region.

As noted, our 3 and 4th trainings were delivered jointly with state-level breakouts provided to ensure some local support/networking. We hosted this Learning Circle training in March of 2024. We had 55 trainees () and 7 AFT trainer staff. We partnered with Dr. Loutrina Staley who is the Equity and Outreach Program Analyst at the National Association of Conservation Districts along with promoting heavily with USDA NRCS and regional extension programs.

Learning Outcomes

26 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Key changes:








Project Outcomes

26 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
4 Grants received that built upon this project
4 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

Each of our Learning Circles, are focused on providing hands-on experiential learning from and between women farmers on the topic of managing for soil health in a time of climate disruption. These Learning Circles have given participants tools on how to improve the sustainability and climate resilience of their operations with a focus on soil health and navigating USDA and state/local resources to support their conservation goals. These circles have also fostered new social networks and connections to other women, particularly other women of color to build their community, enhancing their social and community resilience. We also have a new online platform designed to support ongoing sharing and resources in virtual space using Mighty Networks. We currently have 61 members of our

When we reviewed our optional demographic survey of 26 respondents, we found that all but two have identified as female. 21 identified as Black or African American, with only 2 identifying as White. The vast majority sell less than $10,000 in products and about half identify as 50+.





Reaching underserved women producers in the southeast continues to be a critical need.

Participants consistently highlight the intricate challenges they encounter when navigating the maze of local, state, and federal resources vital for their success. Many confront both overt and subtle forms of discrimination based on their race or gender, adding additional layers of complexity to their endeavors. Bureaucratic obstacles loom large, with cumbersome application procedures, confusing paperwork, and inconsistent requirements across various agencies serving as significant barriers. Moreover, geographic disparities, language barriers, and cultural nuances further compound these challenges, exacerbating the struggle to access essential resources.

Considering these pressing issues, there is an urgent call for more inclusive engagement with women farmers of color. We echo the recommendations outlined in our technical assistance provider trainings, which remain highly relevant to the ongoing efforts of SARE in enhancing outreach and education within historically underserved communities. These recommendations underscore the importance of streamlining processes, improving accessibility, and fostering culturally sensitive approaches to ensure equitable access to resources and support services. By embracing these recommendations, we can take meaningful strides toward fostering a more inclusive and supportive environment for women farmers of color, empowering them to thrive in the agricultural sector.

We recommend organizations engaged in outreach and education consider:

  • Enhancing Relationships & Engagement
    • There is greater likelihood of engagement from underserved communities when organizations take steps to enhance their relationships with those populations
  • Enriching Knowledge Gathering
    • We need to strengthen connections with communities through knowledge gathering allows constituents to play a key role in determining relevance
  • Embracing Organizational change
    • In order for engagement to flourish, organizations (and individuals that represent those organizations) must be open to organizational changes that are responsive to community and allow for shared power between communities and organizations that serve them.
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.