Enhancing Women Farmers’ Understanding of Cover Crops

2015 Annual Report for ONC15-006

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2015: $28,426.00
Projected End Date: 04/14/2017
Grant Recipient: Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES)
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Lisa Kivirist
Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES)
Jody Padgham
Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES)

Enhancing Women Farmers’ Understanding of Cover Crops


In the “Enhancing Women Farmers’ Understanding of Cover Crops” project, MOSES is highlighting diverse cover crop uses and benefits through four day-long on-farm field days for women.

Women interested in farming are the fastest growing segment in agriculture. In response to this group’s hunger for information and models for success, MOSES, led by Lisa Kivirist, created the award-winning “Rural Women’s Project” in 2008, since then impacting thousands of women in the Midwest. Building on this success, this project  expands into Illinois and Indiana and continues in Minnesota and Wisconsin, with focused learning on the use and benefits of cover crops in a diversity of women-led farming systems.

Through this project 160 participants will learn sustainable practices they can take home to use in their own (or future) operations. A sense of community generated by meeting others in the area with similar interests will empower women to try new sustainable practices in their own farming ventures. These women will represent a wide diversity of farming types and sizes, although the majority will be new (less than 10 year) farmers on smaller (less than 250 acre) farms.

In the “Enhancing Women Farmers’ Understanding of Cover Crops” project, the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) highlights diverse cover crop uses and benefits through four day-long on-farm field days for women. Written articles and recordings available via podcast expand the educational reach of the project.

Objectives/Performance Targets

  • Enhance 160+ women farmers’ understanding of the diversity of uses and benefits of cover crops.
  • Expose women farmers in Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota to successful women-run sustainable farms.
  • Create opportunity for connection between women interested in sustainable farming in each state.
  • Provide ongoing informational resources about the use of cover crops on four women-led farms in Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
  • Continue further educational outreach and women farmer connection by documenting the host farmer story and production practices through podcasts, written articles and on-line resources.


  • The first of four “In Her Boots: Sustainable Agriculture For Women, by Women” workshops was successfully held on Friday, July 31, 2015 at Christensen’s Farm in Browntown, Wisconsin with farmer host, Katy Dickson. An overview recap report of the day is attached. In Her Boots Workshop _ MOSES
  • 43 women attended with the majority over 50 in age and not yet starting their farm operation. This continues the trend over past years that the Boots events attract a new audience with this being the first agricultural event these women ever attended. The majority of attendees are also new to MOSES and now planning to come to the MOSES Organic Farming Conference for the first time.
  •  The day-long workshop ran from 10 am – 3 pm. In addition to cover crops, Dickson covered a range of farm management topics such as managing a CSA, creating a family-friendly operation, and buying affordable equipment and organic certification. MOSES Organic Specialists Harriet Behar and Jennifer Nelson attended which added a lot of information to the day. Harriet and Jennifer hosted informal breakout sessions at lunch on organic certification and growing practices.
  • The Boots workshops are based on the peer learning model for women farmers and the fact that those women farmers learn best from each other. A strong emphasis is on networking and resource sharing amongst attendees.
  • This Boots workshop was co-marketed with the full weekend agenda behind Soil Sisters: A Celebration of Wisconsin Farms and Rural Life (www.soilsisterswi.org). This proved a strong outreach and marketing strategy as the Boots workshop provided a more practical, in-depth workshop for women serious about launching farm operations. Attached is a profile of farmer host Katy Dickson from Edible Madison. Katy Dickson media article The other workshops during Soil Sisters were more general public/”edu-tainment” focused” and approximately 1/3 of the Boots attendees stayed for other events throughout the weekend.

The remaining three workshops are scheduled throughout the summer of 2016. Outreach will start at the upcoming MOSES Conference and online registration will open up in March. We are currently working on collaborating with various regional organizational partners for these events to further outreach and local resource connections. Confirmed partners are listed below.

Fri. July 15: Sandhill Family Farms (Grayslake, IL)

Host farmers: Jen Miller & Peg Sheaffer

Event partners: Band of Farmers, Liberty Prairie Foundation


Wed., Aug. 17: Clay Bottom Farm (Goshen, IN)

Host farmer: Rachel Hersberger


Tues. Aug. 23: Simple Harvest Farm Organics (Nerstrand, MN)

Host farmer: Kathy Zeman

Event partners: Minnesota Farmers’ Market Association, Renewing the Countryside, Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture



Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

The first workshop of this SARE series received very strong, positive response from women farmers attending:

Question off survey: “How useful did you find this field day?”: 4.68 (out of 5)      

When attendees were asked to rate their knowledge “before” and “after” this event, on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 1 being “novice” and 10 being “expert”), the “before” average was 4.79 and increased to 6.82, an increase of over 40%!

“Fabulous! Great for someone like me that’s just beginning and I learned so much!”

“Loved the tour and learning the ins and outs of someone else’s operation – tools they use and how they prioritized them.”

“Amazing to be with a group of such knowledgeable women.”

This workshop emphasized the importance of cover crops. Given the beginning farmer audience, this proved to be a successful venue to introduce attendees to cover crops basics and importance. When asked, “What did you learn today that you plan to use on your farm,” over 70% of attendees specifically mentioned cover crops. When asked “How did the information presented help you better understand cover crops?” answers included:

“I didn’t know there were so many and different characteristics.”

“I really had no background/experience with them before so it was so useful.”

“I love buckwheat. Harriet is very knowledgeable.”

“Learned specifics: Planting buckwheat in rows between crops.”
“Seeing different cover crops in person was so helpful.”