WAgN: Sustainable ag network by and for women producers

Final Report for LNE05-226

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2005: $138,292.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Matching Federal Funds: $467,246.00
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Carolyn Sachs
Pennsylvania State University
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Project Information


The project facilitated the development of a women’s agricultural network in Pennsylvania (PA-WAgN) to enhance women producers’ success as environmental managers, innovative entrepreneurs, and community leaders. The project created a peer-to-peer information sharing and support network and delivered educational programs and events for women farmers and agricultural professionals in sustainable agriculture to increase their knowledge about sustainable agriculture practices, business management, entrepreneurial strategies, and leadership.

Our educational activities included field days, regional meetings, conferences, leadership training, needs assessment surveys, focus groups, and evaluations of our activities. We provided additional opportunities for exchange of knowledge between women farmers through publishing newsletters, a website, and list serves. All activities were developed based on feedback and input from women farmers in terms of content and earning styles. Men also found the events to be useful educational tools.

PA-WAgN currently serves more than 1000 members and attracted more than 1000 participants to events.


The Pennsylvania Women's Agricultural Network was formalized in 2005 with financial support from Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program. The purposes of The Pennsylvania Women’s Agricultural Network are to encourage and support women in agriculture; provide and strengthen networks for women in agriculture; provide educational and mentoring opportunities for women in agriculture; raise community awareness of agricultural related issues and concerns; and sustain farming livelihoods.

Performance Target:

Performance Target: Of the 500 farmers who have participated in network activities, 300 will become members of the network, 100 will report changes in their production systems to become more sustainable and 100 will report changes in their business-planning. We exceeded the performance target of 500 farmers participating in PA-WAgN activities. To date, more than 1,000 people participated in field days, workshops, regional potlucks, steering committee meetings, and other events.

Performance Target: At the regional level, 3 of the 5 regions will have viable regional networks.
Outcome: PA-WAgN has 6 statewide regions wherein 3-5 volunteer Regional Representatives serve as mentors, host networking events, and aid in the development of programs. These farmer regional representatives meet with the staff quarterly to develop and enhance PAWAgN programming. All regions have strong leadership and have developed viable networks. The events in each region are well attended and "potluck" or informal network gatherings and "work days" are increasingly being organized by network leaders. A prime example is that provided by the western regions: In 2007 and 2008, regional representatives from the northwest and southwest regions hosted a series of small, informal networking gatherings where information sharing was a prime focus and educational needs were identified. Using the information garnered from these gatherings, the regional representatives organized and facilitated a successful one-day networking conference and presented a variety of workshops addressing the needs of the women farmers in their regions. These networks continue to exhibit strength in numbers and forming relationships (both personal and professional).


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Mary Barbercheck
  • Kathy Brasier
  • Nancy Ellen Kiernan


Materials and methods:

We have developed three research products (journal articles) from the data collected in the project. One addresses the importance of integrating women farmers’ lived experiences into the development of educational programming and was published in the Journal of Rural Studies, October 2008. The second article summarizes data from the needs assessment surveys and was published in the Journal of Extension, June 2009. A third article was specifically designed to contribute to Cooperative Extension programs targeted to women was published in the Journal of Extension, June 2009.

We used focus groups, needs assessments, and evaluations to determine the educational needs of women farmers and developed programming based on the results.

We conducted two leadership training sessions with farmer regional leaders to build their capacities for leadership in PAWAgN and other sustainable agriculture venues. Regional leaders became liasons for women farmers in their communities and met with the PA-WAgN Working Group quarterly to relay the needs of members in their regions and to identify farmers/farms interesting in conducting on-farm field days and workshops.

We implemented a peer-to-peer education model and developed hands-on learning environments to better address the learning styles of women.

Research results and discussion:

Objective 1: 50 women farmers will participate in 5 regional focus groups to express their topics of interest and preferred learning formats for network events and activities.

