Enhancing Women Farmers’ Understanding of Cover Crops

Final report for ONC15-006

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2015: $28,426.00
Projected End Date: 04/14/2017
Grant Recipient: Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES)
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Lisa Kivirist
Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES)
Co-Coordinators:
Jody Padgham
Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES)
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Project Information

Summary:

In the “Enhancing Women Farmers’ Understanding of Cover Crops” project, MOSES highlighted diverse cover crop uses and benefits through four day-long on-farm field days, written articles, a website, podcasts and social media posts for women.

In 2015 and 2016 MOSES Rural Women’s Project held four field days on women-owned farms in Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois and Minnesota. 182 women farmers attended plus 15 ag professionals, exceeding our initial goal of 160. The field days highlighted the use of cover crops on diverse farms, as well as numerous other topics. Written articles and podcast recordings supported the field days and expanded the educational reach of the project. Additionally, a farmer attendee at each workshop wrote up a "5 things I learned" recap article that was posted online.  A supporting website and social media support on Facebook and Twitter kept the community connected throughout the project year.

This project offered views and in-depth understanding of successful women-owned farm operations, with a concentration on the effective use of cover crops. We have found that women enjoy learning most from their peers, other women farm owners that have learned by doing. Showcasing successful operations, with a small-group atmosphere (aimed at around 40 participants) with a mix of farm tour, formal presentation and discussion introduced women farmers to soil-building techniques that they can apply in their own new operations. The gatherings also created a sense of camaraderie and community, which continues after the events via facebook and twitter as well as through the Rural Women's Project webpage at mosesorganic.org/rural-womens-project. 

Archived articles and podcasts of interviews with the host farmers about production practices, with an emphasis on the use of cover crops for a diversity of crops and production styles, and now readily available from ITunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher, allowing the educational concepts to be accessed by a broad audience, on-demand and year-round.

Project Objectives:
  • Enhance 160+ women farmers’ understanding of the diversity of uses and benefits of cover crops.
  • Expose women farmers in Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota to successful women-run sustainable farms.
  • Create opportunity for connection between women interested in sustainable farming in each state.
  • Provide ongoing informational resources about the use of cover crops on four women-led farms in Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
  • Continue further educational outreach and women farmer connection by documenting the host farmer story and production practices through podcasts, written articles and on-line resources.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Peg Scheaffer - Technical Advisor (Educator)
  • Jen Miller - Technical Advisor (Educator)
  • Rachel Hersberger - Technical Advisor (Educator)
  • Kathy Zeman - Technical Advisor (Educator)
  • Katy Dickson - Technical Advisor (Educator)
  • Cassie Carroll - Technical Advisor (Educator)
  • Robin Schirmer - Technical Advisor (Educator)
  • Danielle Endvick - Technical Advisor (Educator)
  • Kate Barnes - Technical Advisor (Educator)

Research

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

9 Published press articles, newsletters
4 Workshop field days
16 Other educational activities: Podcasts

Participation Summary:

182 Farmers
15 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

Four on-farm field days were held on women owned farms in Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota:

16 podcasts from the host farmers were recorded and posted online at https://mosesorganic.org/in-her-boots-podcast/ These 16 podcasts, combined with an additional 9 we also recorded, will be released weekly throughout the 2017 growing season.  

Learning Outcomes

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

Project Outcomes

6 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

Impacts

Overall, 182 women attended our on-farm events through this project. The women viewed successful women-led operations, and met others within their geographic region on the same path as themselves.

Each field day of this SARE series received very strong, positive response from women farmers attending. Evaluation results are recapped below, with sample comments. From the evaluations we can see that participants not only learned environmentally friendly production practices that they can take back to use on their operations, but they also found a sense of community, and a peer group that they could rely on for additional information to help build their farming success over time.Many participants were not yet farming, but noted that their exposure to other women with successful farm operations was empowering, and helpful in their visioning their own success as farmers.

Christensen Farm (7/31/15): 

 

Useful

 

4.68

Range (1-5)

 

Knowledge Before

 

4.79

Range (1-10)

 

Knowledge After

 

6.82

Range (1-10)

 

Change:

 

2.03

42%

 

Sample what I learned:

New cover crop options; technology

   

A wealth of information on techniques and about CSAs.

   

More buckwheat for weed management, more auctions, SARE education grant, NRCS resources.

