Final report for ONC19-059
Farmland owners who rent their land have tremendous sway in making agriculture more sustainable, but their power is going largely unused. One reason for this is that many of these non-operator landowners are women, who often feel at a disadvantage to their tenants or their families. Our work with women landowners shows they prioritize conservation, transitioning the land to the next generation or to beginning farmers, and thinking outside the box for the land to be economically sustainable. By empowering these women to make the changes they want, sustainable agriculture will take a substantial step forward.
We want to address this issue directly. We want to change the narrative of women landowners being invisible to active change agents who understand the sustainable agricultural practices needed on their land, and we want this new narrative to be led by women.
This project, led by a group of women farmland owners, put women front and center in discussing land management. This project included media, speaking at various agricultural events, and women-focused events on land management. As a result, more women across the region engaged with their land stewardship, ensuring more land stays in agriculture, there is more conservation, and agriculture diversifies.
A team of Sustainability Ambassadors determined their training needs for speaking to agricultural audiences and speaking to the media, and created a curriculum for women to tell their stories of implementing sustainable practices for the land they manage. Six Ambassadors tested this curriculum.
Ambassadors spoke at agricultural events.
Ambassadors were featured in media.
Ambassadors hosted women-focused meetings on land management. Attendees and Ambassadors increased their knowledge about sustainable practices.
WFAN will promote this pilot model to other states in the NC SARE Region, making the pilot curricula available as open-source material, while continuing to expand and enhance the project after pilot completion.
Educational & Outreach Activities
Our two-year grant project moved into its second year on schedule. We had a host of personnel changes in our original proposal that gave us a slower start than planned but we have a fantastic, excited team of women Sustainability Ambassadors who have hit the ground running and who will have found and presented at two meetings within two weeks of the media training. We were careful to make the replacements in keeping with the spirit and intent of the Partnership award and have not diminished the goals and products we will produce in any way. We have accomplished the task of training ourselves to work effectively with groups and media.
Our first target was to co-create a training curriculum. We opted not to use the webinar format and instead met in person to put the training curriculum together and learned what strengths each of us has as we tackle the challenges of getting out the message about what landowners can do to foster sustainable agriculture practices. Of course, with the pandemic of 2020, we quickly pivoted to the virtual environment for the majority of our presentations/workshops. We learned the finer points of working on telling our stories and sharing presentations in groups and working more professionally with media. With program expansion and enhancement after the completion of this pilot, WFAN will provide follow up additional resource materials requested by the group to share and enhance their ability to provide presentations.
The Ambassadors gave 19 unique presentation across 7 events, giving and carried the message of what difference landowners can make towards improving soil health through supporting and encouraging farmer adoption of cover crops and no-till practices.
During the second year, Ambassadors also engaged in media – social media and earned media requests. We started this through Facebook with a group.
Ambassadors also hosted women-focused meetings on land management. We hosted 3 Women Caring for the Land meetings in Iowa and will evaluate the learning and empowerment of the women participants through surveys.
We are excited to have codified the curriculum for this model, and look forward to sharing it with other states in the NC SARE Region after year 2.
We held a training for our Ambassadors on February 19 -20 and we feel this was successful in that we were able to identify and support ourselves with sufficient content to launch our own presentations, and we bonded as a group to be able to reach out and support each other going forward. We will work towards making the curriculum more explicit so that others could follow our lead. Already two Ambassadors have given presentations in the two weeks since.
We had to replace some of our original Ambassadors as they or family members faced health challenges. The roster has the full complement of 6 Ambassadors as promised and they are landowners/farmers with experience supporting sustainable agriculture practice adoption by farmers. As such they are authentically credible carriers of the message of “what can landowners do” to support change.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Although WFAN was not able to track the exact number of farmer/ranchers who implemented a new practice at the time of this report, we will be sending out a survey in the next month to Learning Circle attendees to see what changes or adoption of practices have been made. In past surveys we have found that up to 70% of participants made at least one change within a year of attending a Women Caring for the Land event.
100% of our ambassadors have expressed feeling empowered in gaining tools to help share their conservation story and help empower other women. Learning Circle participants shared increased knowledge in our post event evaluations, with an average of 30% increased confidence in their understanding and comfort level in talking about soil health. We know that women listening to other women’s stories are pivotal for those women making steps to implement conservation action, including talking with family members and tenants.
Though the participants at events that our Ambassadors coordinated and presented at won’t be surveyed, we’re confident that our impact was much wider than those we’ll be surveying. With well over 200 unduplicated event attendees, we are estimating that at least 85 attendees will have implemented at least one new practice following attending an event.
Understandably, COVID also complicated our capacity to reach the projected number of landowners we had hoped. Under the circumstances, we are pleased with the outreach that our Ambassadors and our Learning Circle events accomplished.
When asked in our post Learning Circle event surveys what immediate actions they were inspired to take afterwards, overwhelmingly participants shared that they would be seeking more resources to continue their learning, including connecting with their USDA agency representatives; testing their soil; and seeking out ways to engage more women in their communities. Participants also shared a notable change in their soil health knowledge before and after events, with an average of 30% increase in confidence in the topic.
WFAN is developing evaluation systems and feedback loops that capture and codify attendee and Ambassador needs and recommendations to expand and enhance this program. We feel that this demonstration project was well-received and successful, and look forward to growing it further. To that end, we are going to publish the Ambassador training manual as an open-source resource for WFAN members and supporters, with the understanding that it is a "living" and evolving document