Enhancing Women Farmers’ Understanding of Cover Crops

2016 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.

In 2016 MOSES Rural Women’s Project held three field days on women-owned farms in Wisconsin, Indiana and Minnesota. 139 women attended. The field days highlighted the use of cover crops on diverse farms, as well as numerous other topics. Written articles and podcast recordings supported the field days and expanded the educational reach of the project. A supporting website and social media support on Facebook and Twitter kept the community connected throughout the project year.

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.


Three on-farm field days highlighting cover crops were held in 2016. We asked an attendee of each to summarize their “take-aways” creating a series of insightful web stories posted after each event (listed below).


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

Host farmers:  Jen Miller & Peg Sheaffer. Event partners:  Band of Farmers, Liberty Prairie Foundation, The Land Connection, The Chicagoland CSA coalition.

42 women attended this field day to learn about diversified vegetable CSA production and management, family integration and cover crops. There was also an emphasis on farm safety, with a representative of the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety attending (all 3 workshops in this series). A wrap-up of the event was published at https://mosesorganic.org/events/organic-field-days/july-15.    


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

Host farmer:  Rachel Hersberger

57 women attended this field day with a focus on greenhouse management, salad processing, lean farm hacks and cover crops. A preview article was published in the MOSES Organic Broadcaster (https://mosesorganic.org/6-tips-startup-success/). A recap of the day was posted at https://mosesorganic.org/events/organic-field-days/august-17. Media in several publications followed the event, including:

http://www.flavor574.com/2016/08/19/farmers-across-midwest-delight-clay-bottom-farm/ - comment-16



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

40 women attended this field day focused on diversified livestock & dairy, women farming solo, cottage food value-added and cover crops.

A recap was posted at https://mosesorganic.org/events/organic-field-days/august-23/

An article was also published by Agri News (8/15/2016) Field day for female farmers


Agendas for the field days can be found here. Agendas 2016 RWP SARE field days

Four articles outlining the value of cover crops and diversity of women-led farms were published in the Organic Broadcaster newspaper and available online:

  • March/April 2016:  Lisa Kivirist, Cover crop mixes offer benefits as well as drawbacks (including box “Learn more about cover crops at these In Her Boots workshops…”) (https://mosesorganic.org/cover-crop-mixes)
  • July/Aug 2016:  Lisa Kivirist, ‘Lean Farm’ partner shares six ideas for start-up success


              Linda Halley, Cover crops can be ‘secret weapon’ to help veg farmers improve soil,



16 podcasts based on the farms hosting the 2015 and 2016 field days were created, highlighting the use of cover crops on diversified operations. The entire series, posted in early Feb, 2017 can be found at https://mosesorganic.org/in-her-boots-podcast.

We will continue tweeking the podcasts into final form, and do a press roll out about their availability throughout March and April.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Overall, 182 women attended our on-farm events through this project (139 in this year). The women viewed successful women-led operations, and met others within their geographic region on the same path as themselves.

Each field day of this SARE series received very strong, positive response from women farmers attending. Evaluation results are recapped below, with sample comments.


Sandhill Family Farms (7/15/16): 





 Range (1-5)


Knowledge Before



Range (1-10)


Knowledge After



Range (1-10)







Sample what I learned:

Crop rotations are important as well as networking.


I do not have a farm yet but topics discussed and people met were helpful. Still have a lot to learn.


Great knowledge/advice on how they got started. Very unique relationship among 2 farms.


Clay Bottom Farm (8/17/16): 





Range (1-5)


Knowledge Before



Range (1-10)


Knowledge After



Range (1-10)







Sample what I learned:

I don't have a farm; but it gave me encouraging brainstorming ideas for future food advocacy and/or farming.


More efficient systems, better ways to communicate farm tasks to employees, how to better balance family and farm


Integrating children on the farm; diversity of crops; soil health


Simple Harvest Farm (8/23/16): 





Range (1-5)


Knowledge Before



Range (1-10)


Knowledge After



Range (1-10)







Sample what I learned:

Where to locate resource for regulations.


Livestock infrastructure ideas - building poultry tractors cost effectively while also getting long term use of them.


Can use weeds as cover crops. I'll lighten up on my weed-free point of view and try accepting that my field doesn't have to look "perfect."



In response to the question “How did this field day help you to better understand cover crops?” we have the following sample responses:

How various types affect fertility in certain ways (nitrogen boost from legumes)

Ideas for how to incorporate cover crops, different species of cover crops.

Being able to see it, ask questions.

Cover crops help build up organic matters, protect land from erosion.

Rotation, visual overview of fields before and after.

The ability to minimize soil amendments and keep it local.

No one-size-fits-all; customize to fit local specific needs (crop rotating and seasonality)

I appreciated the perspective of a small operation, I'd only heard from larger.

Some have herbicidal qualities; some deliver a big punch on nutrients.


The Podcasts are a great resource with enduring value over time. They, as well as the Broadcaster stories and field-day recaps, will be available and pop up on searches from the MOSES website into the foreseeable future. The Rural Women’s Project Facebook page has been a lively opportunity for debate, conversation and exchange among the over 600 women who have joined. Each person that attends a RWP event is added to the MOSES mailing list and invited to participate in the Facebook group.