Sandhill Family Farms (7/15/16): 

 

Useful

 

4.55

 Range (1-5)

 

Knowledge Before

 

4.41

Range (1-10)

 

Knowledge After

 

6.18

Range (1-10)

 

Change

 

1.77

40%

 

Sample what I learned:

Crop rotations are important as well as networking.

   

I do not have a farm yet but topics discussed and people met were helpful. Still have a lot to learn.

   

Great knowledge/advice on how they got started. Very unique relationship among 2 farms.

         

Clay Bottom Farm (8/17/16): 

 

Useful

 

4.66

Range (1-5)

 

Knowledge Before

 

5.32

Range (1-10)

 

Knowledge After

 

7.18

Range (1-10)

 

Change

 

1.86

35%

 

Sample what I learned:

I don't have a farm; but it gave me encouraging brainstorming ideas for future food advocacy and/or farming.

   

More efficient systems, better ways to communicate farm tasks to employees, how to better balance family and farm

   

Integrating children on the farm; diversity of crops; soil health

         

Simple Harvest Farm (8/23/16): 

 

Useful

 

4.74

Range (1-5)

 

Knowledge Before

 

5.48

Range (1-10)

 

Knowledge After

 

7.35

Range (1-10)

 

Change:

 

1.87

34%

 

Sample what I learned:

Where to locate resource for regulations.

   

Livestock infrastructure ideas - building poultry tractors cost effectively while also getting long term use of them.

   

Can use weeds as cover crops. I'll lighten up on my weed-free point of view and try accepting that my field doesn't have to look "perfect."

In response to the question “How did this field day help you to better understand cover crops?” we have the following sample responses:

How various types affect fertility in certain ways (nitrogen boost from legumes)

Ideas for how to incorporate cover crops, different species of cover crops.

Being able to see it, ask questions.

Cover crops help build up organic matters, protect land from erosion.

Rotation, visual overview of fields before and after.

The ability to minimize soil amendments and keep it local.

No one-size-fits-all; customize to fit local specific needs (crop rotating and seasonality)

I appreciated the perspective of a small operation, I'd only heard from larger.

Some have herbicidal qualities; some deliver a big punch on nutrients.

The Podcasts are a great resource with enduring value over time. We plan to continue Podcast recordings of our Boots hosts in a new lineup of workshops in 2017. They, as well as the Broadcaster stories and field-day recaps, will be available and pop up on searches from the MOSES website into the foreseeable future. The Rural Women’s Project Facebook page has been a lively opportunity for debate, conversation and exchange among the over 600 women who have joined. Each person that attends a RWP event is added to the MOSES mailing list and invited to participate in the Facebook group.

 

Success stories:

•  Women farmers developing informal mentorships with the host farmers.  These are often women in the area of the host farm who then return for more hands-on farm experience such as helping with plantings

•  We often have women farmers attend multiple In Her Boots workshops, even though they may require a several hour drive.  This is a testament to both the quality and consistency of our programming and the fact that each session involves a completely different farm site and perspectives.

•  The networking that takes place at these In Her Boots events is tremendous. At every workshop, women meet other women from their general region — women that they didn’t know before and now have an opportunity to keep in touch and share resources and ideas.  This insight supports the MOSES Rural Women’s Project’s ongoing efforts to champion and support women farmer networks, including developing a How to Launch a Network Toolkit. 

Here are comments sent from one participant, who, unfortunately, is in a witness protection program, but, irregardless, is doing a great job of getting her own farm set up:

'The In her boots workshop did so much for me. It was the first female farming training I'd ever heard of. It introduced me to a family of badass female farmers and wanna be farmers. All walks of life and all levels of experience were represented and embraced. It also was a great combination of classroom style learning and hands on workshop.

I came away from the workshop more confident in my farming abilities, more sure of my farm dreams being realized, and more connected with like minded women, including mentors that I've been able to reach out to on and ad hoc basis for the last 2 years now. I am now settled in on my farm and beginning to put into practice some of the important lessons I learned, I'm in my own boots now, in part because of 'in her boots'."

Recommendations:

MOSES continues to see strong support for its women-focused and women-led programming. There is especially strong interest in women starting up farming operations as a change after successful careers or child-rearing. These women are especially interested in alternative farming systems, such as agro-tourism and value-added enterprises, which, while non-traditional, have the potential for strong financial impact on rural communities.

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.