Developing a Conservation Education and Outreach Program Targeted at Women Farmland Owners in IA, NE and WI
Our two-year grant project moves into its second year on schedule, with a successful first year behind it.
During the period of October 2010 through December 2011, we held a total of 16 meetings with women landowners focusing on providing conservation information. Six of the 12 meetings in Iowa, and two meetings each in Nebraska and Wisconsin, were funded through this SARE grant. Other funders supported the other six meetings in Iowa, which allowed us to test outreach materials and gather evaluation data from even more women landowners. We met with a total of 133 landowners at these 16 meetings, which is a lower number than we hoped. However, the evaluation data from the meetings is consistently positive, and follow-up surveys show that up to 66% of the women who attend a meeting take at least one conservation action to improve soil and water conservation on their land within the following six to 12 months.
An unexpected bonus of the extra meetings is that we have built even stronger relationships than we had hoped with the staff of the conservation agencies we work with in each area – primarily NRCS, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and soil and water districts. We have begun to receive requests from staff in other counties who want us to come and facilitate a meeting. They are also eager to make use of the conservation materials targeting women landowners that we are developing as part of this grant. Currently, we are in the final stages of producing two brochures for women landowners about the benefits of cover crops in protecting soil from erosion.
As a result of a complementary grant from the Iowa Resource Enhancement and Protection Conservation Education Program, we have developed an 84-pp curriculum guide which provides the rationale for improving conservation outreach to women non-operator farmland owners, a full explanation of how to put on a learning circles meeting, and a set of 9 activities facilitators can use to provide information and encouragement to women landowners on a variety of conservation topics. We will include this important tool in the materials we provide to conservation professionals in year 2.
Our first target was to reach 300 women in IA, NE and IL during the three-year project. We are a bit under halfway to this target. We are holding a total of 17 women landowner conservation meetings in calendar year 2012, and hope to get close to our 300-participant total.
Additional targets were to accomplish education and outreach to conservation professionals in the three states and provide them with outreach tools targeting women landowners. The curriculum guide — Women Caring for the LandSM: Improving Conservation Outreach to Female Non-Operator Farmland Owners – has been produced with the input of conservation professionals and women farmland owners, and
is available as a free PDF download at http://wfan.org/Women,_Food_and_Agriculture_Network_Home_files/WCLManualForWeb3-12.pdf. It is also available in hard copy at cost plus s/h; email email@example.com.
As a result of a Conservation Innovation Grant from the NRCS (WFAN is the Iowa subcontractor to the Center for Rural Affairs as primary grantee), we are supporting the adaptation of the Iowa-focused curriculum manual for use in other states, including Nebraska and Wisconsin, by teams of reviewers made up of women landowners and conservation professionals in each state (other states in this project include Kansas, North and South Dakota, and Minnesota).
During the project’s second year, we will hold at least one webinar free of charge for agency and non-profit conservation staffers in the three project states to discuss use of this manual and other materials including the cover crops brochures and newsletter.
The outreach materials we promised to produce in the second year of the project are already well underway, including a landowner newsletter (Patchwork — see attached PDF), cover crops brochures (two versions, one targeting women who want to talk to their tenants about trying cover crops, and one focusing more on family and legacy values), and a larger four-page booklet containing more detail on the topic. An innovative aspect of the brochures will be a “Cover Crop Pledge” that we will encourage women to sign, agreeing to take at least one action following the meeting. Actions range from simply asking for more information to working with the tenant to plant a trial cover crop.
Here is a list of meeting locations, dates, and the number of women landowners who attended (agency or non-profit partner staffers and WFAN employees who helped facilitate the meetings are not included in these totals):
10/27/10 Emmetsburg, IA 11
11/10/10 Indianola, IA 12
2/7/11 Webster City, IA 3
4/1/11 Chariton, IA 11
4/14/11 Boone, IA 7
4/29/11 Bloomfield, IA 8
5/12/11 Cherokee, IA 7
5/18/11 Jefferson, IA 16
6/29/11 Wynott, NE 10
6/30/11 Ceresco, NE 10
8/5/11 Seneca, WI 5
8/6/11 Brodhead, WI 5
9/20/11 Amana, IA 4
9/21/11 Polk Co., IA 7
11/17/11 Dyersville, IA 17
We continue to learn how to better attract women to meetings, deliver more successful meetings, and build stronger agency partnerships. Our most recent follow-up survey showed that two thirds of the women who attended our 2011 meetings have taken at least one conservation action in the subsequent months. These actions range from contacting an agency representative for more information about a practice, to planting a cover crop this spring.
