Women's Agricultural Network Farm Visits

Final Report for ONE05-039

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2005: $4,313.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2005
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Beth Holtzman
UVM Extension - New Farmer Project & Women's Agricultural Network
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Project Information

Summary:

This project conducted a series of small-group, half-day farm visits as a pre-conference component of the 2005 Women’s Sustainable Agriculture Conference. The tours were designed to convey practical production, marketing and business development information, and to maximize for interaction and exchange among participants. In total, 138 conference attendees, including farmers, aspiring farmers, agricultural service providers, and public officials, participated in the farm tours.

Participant evaluations showed that respondents left the tours inspired by the farms they visited, and having acquired new knowledge and made meaningful connections with others working on similar issues in their communities. Over 90 percent said that they acquired new information they will use on their farms or in their work with farmers. Nearly 85 percent said they made a new contact or learned about a new resource that they would use in the future. Attendee reflections indicate they found networking with other women involved in sustainable agriculture to be the most valuable part of the tour. “The people I met on the tour became the cornerstones of my conference experience,” one participant said. “Everybody started relaxing and sharing. It was because of the small group. It was a good bonding experience.”

Introduction:

Background

While women have always played a significant role in farming, their contributions have often been characterized as secondary to their male conterparts. Women farm operators are often disadvantaged in terms of technical knowledge about farming, business experience and acess to resources. Agricultural education and outreach to women is not always as effective as it should be because service delivery fails to consider the particular learning needs and styles of this audience.

The consequences are of increasing importance as the number of women farmers and ranchers grows. Although the total number of US farms declined by 86,000 between 1997 and 2002, the number of farms owned and operated by women increased by over 28,000 during that same period. The demographic, social and economic factors contributing to this increase in woman-owned/operated farms suggests that this growth trend will persist in all regions of the country.

The profile of women-owned farms indicates that many are small, diversified and financially at risk. The most recent Census of Agriculture suggests the following profile: over 80 percent of the farms are less than 180 acres; 86 percent report sales under $25,000, and 90 percent are sole proprietorships.

In general, these farmers do not take advantage of the research, education and support programs that exist, and they frequently indicate a lack of knowledge about what assistance is available. Approximately 65 percent of the people contacting the Women’s Agricultural Network have no previous association with any USDA program or agency.

Farm women also report feeling uncomfortable or unprepared for many traditional programs. These farmers represent a group that stands to benefit significantly from opportunities to access new and existing information on sustainable production, marketing and business management strategies.

This project built on previous SARE projects that demonstrated the effectiveness of farmer-to-farmer education for transferring sustainable agriculture information, as well as outreach strategies that have proven successful with women farm operators. In several regions of the country, women’s agricultural networks have formed for education and support. These networks have been quite successful, and demonstrate the multiple benefits farm women gain from opportunities to meet, share information, and attend workshops specifically geared to their needs.

Project Objectives:

To promote farmer-to-farmer exchange that supports the learning needs of women farmers and agricultural service providers

To extend results from previously conducted SARE-supported farm-based research.

To recognize and highlight the accomplishments of successful, sustainable women farm operators by featuring them as farm tour hosts.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Christa Alexander
  • Judy Clark
  • Kristin Doolan
  • Laini Fondiller
  • Jenny Gilligan
  • Lindsey Ketchell
  • Donna LaRose
  • Anne Lazor
  • Kathy Moulton
  • Marjorie Susman and Marion Pollack
  • Ellen Sivret

Research

Materials and methods:

In conjunction with the 2005 Women in Sustainable Agriculture Conference, we offered 11 small-group, half-day farm visits to Vermont farms. The conference brought together farmers, educators, agricultural service providers and government officials from around the nation to share educational and organizational strategies and build technical and business skills aimed at expanding the number of farms owned and operated by women.

The tours, offered as an optional activity on the first day of the conference, were designed to match the learning style and preferences of our target audience — women farmers and the agricultural service providers who support them. In addition to conveying practical production, marketing and business development information, the visits were designed to maximize opportunities for interaction and exchange among participants.

