Increasing Rural Women's Leadership in Sustainable Agriculture and Community Development
The objectives of this project were to:
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 farms and in communities; and
3) 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.
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 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