Outcome: The project team participated in focus group training provided by the Social Science Research Institute at Penn State. This exercise helped us design our focus groups as well as provided training to participants on the research team who had not been involved in conducting focus groups. A protocol was developed and received human subjects approval. 28 women participated in 5 regional focus groups. Women were most interested in topics related to marketing, equipment use and repair, sustainable production techniques, value-added production, and business planning. They also expressed preference for peer-to-peer and hands-on learning formats. Events were developed using these identified topics and formats. Published article: Journal of Rural Studies (Volume 24, Issue 4, October 2008); Agricultural Education; Gender identity and knowledge exchange; A Trauger, C Sachs, M Barbercheck, NE Kiernan, K Brasier, J Findeis

Objective 2: The statewide steering committee and the project team will meet to plan the activities for the year including field days, network events, and the annual conference.

Outcome: This objective was met. A statewide team of women farmers and agricultural professionals was formed and served to guide the network. The team met 4 times each year (2 face-to-face meetings and 2 conference calls) and developed programs to meet the needs of women farmers.

Objective 3: Three leaders from each of the five regions will participate in a leadership training workshop to build networking capacity in five regions.

Outcome: 3-5 leaders in six regions currently volunteer on behalf of the network. Leadership training retreats were offered yearly. In 2006, the network arranged for travel for 15 leaders to attend the Women and Sustainable Agriculture Conference in Burlington, Vermont. We were also successful in obtaining funding to take 5 cooperative extension educations to the conference. Steering Committee members enhanced their leadership skills through the Learning Today, Leading Tomorrow program (a Penn State Extension program), which allowed participants to develop skills for the benefit of their businesses, their communities, and PA-WAgN. Modules were delivered in March 2006, and October 2007. Yearly strategic planning sessions were incorporated into face-to-face meetings wherein Steering Committee members were empowered to host events in their regions and on their farms, to identify potential members and their educational needs, and plan additional on-farm educational events.

Objective 4: Regional steering committees will work with the project team to hold farm-field days and networking events in at least 2 regions during year 1 and all 5 regions by years 2 and 3. Approximately 50 women farmers and agricultural professionals will participate in each event.

Outcome: PA-WAgN exceeded the expectations of this goal. We conducted 6 field day events in 5 different regions in 2005, attracting 170 participant. In 2006, 7 on-farm educational events were organized. These events attracted more than 300 participants. In 2007, 7 on-farm educational events were hosted throughout Pennsylvania, attracting more than 325 participants. In 2008, 11 on-farm educational events attracted approximately 300 participants. In addition to field days, networking in each region was developed through informal pot-luck gatherings and the western regions hosted a suggessful one-day networking conference in March 2009. The network has delivered 3 events to date in 2009 and has 8 additional scheduled.

Objective 5: 150 people will attend the annual WAgN conference associated with the PASA meeting. Participants at the conference will respond to needs assessment surveys for the purpose of continually assessing and improving the network.

Outcome: In 2006, PA-WAgN delivered a PASA pre-conference track for women in agriculture including workshops on Tilling the Soil: Management and Marketing Skills to Grow Your Business; Introduction to Equipment Maintenance and Repair; and Embodiment, Empowerment and Holistic Living. In 2007, hosted a two-day PASA pre-conference track: Hands-On Heavy Metal: An Equipment Practicum. In 2008, PA-WAgN a PASA workshop for women in agriculture, "Our Market is Our Community." In 2009, PA-WAgN presented "Internships and Apprenticeships" at the annual PASA conference.

Objective 6: 500 farmers who have participated in network events will respond to an email/mail survey to report changes in knowledge, skills, attitudes, intentions, and behaviors relating to sustainable production practices, business management, entrepreneurship, leadership, and involvement in the network. We have sent the survey to farmers who attended network events, but are still waiting to analyze the data. We will provide this information to NESARE as soon as we have the data analysis completed

Participation Summary


Educational approach:

Journal of Rural Studies (Volume 24, Issue 4, October 2008); "Agricultural education: Gender identity and knowledge exhange;" A Trauger, C Sachs, M Barbercheck, NE Kiernan, K Brasier, J Findeis

Journal of Extension (Volume 47, Number 3, June 2009); "Extension Educators' Perceptions of the Educational Needs of Women Farmers in Pennsylvania;" K Brasier, M Barbercheck, NE Kiernan, C Sachs, A Schwartzberg, A Trauger

Journal of Extension ( Volume 4, Number 3, June 2009); "Meeting the Extension Needs of Women Farmers: A Perspective from Pennsylvania;" M Barbercheck, K Brasies, NE Kiernan, C Sachs, A Trauger

"Our market is our community: women farmers and civic agriculture in Pennsylvania;" A Trauger, C Sachs, M Barbercheck, K Brasier, NE Kiernan; presented at the 2007 meeting of the Agriculture and Human Values Society, Victoria, BC

"Understanding effective educational programming for women farmers in the United States: The case of the Pennsylvania Women's Agricultural Network;" A Trauger, C Sachs; Rural Sociological Society, Louisville, KY.