Tours travelled by van, rather than bus, to encourage discussion and networking while traveling. Depending on the distance from Burlington, the tours visited only one or two farms, so that there was sufficient time to get an in-depth understanding of how production, marketing, business management strategies are integrated on the farm. The farms selected for the visits were primarily farms that had participated in Northeast SARE-supported projects and/or who have been involved in programs offered by WAgN. We also selected farmers who were willing to discuss their farm’s marketing approaches and farm financial status. All farms received a small facilities rental fee as compensation for hosting the tours.

Tour participants were asked to fill out a short farm tour evaluation form, and were given the option of turning it in at the end of the tour, or at the end of the conference. The farm tour evaluation form was separate from the general conference evaluation that all conference participants received in their conference packets.

 

Research results and discussion:

During the summer, we visited each host farm and in collaboration with the farmers, developed a plan for the tour at each site. We also recruited Extension personnel to drive the vans and to serve as tour facilitators. When possible, we matched the driver to the tour so that the driver was already familiar with the operation or had a background knowledge of the kind of enterprise. For example, Vermont’s equine specialist was the van driver for the equine tour and the Vermont’s small ruminant dairy program specialist drove to a tour that featured goat cheese production.

The farm tours were offered as an optional activity on the first day of the conference, October 21, 2005. They were publicized as part of the overall conference promotion and publicity effort. In addition to several mass electronic announcements and news releases, we sent postcard announcements to approximately 7500 people across the country. The postcards and electronic publicity directed people to an on-line registration site, or to contact our office to obtain hard copy of registration materials. Approximately 65 percent participants registered on-line.

Farm tour registration was $25, and included lunch and snacks, in addition to the tour. Initially we planned for 120 tour participants (excluding farmer hosts) but because the farm tours slots sold out several weeks before the registration deadline, we increased our capacity by adding a van and substituting two 15-passenger vans for 12-passenger vans.

As planned, each tour visited one or two farms, and participants learned about the production, marketing, business development and decision-making strategies used by the farm operators. All but two of the tours had lunch with the farmer hosts, allowing for an informal time to get to know eachother and share. In two cases, the farm (Intervale and Applecheek) catered the lunch for the tours. In the others, we provided a box lunch which participants ate in the van or brought to the farm. All farm tour meals featured fresh, local ingredients. Each participant received a one-page summary on the farm(s) they were to visit in their conference packet.

Because of last-minute cancellations, we were able to get all wait-listed people onto a tour.

The tours were as follows:

1. Butterworks Farm, Westfield Vt. An organic farm producing farmstead yogurt, cream, cheese, flours, sunflower oil, beans and grains. Farmers Anne and Jack Lazor have been involved in Northeast SARE on-farm research, and Butterworks was a runner-up for the Patrick Madden Award.

2. Lazy Lady Farm, Westfield Vt. A diversified livestock operation with award-winning, farmstead goat cheeses. Participants learned about operator Laini Fondiller’s experience raising sheep for meet and fiber, and marketing her products through farmers markets, food coops and distributors. Fondiller has been a participant in Northeast SARE farmer grants and WAgN programs.

3. Applecheek Farm, Hyde Park, Vt. An organic farm integrating dairy, maple, agri-tourism, that is transitioning farm operations from one generation to the next. Operator Judy Clark has been involved in WAgN programs since WAgN’s inception.

4. Intervale Foundation and farms, Burlington, Vt. The Intervale is host to a variety of innovative farming operations, including programs that are designed to help beginning farmers. Breaking up into small groups, tour participants learned about the foundation’s incubator programs, composting operations and shared equipment services, and community food security initiatives.

5. East Hill Farm, Plainfield, Vt., and the UVM (Horse) Farm, Burlington, VT. East Hill Farm offers horse boarding, lessons and training and was the first horse farm in Vermont to receive USDA-NRCS cost share funding to reduce run-off and implement other stewardship measures. This tour focused on approaches East Hill and the UVM Horse farm are implementing to minimize environmental impacts of equine operations.

