WAgN: Sustainable ag network by and for women producers
The project is developing and supporting a women’s agricultural network in Pennsylvania and surrounding Mid-Atlantic states. The goal of the network is to enhance women producers’ success as environmental managers, innovative entrepreneurs, and community leaders. The project facilitates the development of a peer-to-peer information sharing and support network and creates educational programs and events for women farmers and agricultural professionals in sustainable agriculture to increase their knowledge about sustainable agriculture practices, business management, entrepreneurial strategies, and leadership.
To address the needs of sustainable farmers, we will build a women’s agricultural network in Pennsylvania and surrounding states through a dynamic interplay of research and education activities. Our educational activities include field days, regional meetings, conferences, leadership training, needs assessment surveys, focus groups, and evaluations of our activities. We provide additional opportunities for exchange of knowledge between women farmers through publishing newsletters, a website, and list serves. While all activities are targeted towards women farmers, men are also invited and are attending our events.
Of the 500 farmers who have participated in network activities, 300 will become members of the network, 100 will report changes in their production systems to become more sustainable and 100 will report changes in their business-planning. At the regional level, 3 of the 5 regions will have viable regional networks.
1. 50 women farmers will participate in 5 regional focus groups to express their needs, topics of interest, and preferred learning formats for network events and activities.
The project team participated in focus group training provided by the Social Science Research Institute at Penn State. This exercise helped us design of our focus groups as well as provided training to participants on the research team who had not been involved in conducting focus groups. We developed a protocol for the focus groups, received human subjects approval for our research, and conducted a pre-test with three women farmers. We have conducted 3 regional focus groups and 21 women have participated. The other two focus groups are scheduled for January, 2006. At this point, we are still in the process of data collection and only have preliminary observations. Some important preliminary observations from the focus groups relate to three separate domains: technical training needs, educational context and barriers to participation.
Technical training needs that repeatedly surfaced were equipment safety and maintenance, business management and planning, regulatory frameworks and policies that affect the farm (i.e. labor, farm transfer), access to capital, alternative production practices (i.e. crop rotation plans, transitioning to organic) and alternative marketing strategies.
The educational context that most focus groups participants prefer is a one to three day long intensive workshop that is composed of both lecture and hands-on modules with a small (20) group of farmers at the same educational level (all beginners or all advanced). An important aspect of this educational context is the opportunity to network with other (preferably women) farmers for multi-directional learning at the workshop and after. Shorter workshops, field days and conferences were also of interest, but must be detailed and/or hands-on enough to justify the expense (time, money or otherwise). Participants at each focus group also expressed interest in online courses.
Barriers to participation in educational events include time, distance and appropriateness of the event. Most focus group participants found leaving their farm (and/or other commitments such as family) for long periods of time the largest barrier to participation. Most also preferred driving less than 90 minutes to an event, and the shorter the event, the less far they were willing to travel. When asked why they may not participate in existing educational events (such as Cooperative Extension workshops), many said they were not appropriate to the kind of small scale and diversified farm they operated. Some participants also reported feeling unwelcome and uncomfortable at events that were designed for a traditional farming audience (large scale and male dominated). Money was also a factor for some, especially for the more expensive workshops, but most feel the investment of up to $250 was worthwhile.
2. Based on information from the focus groups and previous needs assessment surveys by the project team, the statewide steering committee and the project team will meet to plan the activities for the year including field days, network events and the annual conference.
The statewide steering committee (12 people) met in April, 2005 to discuss plans for 2005. The project team met in December, 2005 to plan activities for 2006. We have also developed a new needs assessment, which we distribute at all of our events and have also mailed to our members. We have had a number of members sign up at events we have attended and we have decided to distribute the needs assessment more broadly to gain additional information about the educational needs of women operators in Pennsylvania.
3. Three leaders from each of the five regions will participate in a leadership training workshop to build networking capacity in five regions.
We have identified three leaders in six regions. The original proposal planned for five regions but we have expanded to six regions for two reasons. Our members in the northeast region have expressed interest in having their own regional network and we are now attempting to work more closely with extension, so we have redefined our regions to be compatible with extension regions.
We arranged for travel for 15 leaders to attend the Women and Sustainable Agriculture Conference in Burlington, Vermont. We were also successful in obtaining funding to take 5 cooperative extension personnel to the conference as well. We traveled in two vans from Pennsylvania to Vermont, and the trip itself was a mini-conference. Many of the farm operators participated in a special business planning track at the conference and left with new business plans. A week after the conference, one woman wrote: “we already contacted the local Conservation District Rep. and have had the grazing specialist out to the farm. We have begun the plans for a rotational grazing plan and have an appointment with someone to help evaluate the erosion issues. We are changing the grazing pattern in the present pastures and have 3 horses up for sale. We attended our local Chamber of Commerce breakfast on Wednesday and spoke to SBA reps about financial assistance.”
