When I googled “Women for the Land”, the first link is the American Farmland Trust page for their Women for the Land Program. “Empowering women landowners to protect their land and embrace conservation” reads the first line to that page. The second link on my google search connected me to Indiana’s Women4theLand webpage.
According to USDA’s Economic Research Service, the number of women-operated farms more than doubled between 1982 and 2007. Nearly a third of the nation’s land in farms are now farmed or co-farmed by women. An American Farmland Trust report projects that women may own 75% of a projected 240 million acres that will be transferred as aging farmers will retire or leave their land for the next generation.
Much of the research has pointed that there is a need to reach women farmers and landowners to provide consistent resources so they can make sound conservation decisions on their land. To accomplish just that, Women4theLand has been hosting Women’s Learning Circles for several years across the state. These learning circles have brought together women landowners to learn and enhance their conservation knowledge. Reserved for a limited number of participants, attendance is typically capped at 25 or even fewer. A small intimate group provides participants with the confidence to really share personal thoughts and feelings and ask those relevant questions that often are suppressed when present in a larger crowd…or a crowd that includes men.
I have attended portions of a few learning circles and one in its entirety. It is heartwarming to see the connections made. It has seemed that these events have almost been therapeutic for the women, to share the challenges and joys they have had associated with farming or owning land. Women leave events at the end of the day, but don’t leave the networks created.
The events are a chance to learn from multiple conservation agencies and their services they can provide. Technical and financial assistance are available in every county, often times from multiple agencies, and many learn this for the first time while attending a circle. New relationships are formed that provide the confidence needed to make a phone call or schedule a field visit to ask for that assistance.
Sureness has been a product of this outreach. Women landowners have approached the tenants who farm their land, to begin the conservation to implement conservation on their land. Follow-up after events has confirmed that conservation has be implemented as a product of learning circles.
While leaps and bounds of progress has been made with the learning circles that have been hosted across the state, there are still more women farmers and landowners to be reached. If you have an interest in hosting a Women’s Learning Circle, contact Heather Bacher, Women4theLand State Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information can about the program can be found at http://women4theland.iaswcd.org/ .
Jessica Hoehn, CCSI Southern Program Manager