6. Orb Weaver Farm, New Haven Vt., and City Market, Burlington, Vt. Orb Weaver is a small, diversified farm that produces
farmstead cheese and organic vegetables. This tour also visited with Donna LaRose, the cheese buyer at Burlington’s independent grocery store, to learn more about how local dairy products fit into its product mix.

7. Jericho Settlers Farm, Jericho, Vt., and Andrews, Farm, Richmond, Vt. Andrews farm is a multi-enterprise, diversified farm where several farmers raise sheep, turkeys, vegetables, hay, timber, firewood, beef, chickens and eggs. Owner Jenny Gilligan has been a participant in WAgN programs since WAgN’s inception. Jericho Settlers Farm is a small, diversified farm producing pastured poultry, hogs, sheep and vegetables, and marketing those products through farmers markets and pre-order systems. Operator Christa Alexander has participated in WAgN’s business planning programs.

8. Doe’s Leap Farm, Fairfield, Vt., a diversified, organic livestock farm raising goats, sheep and cows, that also operates a farmstead cheese operation. Operator Kristan Doolan is a Northeast SARE farmer grant recipient.

Research conclusions:

Participant evaluations were overwhelmingly positive. They showed that most participants came away from the tours with new information and new contacts. Moreover, participants were inspired by their tour experiences to make changes on their farms and/or in their work with farmers.

In total, 57 people, or about 41 percent of the total, turned in farm tour evalutions. Of the total, 91 percent said that they acquired new information that they plan to use on their farm or in their work with farmers. The kinds of information participants said they would use in the future was quite varied, including topics as diverse as “intensive pasture management,” “cheese cave set-up”, “evaluating farming as lifestyle,” and “simple and effective means of conducting needs assessments with farmers.”

Approximately 84 percent said they made new contacts or learned about resources that they will use in the future. Again, the kinds of resources were quite diverse, including individuals, books, websites, agricultural lenders and government agencies and programs. One respondent wrote of the resources they learned about: “Too numerous to list. Legal help/resources. Land conservation ideas. Internet resources for information.”

When asked if they would do anything differently as a result of attending the farm tour, 82 percent responded “yes” or “maybe,” and 79 percent responded “yes.” Again, the potential changes are varied, including things like focusing more attention on farm family communication and goal setting, to paddock and cheese plant layout to planning for farm transfer.

Following are some quotes from participants.

“As a farmer yet to acquire my land, it was beyond encouraging to see an organization that allows those like me to follow our hearts.”

“Talking with everyone, I feel like I am now confident enough to take on a small backyard bird operation.”

“A fabulous tour! It gave people from the West a sense of history of eastern farms.”

“I found the farmer at Lazy Lady farm awe inspiring and a joy to learn her story.”

“A FANTASTIC [sic] learning experience and networking!”

“It was a great way to start the conference, know/see the area, and meet up with a smaller group of folks.”

“I want to grow my business and take it to the next level.”

“Now I now where to start.”

“Will start composting”

“Will listen more to producers.”

“I will be more mindful of daily production costs.”

“[I will] talk with children & husband more about future.”

“Since I’m just developing a farm plan, this kind of farm tour is very helpful in thinking about different issues.”

“A fabulous tour! It gave people from the West a sense of history of eastern farms.”

“I found the farmer at Lazy Lady farm awe inspiring and a joy to learn her story.”

“A FANTASTIC [sic] learning experience and networking!”

“It was a great way to start the conference, know/see the area, and meet up with a smaller group of folks.”

 

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

Information about and from the conference will be posted on the Women’s Agricultural Network website.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

N/A

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Areas needing additional study

Recommendations/Observations

While the small-group approach clearly worked, it was definitely more time-consuming and costly to plan and execute than traveling by bus.

While we did include the farmer hosts or tour drivers in the evaluations, we received informal feedback from them. All indicated that they also felt the small-group approach was beneficial. Several drivers observed that the the group discussed and reflected on the visit while traveling back in the van. Farmers also indicated that they enjoyed have time for meaningful interaction with those who visited. Said Orb Weaver’s Marjorie Susman, “We’ve been doing this for a long time and have had a lot of groups visit our farm, and this was the most fun we’ve ever had hosting a tour. We really had a good time with them.”

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.