Increasing Rural Women's Leadership in Sustainable Agriculture and Community Development

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1996: $62,820.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2000
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $84,651.00
Region: North Central
State: Nebraska
Project Coordinator:
Cris Carusi
Nebraska Sustainable Ag Society

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: corn, oats, potatoes, soybeans, wheat, grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Fruits: grapes, melons, berries (strawberries)
  • Nuts: hazelnuts
  • Vegetables: asparagus, beans, beets, broccoli, cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, cucurbits, eggplant, garlic, greens (leafy), onions, parsnips, peas (culinary), peppers, sweet corn, tomatoes, turnips
  • Additional Plants: herbs, native plants, ornamentals
  • Animals: bees, bovine, poultry, swine
  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: housing, grazing - continuous, free-range, herbal medicines, grazing - rotational, feed/forage
  • Crop Production: windbreaks
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, mentoring, networking
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, budgets/cost and returns, cooperatives, marketing management, value added
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, grass waterways, hedgerows
  • Pest Management: mulches - killed
  • Production Systems: transitioning to organic
  • Soil Management: composting
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities, partnerships, urban/rural integration, analysis of personal/family life, employment opportunities, social capital, social networks


    Rural women are a powerful force in shaping food and farming systems, providing leadership to their farms and communities. In 1996, the Nebraska IMPACT Project received NCR-SARE support to organize groups of rural women. The objectives of this project were to:

    • Organize and support at least five groups of women in Nebraska to work for education and support for sustainable agriculture and community issues

      Provide opportunities for women to strengthen their abilities and willingness to take leadership on farms and in communities

      Improve women's ability to access and use agricultural outreach programs of the Nebraska Cooperative Extension Service, and increase women's activity in statewide sustainable agriculture networks.

    The women's groups identified issues affecting their farms and communities. They then created goals, projects, and plans to address those issues. The groups accomplished a wide range of activities including formal and informal education on organic gardening, pastured poultry production and processing, medicinal and culinary herb production, vegetable and flower seed production, management-intensive grazing, home-based businesses, and cooperative marketing.

    Group members built their leadership skills through the hands-on process of developing and implementing projects to accomplish their goals. Organizing outreach events and teaching others increased their confidence and encouraged shared leadership within the groups. The outreach efforts of these women's groups reached hundreds of people across the state.

    In 1999, we surveyed and held focus group interviews with women participating in this project. Through the IMPACT Project, many of the women gained the courage to be entrepreneurs and generate additional income for their families. They spoke of the education they received in agricultural marketing, communication, estate planning, and other topics as providing them with more understanding and credibility when communicating with their husbands.

    Many of the women made changes in their farming and ranching operations during their involvement with their IMPACT groups. These changes included a range of alternative practices and marketing enterprises. Some changes were directly attributable to involvement in the group, while others were progressions of work begun before they joined.

    The groups had different experiences with Nebraska Cooperative Extension. Some groups found that Extension was extremely helpful, and they increased their participation in Extension programming. In other cases, the local Extension office was unresponsive. Some groups had better luck with the Extension Home Economist than the Agricultural Educator.

    Group members who participated in the statewide IMPACT sustainable agriculture network made decisions about project funding and policy, reported on their activities, and shared knowledge with other groups. For these groups, network participation helped them develop leadership skills. Some groups did not travel to these network meetings, however, because they felt that they could not leave obligations at home.

    This project identified clear steps that organizers and resource providers can take to meaningfully involve rural women in sustainable agriculture research and education. The women's groups did best when the development of a supportive learning environment was included as a primary, serious objective. Utilizing a group to help women develop leadership together results in greater individual and group success. The groups told us that they need time to explore various options before they develop a project proposal, and they recommended that future funding be structured so that significant funds are available later in a group's life.

    The IMPACT project is a grassroots development effort of the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society, the Center for Rural Affairs, and the University of Nebraska - Lincoln.

    Project objectives:

    1. Organize and support at least five groups of women in Nebraska to work for education and support for sustainable agriculture and community issues.

    2. Provide opportunities for women to strengthen their abilities and willingness to take leadership on sustainable agriculture issues on farms and in communities.

    3. Improve women's ability to access and use existing agricultural outreach programs of Nebraska Cooperative Extension, and increase women's activity in statewide networks for sustainable agriculture.

    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.