WAgN: Sustainable ag network by and for women producers

2007 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


More women are operating farms on their own and have increased their involvement in managing operations jointly with other family members. Women farm operators are more likely then men operators to use sustainable agriculture practices, create innovative entrepreneurial strategies, and interact directly involved with consumers. The project proposes to build and sustain 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 will facilitate the development of a peer-to-peer information sharing and support network and create educational programs and events to increase women’s knowledge about sustainable agriculture practices, business management, and entrepreneurial strategies. In addition, we will build a network of women leaders in sustainable agriculture in different regions of Pennsylvania.

We will build a women’s agricultural network in Pennsylvania and surrounding states through a dynamic interplay of research and education activities. Our activities will involve field days, regional meetings, workshops, leadership training, and needs assessment surveys, focus groups, and evaluations of our activities. In addition, we will we will provide opportunities for exchange of knowledge between women farmers through publishing newsletters, developing a website, and establishing a list-serve. We will also establish a directory of members that includes their areas of expertise (i.e., pastured poultry, soil amendments, direct marketing strategies, advice on purchasing equipment, etc.).

Objectives/Performance Targets

Of the 500 farmers who have participated in network activities, 300 will become members of the network, 250 will report changes in their production systems, and 100 will report changes in their business-planning.

Three of the five regions will have viable regional networks.


The first phase of our project was to conduct focus groups and interview farmers to identify needs, topics of interest, and preferred learning formats for programs. We conducted focus groups with twenty-eight women farmers in the fall of 2006. We have generated a journal article on the importance of gender identity in effective educational programming from these data which is forthcoming in the Journal of Rural Studies.

Based on the information from the focus groups we developed a needs assessment instrument and collected 151 surveys. We are currently analyzing the data for a publication in the Journal of Extension.

Based on the focus groups and the needs assessments, the project team planned the network activities for the year and identify topics for the field days/network events and the conference. Events in 2007 included: Rodale Farm Tour, Farming Alternatives: York County Farm Tour; Building Financial Sustainability: A Plan for Continued Success; Poultry Processing at Friends Farm; IPM for Greenhouse Growers; Soil Quality Workshop; Hoophouse Construction and Adding True Value: Introduction to Cheesemaking.

In 2006 (and again in 2008) 18 women participated from five Cooperative Extension regions participated in a leadership training workshop using the Learning Today, Leading Tomorrow curriculum developed by Cooperative Extension. Topics covered included Personal Leadership Skills, Interpersonal Leadership Skills and Public Policy Leadership Skills. At least eight women have become involved with community or agriculture-related leadership roles.

Women in four regions (Northeast, Northwest, Southwest and Southeast) have worked with the project team to hold farm-field days/networking events in 2007. Approximately 30 participants attended each field day/event.

The annual women’s agricultural network conference at the PASA meeting was not held in 2007.

The end of project survey is currently in development.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

We have 957 members to date, and 319 have participated in network activities in the past 2.5 years. We held 19 field education events, six two-day intensive workshops and participated in numerous conferences and workshops. WAgN leaders also frequently represent the network and give presentations about the organization at regional conferences and events, such as the Christmas Tree Growers annual meeting.

On average, 81% of field day participants in 2007 were “moderately inspired” or “very inspired” to make a change in their operation as a result of the field day activities. On average, 78% of field day participants in 2007 were “moderately inspired” or “very inspired” to become more involved in WAgN. 79% of field day participants said they met someone at the event with whom they will stay in contact. Given that attendance at the events exceed 300, and 80% of field day attendees are inspired to make changes in their operations, our progress toward meeting the performance target of 250 members modifying their operations is well underway.

We have developed two research products (journal articles) from the data collected in the project. One addresses the importance of integrating women farmers’ lived experiences into the development of educational programming and is forthcoming in the Journal of Rural Studies. The second article summarizes data from the needs assessment surveys and is to be submitted to Journal of Extension mid-2008. It is specifically designed to contribute to Cooperative Extension programs targeted to women.

All regions have strong leadership and have developed viable networks. The events in each region are well attended and “potlucks” or informal network gathering and “workdays” are increasingly being organized by network leaders. We will more formally assess the efficacy of the networks in the end of project evaluation.


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