The Women, Food and Agriculture Network provided professional development training for 64 conservation and non-profit staffers in Missouri, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The professionals helped co-host 9 meetings on soil health topics in those states for women non-operator farmland owners.
WFAN provided two trainers to help facilitate 3 pilot women landowner meetings in each state, sponsored by members of the trainee group.
We provided 3 professional development training workshops with 64 conservationists attending, and 30 conservationists participated at varying levels in the following meetings for women landowners. We surpassed our goal of training 60 professionals.
A total of 111 women landowners attended the subsequent meetings across the 3 states. We slightly fell short of our goal of reaching 135 women landowners. However, matching funds provided by NRCS’s Conservation Innovation Grant allowed us to hold seven additional meetings in Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin in 2015. We invited the professionals we trained to participate in the meetings, and we reached an additional 105 women landowners. Through these combined efforts, for which SARE professional development training was essential, we reached a total of 216 women landowners.
WFAN provided more than 5 hours of follow-up support and individual coaching by telephone for members of the trainee group in each state. We also provided an opportunity for trainees to share experiences and ask each other questions, which proved so helpful to the participants that we plan on making this an annual event.
This two-year project provided 64 conservation agency and non-profit staffers in Missouri, Minnesota and Wisconsin with a professional development program to train them in the Women Caring for the Land rationale and methodology, using the104-page curriculum manual and activities we have developed. In year 1, WFAN trainers held day-long training workshops with conservationists in each state, and as many conservationists are also landowners the trainings included many women farmland owners, the focus of the outreach. In year 2, conservationists trained at the workshops held three women landowner pilot meetings in each of their states with help from 2 WFAN facilitators. WFAN provided the trainee group with written evaluations following the pilot meetings, and provided observations and recommendations to help strengthen and sustain the new state programs going forward.
Education & Outreach Initiatives
WFAN staffers worked with the state partners to identify locations for the professional development trainings that best met their needs. During the trainings, the conservation professionals were invited to host Women Caring for the Land meetings during the upcoming year. Between volunteers and the state partners, host partners were identified for the soil health meetings and a WFAN staffer worked with them to arrange the details needed to host a meeting from selecting a suitable location, to sending invitations to participants, to arranging for the field tour and more. The meetings were held and after each an evaluation form was completed by each participant. The evaluations were processed and shared with partners and the data used to shape future meetings for women non-operator landowners.
Outreach and Publications
In addition to the outreach explained above, we also produced two publications over the grant period, adding to our library of brochures and booklets specifically for women landowners on conservation issues. The two publications we added were on the topics of wetlands and finding USDA programs to help increase conservation, and can be found for free download here: http://www.wfan.org/resources/wfans-publications/
Our Women Caring for the Land meetings also garner a significant amount of press coverage. A few examples are included here:
Our outcomes for this project include the following:
Short-term: A total of 64 conservation professionals in Missouri, Minnesota and Wisconsin (19 in Missouri, 25 in Minnesota, and 20 in Wisconsin) received professional development training in delivering effective conservation outreach customized for female non-operator farmland owners. A volunteer subset of the 64 conservation professionals who received training (6 in Missouri, 14 in Minnesota, and 10 in Wisconsin for a total of 30) worked with WFAN staff to conduct three pilot meetings with women landowners in their state in year 2 of the project, resulting in increased knowledge and confidence about conservation management for 104 women landowners who attended the meetings. Eighty-seven percent of the landowners indicated on a post-meeting survey that they increased both knowledge and confidence in managing their land for conservation in cooperation with their tenants. The highest knowledge gains were in the recognition of problems with soil health caused by tillage and the role of fungi in soil health.
Conservationists who were in the areas of soil health meetings funded by others were invited to participate and our Missouri SARE trained conservation professionals had the opportunity to attend 5 additional meetings beyond those funded by SARE.
Women completed after-meeting survey forms and responded to how likely (not likely, maybe, very likely) they would take an action after the meeting. If “maybe” and “very likely” are combined, each of the percentages were 94% to 99% for conservation actions occurring. Just looking at “very likely” responses for conservation actions that are somewhat easier to accomplish, these ranged from 70% to 92%. For the two hardest actions: “ask my farmer to take or try a new action” and “ask my farmer to help me improve soil health,” were 60% and 62% respectively. Those last two questions presume the participant is not already doing the conservation practices described during the meeting, and some of our participants were already doing many of the practices. Also, inherent in these questions is that the woman landowner would need to ask a tenant rather than taking action themselves, and yet a majority of our participants responded that they were very likely to do so.
As stated above, we provided professional development training to 64 conservationists, and 30 conservationists participated at varying levels in the following meetings for women landowners. We continue to work with conservation professionals in all three states to provide meetings for women landowners and provide one-on-one support as needed.
We are truly proud of our accomplishments under this grant to increase outreach to women landowners and help connect the wonderful conservation professionals that are out there with this willing audience. We hope to expand our professional development into other states while we continue to support efforts in Missouri, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
One example of our continued support was a conference call this December open to all the people who had been trained in professional development meetings in all the states we have worked in, and we had 10 participants from Missouri, Minnesota, and Wisconsin on the call. The purpose was for people facilitating women’s meetings in their states to share what they have experienced, what they had tried that they felt worked well, and ideas they want to try for future meetings. This was a productive sharing time where participants asked questions of each other and shared successes. One such success was that two women landowners attended a meeting and did not know the resource people beforehand, but followed up within two weeks of the meeting and signed up for three USDA programs between the two of them.
Outreach to women non-operator landowners may prove highly valuable over time for expanding conversations about sustainable agriculture practices throughout the Midwest due to this mixing of audiences with different philosophies in a conversational venue. We work hard to make sure every woman feels welcome at the learning circles no matter what type of farming they do.
Women Caring for the Land meetings are designed to attract women who own land that is farmed in ways that may or may not fit the definition of sustainable agriculture, and the fact that we reach beyond traditional sustainable agriculture audiences is one of the benefits of these meetings. The soil health message has been valuable for bridging the conversation about sustainable agricultural practices and their increased use and utility in dominant agriculture systems. The Women Caring for the Land meetings with their emphasis on conservation topics provides women in sustainable agriculture a welcoming place to, “realize there are other women who feel just like I do,” as well as, “I liked being able to ask any question in front of just women.”
We have had reports of women doing the soil health demonstrations on their own for family members and tenants. This is very exciting to think that women went from not knowing the visual tests for soil health to being able to set up and explain the tests on their own. We believe this is a very powerful level of advocacy and hope to document this further in the future. The slake test and infiltration tests done indoors as well as in the field provide solid evidence of degraded or excellent soil conditions.
While we are proud of the gains that we have made in outreach to women farmland owners, we are far from reaching even a fraction of the women farmland owners in the US, and existing outreach efforts continue to cater primarily to male audiences. We recommend continuing to expand separate women’s programming, especially due to the high conservation results that this outreach provides.