WAgN: Sustainable ag network by and for women producers

2006 Annual Report for LNE05-226

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2005: $138,292.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Matching Federal Funds: $467,246.00
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Carolyn Sachs
Pennsylvania State University

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.

Objectives/Performance Targets

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. PA-WAgN Improves Farm Profitability and Environmental Sustainability

PA-WAgN field days grow participants’ skills related to the profitability and sustainability of their farm businesses. Events in 2006 were organized in response to members’ requests, and emphasized hands-on, farm-based, interactive learning opportunities, with time set aside for networking and mentoring.

Establish an Apiary
April 10, 2006
Host: Maryann Frazier, Penn State Honey Bee Specialist, Singing Creek Farm (Huntingdon County)
Participants (26) learned how to select an appropriate apiary location, the importance of quality hives and beekeeping equipment, step-by-step installation of honey bee packages and nucleus colonies, and inspection procedures of their new and established colonies.

Fiber Workshop
May 19, 2006
Hosts: Rose Marie Kendall of Wild Rose Farm and Terry Fetterolf of Dundee Farm (Beaver and Allegheny Counties)
Participants (28) learned about fencing and herd health, use of natural dyes for yarn, and discussed direct marketing strategies for commercial yarn sales and community-based on-farm education.

Vermicomposting Workshop
June 15, 2006
Hosts: Claire & Rusty Orner, Quiet Creek Herb Farm and School of Country Living (Jefferson County)
Participants (17) learned basic vermicomposting techniques for use in both small-scale vegetable and farm-scale crop production. Programs were offered for adults and children simultaneously.

Direct Marketing
August 9, 2006
Hosts: Sandy Miller of Painted Hand Farm, Jennifer Halpin of Grass Roots Farm, Melanie Dietrich-Cochran of Keswick Creamery, and John & Mary Fisher of Spring Bank Acres Farm (South-Central PA)
Participants (36) toured the host farms and discussed direct marketing, including meat goats and sales to ethnic and urban markets; CSA production techniques and member retention; grass-fed dairy and cheese making facilities; pastured sheep dairy production; and marketing of artisan cheeses. Participants developed multiple marketing strategies and value-added ideas to apply to their farm businesses.

Farm Women in Transition
October 19, 2006
Hosts: Sandy Crawford of Ho-Crawf Dairy (Bradford County)
Participants (47) toured the 55-cow dairy farm and shared ideas with other women overcoming farming challenges. Participants learned about value-added endeavors such as agritourism, on-farm markets, and custom heifer raising, and methods to evaluate these opportunities for their own farms.

Building Financial Sustainability: A Plan for Success
November 9-10, 2006
Facilitators: Dr. Jeff Hyde, Associate Professor of Agricultural Economics at Penn State University, and Amber Lockawich, Income Opportunities Educator for Penn State Cooperative Extension (Butler County)
Participants (9), following extensive pre-workshop preparations, evaluated their farm business through SWOT analysis, established goals and objectives, assessed strategies to reach their goals, and received tools for increasing income opportunities. Participants discussed key marketing and financial management issues.

2. PA-WAgN Creates Partnerships to Help Women Succeed

PA-WAgN partnered with several Pennsylvania organizations to offer events that improved farmers’ production and business practices, identified entrepreneurial opportunities, connected farmers and consumers, and balanced farm and family life.

Business Planning
February 2, 2006 (State College)
Partner: Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture
Presenter: Amber Lockawich, Income Opportunities Educator, Penn State Cooperative Extension
Participants learned the steps for developing a business plan, including marketing products and financing a farm-based business. Participants learned options for managing risk, potential legal structures for farms, and federal and state regulations by which farmers must abide.

Tractor Maintenance & Repair
February 1-2, 2006 (State College)
Partner: Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture
Instructors: Shane LaBrake, Accokeek Foundation, and Davis Hill, Senior Extension Associate in Agricultural Engineering at Penn State University
Participants learned about equipment design, usage, safety and maintenance through hands-on work on eight pieces of donated farm machinery. They also learned about specific hazards associated with farm equipment operation, and how to respond in case of an emergency.

Embodiment, Empowerment and Holistic Living
February 2, 2006 (State College)
Partner: Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture
Instructors: Theresa Shay, yoga instructor and holistic life coach, and Rose Bohn, spiritual director
Participants learned that physical and financial strength on the farm are not enough; mental and emotional well-being are also needed. Participants identified their visions for all areas of their lives, including farm, business, relationships, and family. Participants shared difficult experiences and strategies for changing their lives.

Avian Influenza Panel Discussion
April 16, 2006 (Harrisburg)
Partners: Penn State Cooperative Extension, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, and Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture
This panel discussion for at-risk poultry producers replaced fears and misconceptions with guidelines and methods to protect flocks and investments. Speakers included: David Filson, Penn State’s Emergency Preparedness and Response Coordinator; Dr. Paul Knepley, Director of the Bureau of Animal Health and Diagnostic Services (PDA); Dr. Christlyn Wood, Veterinary Medical Officer and Poultry Specialist for the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS); Dr. Eva Wallner-Pendleton, Penn State Avian Diagnostic Veterinarian; Dr. Bhushan Jayarao, Penn State Extension Veterinarian; and Association on Pastured Poultry Producers (APPA) members Dave Smith and Brian Moyer. For a recap and to see videotaped presentations, visit http://www.cas.psu.edu/docs/biosecurity/avianfluvideos.html.

