Women Farmer and Landowner Learning Circles: Addressing Sustainability in a Changing Climate

Final report for ONC16-020

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2016: $30,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2017
Region: North Central
State: Nebraska
Project Coordinator:
Sandra Renner
Center for Rural Affairs
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Project Information

Summary:

We held a series of learning circles of women farmers and landowners in eastern Nebraska, co-led by agricultural professionals at the Center for Rural Affairs and farmer-leaders, that provided sustainable farming and conservation education and outreach. Our series was spread out over two year with the second year primarily organized and lead by our farmer leaders.
The learning circles provided education on successful and sustainable production in a changing climate. Whether beginning or established farmers, experienced landowners or new to management, we have seen that women on farms largely share a commitment to environmental, economic, and social sustainability. Most raise a combination of specialty crops and small livestock, often with organic practices. In an increasingly unpredictable climate, it is critical that women farmers and landowners gain the production and conservation knowledge and resources to keep their farms thriving and protect the environment.
Learning circles are an important, innovative method for giving participants the knowledge, confidence, and support they need to enact change. In addition to learning from experts, our group engaged in peer-to-peer learning. Participating women are considered the “experts” on their own production, farmland, and conservation needs, and were encouraged to speak about their own experiences and goals rather than passively listen to a professional in a traditional lecture format. This format builds knowledge and confidence.

Project Objectives:

Objective 1: Build a self-sustaining community of women farmers and landowners of varying skill and experience levels with strong internal leadership

Objective 2: Enable peer learning, mentoring, and networking among learning circle participants

Objective 3: Provide expert education and resources to women farmers and landowners to address sustainable production and conservation in today’s changing climate

Objective 4: Connect participants to experts to encourage long-term partnerships that will provide ongoing resources for climate change adaptation and sustainable production.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Yolanda Bailey
  • Kirstin Bailey
  • Traci Bruckner
  • Wyatt Fraas
  • Margaret Milligan
  • Sandra Renner
  • Erin Schoenberg
  • Kathie Starkweather

Research

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

16 Consultations
2 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
6 On-farm demonstrations
14 Published press articles, newsletters
7 Tours
8 Webinars / talks / presentations
8 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

48 Farmers
23 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

We held two series of learning circles that spanned 2 years. There were four learning circles in each year for a total of 8 gatherings. Seven of the 8 learning circles had farm tours. Each learning circle was an informal workshop with conservation and sustainable production at the forefront of the circles. Demonstrations were shown at 6 of these learning circles. We chose 2 women farmers to highlight in a fact sheet and blog post. During the project we advised 16 women on sustainable production, conservation practices and resources available to help them meet their conservation and production goals. Between press releases, newsletter articles and blog posts we had 14 media related articles. We invited agricultural professionals to each learning circle and we had a total of 24 professionals attend the learning circles. Several women came to several different activities, we show 48 different women attended at least one of our events, many coming to several different activities.

Case study #1

Case study #2

Fact sheet #1

Fact sheet #2

Learning Outcomes

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

  • Sustainable production practices

  • Resources Available

Project Outcomes

10 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
Project outcomes:

We held 4 learning circle meetings in 2016 and 4 circles in 2017. Each meeting was hosted by a woman at a women-owned or operated farm in Eastern Nebraska. The women who were hosts were women that are considered experts in their fields. There was time for peer instruction and learning during the facilitated discussion. Women stayed after the learning circle for a potluck and networking. Combined the learning circles had 101 women participate. The women varied in age and nationality.
Objective 1: Build a self-sustaining community of women farmers and landowners of varying skill and experience levels with strong internal leadership. During our meetings we saw women exchanging contact info with each other and heard conversations of women following up on things they had mentioned during the potluck portion. We asked our farmer leaders to take the lead on deciding how to best build on the informal network that was being created. They decided that creating yet another producer or women farmer group would not be best. Instead they are continuing to use groups that are already active and add the new members to the group. Facebook was the main platform used for promoting the learning circles. Attendees shared the event among their own social media circles and in groups they belonged to. It was very successful way to reach our audience. The women have started to connect themselves and that showed up in the evaluations as well. One participant commented about the community created saying, “While the technicalities are useful, the community will be more important for my business.”
Objective 2: Enable peer learning, mentoring, and networking among learning circle participants
At each learning circles women were able to learn from each other and ask each other questions. These women all shared what they could and built on the topic of the circle. Through our evaluations we saw time and time again that the peer learning, networking and mentor situations that arose were important to the women that participated. Comments included, “I feel like I am in the right place,” and “I love to hear others talk about successes and failures. And each is a learning experience.” This continued throughout the project and when the last circle was held, plans for continuing the circles were being discussed.

Objective 3: Provide expert education and resources to women farmers and landowners to address sustainable production and conservation in today’s changing climate.
Sustainable growing and climate change were at the center of every learning circle. Women farmer hosts were able to talk about ways to mitigate the risks of climate change, carbon sequestering as well as sustainable growing. The final learning circle for the first year was held at the WFAN (Women Food and Ag Network) conference. The focus at this conference was Women and Permaculture: Making a Living in Harmony with the Land. There were sessions on policy, sustainable carbon sequestering, as well as marketing and business related topics. We had 13 women involved with our learning circles attend and were able to make new connections to women in the area. They were thrilled to learn of sustainable techniques and to find out there were other women who were farming with the environment in mind. From the evaluations: “The most important takeaway I have is that there are other women experimenting in sustainable ag and starting farm businesses,” and, “It is empowering. I feel more capable after talking with these women.”
During the second year, our farmer leaders took the reins with our guidance. We had NRCS staff present at one of the learning circles and encouraged the leaders to invite experts on their chosen topics to the circles. Sustainable production was at the forefront of the second learning circle series.
Objective 4: Connect participants to experts to encourage long-term partnerships that will provide ongoing resources for climate change adaptation and sustainable production.
Climate change, and the experts that are resources, were present throughout the learning circles. We offered materials from a local RC&D and NRCS was also represented. The WFAN conference had numerous experts in one place, allowing our Learning Circle participants to connect with the experts they needed. We continued to invite these folks to the second year of these circles. The first learning circle of the second year was about utilizing NRCS Eqip program to grow your business sustainably. One participant commented, “Made great connections to ask follow up questions. Appreciate the chance to networks with other women.”

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.