Learning Circle Expands Horizons for Women Farmers and Ranchers

Contributed by Ash Bruxvoort, a freelance writer, marketer, and beginning farmer in Mitchellville, Iowa.

More than 40 women gathered at the Prairie Plate Restaurant on Lakehouse Farm in Waverly, Nebraska, on August 5. We were there to network, share stories, and learn about resources available to beginning women farmers and ranchers.

A great mix of women attended the event. They included women who were already farming, women who were interested in buying land, and women who had never farmed before.

“What we need more than anything is more producers,” said Justin Jones, President of Lone Tree Foods. “We have to work together to get local foods to a point where it works for consumers.”

Throughout the evening we heard from several people involved with local resources, including:

  • Gina Essink, Farm Loan Officer with the Farm Service Agency. Gina shared information about the FSA’s micro loan program, which has loans up to $50,000 at 2.5% interest rate. She also mentioned a new program available for financing new cold storage.
  • Justin Jones, President of Lone Tree Foods, talked about using Lone Tree as “the marketing wing of your farm.” He also answered questions about how the food delivery service works and ways to effectively sell products.
  • Beth Hiatt, Soil Conservationist at the Natural Resources Conservation Service discussed financial and technical help available for beginning farmers and ranchers. She spoke about the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program. This includes financial assistance for building high tunnels.
  • Monica Braun, Director of the Women’s Business Center through the Center for Rural Affairs REAP program, shared resources available online and through the center for business planning. She encouraged all beginning farmers to identify their target market by answering the question, “Who will pay you first?”

Before the presentation Jerry Cornett, manager of Lakehouse Farm, gave a quick tour of the farm’s two high tunnels and berry patches, where a portion of the food served in the farm-to-table restaurant is grown. We enjoyed an amazing meal prepared by his wife, chef Renee Cornett, while discussing our farms and interests.

After the meal Renee shared her thoughts on the importance of the fresh, local produce she uses in her cooking and provided some helpful hints for women farmers who are interested in marketing their products to local restaurants.

The workshop was sponsored by the Center for Rural Affairs and the Women Food and Agriculture Network.

Feature image: Participants of the Women’s Learning Circle event visit while awaiting their meal at Prairie Plate Restaurant on Lakehouse Farm near Waverly, Nebraska. Photo by Kat Shiffler. You can see more of guest contributor Ash Bruxvoort’s work at her blog, ashbruxvoort.com.