"Pennsylvania Women's Agricultural Network: innovative education programs for women farmers;" presented at the 2006 National Extension Women in Agriculture Education Conference, St. Louis, Missouri

"Developing a network for women farmers;" presented at the 2006 Women in Agriculture Conference, Dover, Delaware

Various PA-WAgN newsletters provided to members and interested persons, available online at http://wagn.psu.edu/winter05.pdf
Paper copies are available to members and interested persons upon request.

Pennsylvania Women's Agricultural Network's 2006-2007 Biannual Report is available online at http://wagn.cas.psu.edu/06-07annualreport.pdf

No milestones

Additional Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Impacts of Results/Outcomes

The network has more than 1000 members and continues to grow daily, greatly exceeding our expectations.

PA-WAgN has received significant visibility. The network received the Penn State 2005 Vice President's Award for Learning and Community. We were featured in Penn State Agriculture's winter/spring 2006 issue: "Not Your Father's Farm" and Penn State Outreach's Spring 2006 issue with "The Changing Face of Farming." We have been invited and participated in a number of events including planning of the annual women and agriculture day at the Pennsylvania Farm Show, exhibits at Ag Progress Days, PA Certified Organic's annual conference, PA Association for Sustainable Agriculture's annual Farming for the Future conference, and innumerable community development opportunities (many of which were attended by PA-WAgN regional representatives and steering committee members as representatives of the network).

More than 1000 people have participated in network activities in the past 3.5 years. We held 35 on-farm educational events, six two-day intensive workshops, participated in numerous conferences and workshops, and continue to serve our members with ongoing hands-on opportunities. PA-WAgN leaders also frequently represent the network and give presentations about the organization at regional conferences and events, such as the Christmas Tree Growers annual meeting.

On-farm educational events and PA-WAgN workshops include the following:

May 22, 2005
Patches of Star Goat Dairy
Focus: on-farm cheese production, direct marketing
Partners: Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture, Penn State Cooperative Extension in Northampton County
Attendees: approximately 20

June 25, 2005
Spiral Path and Moo Echo Farms
Focus: Direct marketing, CSAs, organic production, and grazing
Attendees: approximately 20

July 19, 2005
Friends Farm
Focus: Value-added production and home kitchens, direct marketing, CSAs, organic production
Partners: Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Penn State Cooperative Extension in Blair County
Attendees: approximately 20

August 31, 2005 Garden Dreams and Mildreds' Daughters farms
Focus: urban agriculture, organic and sustainable production, CSAs
Partners: Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture, Pennsylvania Certified Organic
Attendees: 40

September 22, 2005
Rippling Brook Organic Farm
Focus: Direct marketing, CSAs, and organic production
Partners: Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Western PA Farm Alliance
Attendees: approximately 30

October 21-23, 2005 Women in Sustainable Agriculture Conference
Focus: sustainable agriculture
Partners: University of Vermont, VT Women’s Agricultural Network
Attendees: approximately 20

November 18, 2005
Robyn Van En Center for CSA Resources at Wilson College
Focus: Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Roundtable
Partners: Wilson College
Attendees: approximately 20

February 1-2, 2006
Ag Arena, Penn State
Focus: Hands-on tractor maintenance & repair and equipment design, usage, and safety
Partner: PA Association for Sustainable Agriculture

February 2, 2006
Penn Stater Conference Center
Focus: Business planning - a step-by-step guide for developing a business plan
Partner: PA Association for Sustainable Agriculture
Attendees: 20

