On Wednesday, June 10, a Women Caring for the Land workshop met at the Pender, Nebraska, fire hall. As a female intern for the Center for Rural Affairs, I attended the workshop to help other women from the Center run the day’s events.
Women Caring for the Land is a project of the Women Food and AG Network. It is the only program in the nation that focuses specifically on women and helping them achieve their farmland conservation goals. Historically, farming is an industry dominated by men. But today in Iowa, women own or co-own close to 50% of farmland.
Even with this statistic, women farmers are still being overlooked when it comes to new information and opinions about farming practices. The Women Caring for the Land workshops provide peer-to-peer meeting of women sharing knowledge with one another and learning about soil conservation practices.
After only an hour into Wednesday’s workshop, it became clear how necessary women-only meetings can be. Around 10 women of various ages attended, and each one had a different farming background.
A few women were able to open up about the struggles of continuing a farm after losing their husbands. Some were landowners who wanted to learn how to encourage their tenants to use environmentally-friendly farming practices.
One woman grew only herbs, and another simply wanted to learn how to manage her small plot of land while keeping it native. Everyone had different levels of farming experience. The comfortable environment allowed the women to ask questions and express concerns they may have kept silent about otherwise.
The workshop was extremely educational. At times I became so wrapped up in a demonstration that I forgot I was there to help the Center! In the morning, Jean Eells with Women Food and Agriculture Network demonstrated how to test the quality of soil using simple household objects such as mason jars and bits of netting.
After going over the various problems with the structure and biology of soil that we were observing from her demonstrations, Jean talked about how to fix it, mainly focusing on cover crops. In the afternoon, the group visited a farm just east of Pender. A rainfall simulator was waiting for us to further demonstrate the effects poor conservation practices have on soil. The women even got the chance to dig in a field and test fresh samples of soil on site.
We headed back to the fire hall to wrap up the workshop. Afterward, one woman told me she had learned quite a bit over the day, and she planned to take further action on soil conservation. On workshop reviews, this opinion was echoed unanimously across the board.
The women reported their actual knowledge and confidence in what they learned both jumped several number points. They felt as though they now had the resources to apply the information to their own farms.
While men may have a history in farming, women have a history in activating change. I am excited to see what comes next from our local women farmers after the success the Women Caring for the Land workshop had on Wednesday.
Feature image: Summer intern Rachael Meyer holds a measuring cup as part of a field soil test with a group of women landowners at the Center's Women Caring for the Land workshop in Pender, Nebraska. Photo by Elisha Smith
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