Here are some comments from evaluations that illustrate the typical response we get from women who attend a Women Caring for the LandSM meeting:
Great agenda! Loved the tour – visual is so telling. Excellent facility. Just cannot imagine how it could have been better – unless it was a Day Two. So much to learn, so little time.
Indianola, IA 11/10/10
This has given me some understanding of what my husband talks about. I came to this meeting with no understanding – I am excited about the projects possible to protect the Iowa soil and feel this meeting has helped me in beginning to learn about “farming.”
Lucas Co., IA 4/1/11
Meeting together with neighbors, discussing problems – can’t be a better beginning.
Jefferson, IA 5/18/11
DNR information specialist Karen Grimes wrote in a newsletter article: “For someone like me (an 11-year veteran of the St. Charles, Mo. Soil and Water Conservation District), the emotional context at these women landowner meetings is unexpected and phenomenal.” (Full article attached.)
And this comment from a watershed coordinator in Iowa: “I know that if I can get conservation information to women, they are likely to act.”
We feel we are forging a valuable partnership among non-profit staff, agency staff, and women farmland owners in the Midwest who are eager conservation partners when properly informed and supported. At an average of 160 acres owned per landowner, the impact on the landscape as we improve outreach to this segment and allow them to act to protect soil and water can be tremendous.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Forty-eight evaluations were returned from six meetings in 2011; all participants filled out a form (100% participation).
Our participants on average were age 65 and owned 335 acres (16,079 acres total). 33% have written leases with their tenants (some farmed with family members so did not have a rental contract). 27% have NRCS Conservation Plans, but not all felt they understood the plans. Most women said they had someone with whom they could discuss conservation; however each meeting had one woman with no conversation partner.
Satisfaction with program content, handouts, and overall rating was always very high, 4.5 or higher on a 5 point scale. Written comments were positive.
As a result of the meeting, women said they would be very likely to:
• 81% look more carefully at the soil on their land.
• 49% get information on how to do a conservation practice
• 57% visit with your tenant about a topic from the meeting
• 27% ask your tenant to take or try a new action
• 46% ask your tenant to check on soil erosion for you
• 68% visit with other women about protecting soil
• 50% contact one of the offices or staff they met
• 50% search for more information on the internet
We measured a change in confidence in overseeing soil protection on their land by using a retrospective pre-then post- measure on a continuum line subdivided in 8 points. Women on average marked themselves about midpoint pre-meeting and improved confidence of a point or more.
A one-year follow up evaluation has been conducted to discover what actions the ladies who attended Women Caring for the Land meetings have taken. NOTE: We initially attempted to contact women by phone who had indicated that they were willing to participate in a follow-up telephone survey. Unfortunately, only four of the women were reached despite repeated attempts. Their responses indicated that following the meetings, one had installed grassed waterways, one had built terraces, and the other two had completed conservation actions in the past and were contemplating next steps. Participants were mailed a survey with a postage paid return envelope and a requested date for return. There was no follow up reminder sent.
107 surveys were mailed, and out of 22 surveys received (20% return) 18 usable surveys were returned and one participant wrote more than 4 pages about her concerns and frustrations with not being able to treat her land like she wants, how her land improvements are vandalized, and of being ostracized in her neighborhood. Twelve of 18 respondents indicated they had taken an action since the meeting; some discussed information from the meeting with renters or were thinking of or planning changes they would like to make, while others had implemented major changes on their land such as repairing grassed waterways and embarking on a savanna and prairie restoration project.
Obstacles still remain for some landowners. Those include the difficulties of physically doing work, and energy to manage work or find someone to do work. One lady wrote that the changes following the meeting were changes in thinking, and that “sometimes awareness needs raised” even though she felt she could not implement changes because she shares land with a sister out-of-state.
Greenlee School of Journalism, Iowa State University
Ames, IA 50011-0477
Office Phone: 5152940477
2550 Stagecoach Road
Webster City, IA 50595
Office Phone: 5152970701