February 2, 2006
Penn Stater Conference Center
Focus: exercises to identify visions for all aspects of ourlives including farm, business, relationships, and family
Partner: PA Association for Sustainable Agriculture
Attendees: 15

April 10, 2006
Singing Creek Farm
Focus: a hands-on tutorial to establish an apiary
Attendees: 26

April 16, 2006
Panel Discussion
Focus: Avian Influenza discussion to address at-risk poultry producers fears and misconceptions and provide guidelines and methods to protect flocks and investments. For a full summary, visit http://www.cas.psu.edu/docs/biosecurity/avianfluvideos.html
Partners: Penn State Cooperative Extension, PA Department of Agriculture, PA Association for Sustainable Agriculture, USDA Animal-Plant Health Inspection Service, American Pastured Poultry Association
Attendees: approximately 50

May 19, 2006
Wild Rose Farm & Dundee Farm
Focus: fiber workshop - from raising fiber animals to spinning and dying fiber to marketing products
Attendees: 28

June 15, 2006
Quiet Creek Herb Farm and School of Country Living
Focus: Vermicomposting basics for small-scale vegetable producers and farm-scale crop production. A children's program was offered.
Attendees: 17

July 16, 2006
Various Penns Valley Farms
Focus: Slow Foods Progressive Dinner - three Penns Valley farmers hosted visitors for a progressive dinner with a course at a different farm, forging connections between farmers and consumers.
Partner: Slow Food Central PA
Attendees: 54

July 19, 2006
Steve & Jen Yoder Farm
Focus: opportunities for transitioning to organic dairy production
Partners: Organic Valley CROPP Cooperative, PA Certified Organic, PA Association for Sustainable Agriculture
Attendees: 55

July 24, 2006
Somerton Tanks
Focus: tour of 1/2 acre farm that uses the small-plot intensive farming methods
Partners: Institute for Innovations in Local Farming, Philadelphia Water Department, PA Association for Sustainable Agriculture
Attendees: 69

August 9, 2006
Painted Hand Farm, Grass Roots Farm, Keswich Creamery, and Spring Bank Acres Farm
Focus: toured farms and discussed direct marketing; CSA production techniques; grass-fed dairy and cheese making; pastured sheep dairy production; and marketing of artisan cheese
Attendees: 36

October 19, 2006
Ho-Crawf Dairy
Focus: value-added endeavors such as agritourism, on-farm markets, custom heifer raising, and methods to evaluation these opportunities
Attendees: 47

November 9-10, 2006
Butler County
Focus: building financial sustainability - a plan for success - tools to evaluate farm businesses, establish goals and objectives, assess strategies to reach goals, and increase income opportunities
Attendees: 9

November 17, 2006
Keystone College Kitchen Incubator
Focus: tour of kitchen incubator and discuss how PA-WAgN can serve farmers
Attendees: 20

January 9, 2007
Pennsylvania Farm Show
Focus: Celebrating entrepreneurial women in agriculture - PA-WAgN organized a full day of speakers to address the needs of women in agriculture at the annual Pennsylvania Farm Show
Partner: PA Department of Agriculture
Attendees: approximately 200

March 2-3, 2007
Ramada Inn, Centre County
Focus: Growing Together: Developing Skills & Expanding Networks - PA-WAgN's first annual conference offering hands-on workshops on business planning, equipment maintenance and repair, and holistic living
Attendees: 48

March 10, 2007
Flint Hill Farm
Focus: hands-on hoophouse construction - participnats constructed a 12' by 30' hoophouse on the farm
Partner: Penn State Cooperative Extension
Attendees: 20

March 21-22, 2007
Luzerne County
Focus: Building Financial Sustainability - A plan for continued success - participants learned tools to evaluate their farm business, establish goals and objectives, assess strategies to reach their goals, and increase income opportunities
Partner: Penn State Cooperative Extension
Attendees: 8

May 30-31, 2007
Keswick Creamery
Focus: Introduction to cheesemaking - participants learned how to make artisan cheese as a value-added farm enterprise
Partners: Penn Soil RC&D, Munnel Run Farm
Attendees: 26

June 13, 2007
Rodale Institute
Focus: Participants toured Rodale's demonstration gardens, greenhouse, medicinal garden, CSA, and research fields
Partners: PA Department of Agriculture and Rodale Institute
Attendees: 52