Progressive Dinner
July 10, 2006
Partner: Slow Food Central PA
Three Penns Valley farmers hosted 54 visitors for a progressive dinner (each course was held at a different farm) that forged connections between farmers and consumers and enhanced the farmers’ future business opportunities. All food was grown and processed by local farms and businesses, including Spring Bank Acres, Mt. Nittany Vineyard, Long Lane Farm, Millheim Bread Company, Yankee Catering, Over the Moon Farm, and Gaffron’s Sunrise Bakery.

Transitioning to Organic Dairy
July 19, 2006 (Belleville)
Partners: Organic Valley CROPP Cooperative, Pennsylvania Certified Organic, and Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture
Participants (55) learned about opportunities and transition strategies and techniques from organic certification professionals and marketing experts. Hosts Preston & Jen Yoder led participants on a tour of Ore Bank Farm, a recently certified organic dairy, and shared their transition success story.

Somerton Tanks
July 24, 2006 (Philadelphia)
Partner: Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture
Hosts Steve & Nicole Shelly of Somerton Tanks Farm led participants (69) on a tour of the 1/2 acre farm that uses the SPIN farming method. Participants learned about small plot intensive relay farming (SPIN) and the ability to produce $50,000 in total sales from a half acre of land growing common vegetables, from author and project director Roxanne Christensen.

3. PA-WAgN Enhances Leadership of Women Farmers

Learning Today, Leading Tomorrow
March 2-3, 2006, in Woodward
Penn State Cooperative Extension Facilitators:
Patty Anderson, Clarion County
Bill Kleiner, Southeast Regional Extension Director
Mike McDavid, Northeast Regional Extension Director
Joyce Morrison, Delaware County
Jon Laughner, Indiana County
Neal Fogle, Montour County

PA-WAgN Regional Representatives and Steering Committee members enhanced their leadership skills through the Learning Today, Leading Tomorrow program. This program, developed by Penn State Cooperative Extension, allowed participants to develop skills for the benefit of their businesses, their communities, and PA-WAgN. Topics covered included facilitation, running effective meetings, making group decisions, and strategic planning. Cheryl Cook, Deputy Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, talked with the group about one immediate way to use these skills, to fill positions within the agricultural community and statewide boards and commissions. In the end, participants turned the workshop into a strategic planning session, to strengthen the organization and plan work days and field days for the next season.

October Steering Committee meeting and Strategic Planning Session
October 2, 2006, Shavers Creek Environmental Center (Huntingdon County)
Participants in the leadership workshop insisted that more strategic planning was needed; the following Steering Committee meeting continued these efforts. The result of the meeting was a roadmap identifying needed educational opportunities, organizational development actions, networking avenues, and leadership opportunities for PA-WAgN members. Regional Representatives were empowered to host events in their regions to identify potential members and their educational needs, and, based on this information, to plan additional field days.

4. PA-WAgN Researches the Needs and Opinions of Women Farmers

To meet the needs of our members, our research includes:
Focus groups with PA-WAgN members to explore and better understand their educational needs: the kinds of knowledge and information, degree of gender-specificity, content and/or context; and the most effective means of communication for facilitating learning.

On-going needs assessments of women farmers to identify the educational and technical training needs of women farmers. Participants respond to questions regarding current skill levels, need for technical training, preferences for educational events, involvement with organizations, barriers obtaining education, and obstacles women face as farmers.

In-depth interviews with women farmers in Pennsylvania operating a variety of farms including dairy, small grains, fruit and vegetable and other livestock to identify strategies women use to make a living in agriculture, barriers they face as successful farmers, the importance of community to them and their farm and their advice for new and beginning farmers.

Assessments of extension educator needs to evaluate their current interest and experience in providing programs of interest to women. This project is in progress; results will be available in early 2007.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

PA-WAgN experienced unprecedented growth in 2006. As of December, 2006, PA-WAgN had 709. Interest in participating in the network has far exceeded our expectations.
Approximately 280 people attended our 7 field days in 6 different regions. Approximately 70 people participated in PA-WAgN workshops. Approximately 20 regional representatives attended a Leadership Conference hosted by PA-WAgN. Approximately 54 people participated in a progressive dinner highlighting area farmers and farm products.
Members have access to PA-WAgN’s website at http://wagn.cas.psu.edu. PA-WAgN members received an email or paper copy of 3 newsletters in Spring, Summer, and Fall that can be accessed online at http://wagn.cas.psu.edu


Mary Barbercheck

Professor of Entomology
Penn State University
Department of Entomology
516 Ag Science and Industries Building
University Park, PA 16802
Office Phone: 8148632982
Kathy Brasier

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
Nancy Ellen Kiernan

Program Evaluator, Cooperative Extension
Penn State University
401 Agricultural Administration Building
University Park, PA 16802
Office Phone: 8148637621