The leadership training has been scheduled for March 2-3, 2006. Leadership training is being offered to 18 regional representatives of the PA. The purpose of the leadership training is to develop individual skills of leaders, build a statewide leadership team, build regional leadership teams, develop building block for future leadership, and become better acquainted with other leaders. Extension educators from each of the six regions will facilitate six topics on leadership including: productive meetings, group decisions, and active leadership. We hope that the inclusion of extension educators will serve to establish more permanent regional bases for PAWAgN.
4. Regional steering committees will work with the project tea to hold farm-field days/networking events in at least 2 regions during year 1 and all 5 regions in year 2 and 3. Approximately 50 women farmers and agricultural professionals will participate in each field day/event.
We held 6 field day events in 5 different regions 2005 which exceed our expectations. We attribute this success to the high level of interest in PAWAgN among women producers. We held the following events with the number of attendees in parentheses: May, 2005 PAWAgN/PASA field day and meeting of the Southeast WAgN group at Elly Hushour’s Patches of Start goat dairy (75); June, 2005 field day and meeting of Southcentral region at two farms, MooEcho dairy and Spiral Path Organic Vegetable Farm (20); July, 2005 field day and meeting of the Central region at Friends Farm, an organic vegetable operation with on-farm market (15); August, 2005 PAWAgN/PASA/PCO field day and meeting of Southwest PAWAgN region at two urban farms: Mildred Daughters and Garden Dreams in Pittsburgh covering topics including urban gardening, lead remediation in urban soils, CSAs, heirloom tomatoes, and farmers markets (30); September, 2005 field day and meeting of the Northwest WAgN region at Maggie Robinson’s farm covering topics of CSAs and farmers’ markets, crop insurance, organic vegetable production, and goat dairying (15); November, 2005 field day at the Robin Van Es Center for Community Supported Agriculture at Wilson College focusing on CSA organization, membership strategies, planting schedules, and adding grass-fed meats and poultry to CSAs (15). We had a total attendance of 170 people at our field days.
5. 50 people will attend the WAgN conference associated with the PASA meeting. Participants at the conference will respond to needs assessment surveys for the purpose of continually assessing and improving the network.
We have planned the WAgN conference associated with the PASA meeting in February, 2006. We have expanded the WAgN conference to two days. Many of our members have requested workshops on small engines and machines. We will have a special one-day hands-on educational experience at PASA focusing on basic machinery operation and safety. The topics covered include machinery safety, hand-on emergency response, overview of tractor models, and hands-on equipment operation. The second day, we have planned a pre-conference track at the conference on Women in Agriculture. We will have three intensive workshops in our pre-conference including Tilling the Soil: Management and Marketing Skills to Grow Your Business, Introduction to Equipment Maintenance and Repair; and Embodiment, Empowerment, and Holistic Living.
6. 500 farmers and agricultural professionals who have participated in network events will respond to an email/mail survey to report changes in knowledge, skills, attitudes, intentions, and behaviors relating to sustainable production practices, business management, entrepreneurship, leadership, and involvement in the network.
We will conduct this survey in year 3 of the project.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
As of December, 2005, we had 412 members of PAWAgN. Interest in participating in the network has far exceeded our expectations. We have received quite a bit of visibility. PAWAgN received the Penn State 2005 Vice President’s Award for Learning and Community. We have been invited to participate in a number of events including planning a women and agriculture day at the Pennsylvania Farm Show, exhibits at Ag Progress Days, Northeast Small Farm Expo, Farm and Schools: Growing Our Future Conference. We have expanded our network from 5 to 6 regions based on the needs of our members.
Approximately 170 people attended our 6 field days in five different regions. We supported 30 women to attend the Women and Sustainable Agriculture Conference in Vermont. Many women were involved in a special conference track on business planning. A week after the conference, one woman wrote: “we already contacted the local Conservation District Rep. and have had the grazing specialist out to the farm. We have begun the plans for a rotational grazing plan and have an appointment with someone to help evaluate the erosion issues. We are changing the grazing pattern in the present pastures and have 3 horses up for sale. We attended our local Chamber of Commerce breakfast on Wednesday and spoke to SBA reps about financial assistance.”
Members have access to our PAWAgN website at http://wagn.cas.psu.edu. Our members received an email or paper copy of 3 newsletters in Spring, Fall, and Winter that can be accessed online at http://wagn.cas.psu.edu/winter05.pdf.
Professor of Entomology
Penn State University
Department of Entomology
516 Ag Science and Industries Building
University Park, PA 16802
Office Phone: 8148632982
Assistant Professor of Rural Sociology
Penn State University
Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Soc
105 Armsby Building
University Park, PA 16802
Office Phone: 8148657321
Program Evaluator, Cooperative Extension
Penn State University
401 Agricultural Administration Building
University Park, PA 16802
Office Phone: 8148637621