August 1, 2007
Ron Gargasz Organic Farm
Focus: strategies and tools to maintain high soil quality, including cover crops, crop rotation, tillage, cultivation, and soil testing
Partners: PA Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences
Attendees: 30

August 8, 2007
Still Pond Nursery
Focus: IPM for greenhouse growers
Partnrs: Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, PA Department of Agriculture, PA Landscape & Nursery Association
Attendees: 17

August 15, 2007
Tait Farms
Focus: Meeting with Senator Casey - PA-WAgN members met with Senator Casey to discuss concerns of small and mid-sized farms.
Attendees: 8

August 18, 2007
Friends Farm
Focus: A seasonal dinner at Friends Farm - participants enjoyed a fresh, in-season meal and learned about Friends Farm value-added seasonal dinners.
Attendees: 25

September 26, 2007
Swissland Acres, Spoutwood Farm, Perrydell Dairy Farm
Focus: toured farms with value-added and alternative enterprises
Attendees; 27

October 16, 2007
Friends Farm
Focus: hands-on poultry processing and food safety techniques
Partner: Penn State Cooperative Extension
Attendees: 18

March 1, 2008
Woodward Lodge
Focus: Grant Writing Workshop
Attendees: 18

March 20, 2008
Journey's End Farm
Focus: Hands-on maple sugararing from tree tapping to sap reduction and bottling
Attendees: 30

April 25, 2008
Friends Farm
Building planning workshop (layout and design of small animal shelters)
Attendees: 9

May 8, 2008
Callahan Farm
Producing & direct marketing grassfed meats & poultry
Attendees: 18

May 21, 2008
Rodale Institute
Focus: Women mentoring women, sustaining Pennsylvania's women farmers
Partners: PA Department of Agriculture, Rodale Institute, Southeastern PA RC&D, PA Association for Sustainable Agriculture
Attendees: 102

June 6, 2008
Barkley Farm
Focus: Small ruminent production
Attendees: 29

July 16, 2008
So'Journey Farm
Focus: Holistic & Frugal Farming
Attendees: 17

August 26, 2008
Paradise Gardens and Farm
Focus: Incorporating a value-added goat dairy into a diversified farm business
Partner: PA Association for Sustainable Agriculture

September 10, 2008
Josie Porter Farm
Focus: Hands-on high tunnel construction
Attendees: 25

September 11, 2008
J. Maki Winery
Focus: Winery tour
Attendees: 11

September 25, 2008
Birch Run Hills Farm
Focus: Hands-on artisan cheese production workshop
Attendees: 15

October 15, 2008
Various Perry County Farms

Focus: Tour artisan cheese producers in Perry County
Attendees: 15

On average, 96% of field day participants intend to make changes in their operation as a result of the field day activities. On average, 98% of field day participants expressed an interest to become more involved in PA-WAgN. We are currently conducting a survey to determine if our performance target of 250 members modifying their operation as a result of PA-WAgN programming has been met.

We are currently conducting a long-term evaluation to determine the number of participants that have implimented change as a result of our programming.

Members have access to PA-WAgN's website at http://wagn.cas.psu.edu. Members received periodic newsletters that can be accessed online at http://wagn.cas.psu.edu/newsletter.html.

PA-WAgN also conducted quarterly Steering Committee meetings wherein Leadership Modules were delivered on two occasions and strategic planning sessions were conducted.

PA-WAgN's Working Group (Penn State faculty and staff) met monthly during the course of the grant and research and finance committees met as needed.

PA-WAgN staff and the PI met weekly.

Farmer Adoption

We are currently conducting a survey of farmers who have attended our events to assess the extent that they changed their practices based on attendance at PAWAgN events.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Areas needing additional study

Many women farmers are new and beginning farmers. More research is needed on the educational needs of this population. Also, our findings suggest that many sustainable women farmers are involved in value-added and direct marketing operations for local markets. Additional efforts are necessary to develop strategies for farmers to effectively reach these markets. Finally, more research is needed on women farm landowners'(both farmers and non-farmers) strategies for developing long-term plans for environmental sustainability on their farmers.

Information Products

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.