Women in agriculture are in harmony with the land

In early November, I gathered with nearly 170 women from several states at the 2016 Women, Food & Agriculture Network’s (WFAN) annual conference. One thing that made it particularly sweet was that for the first time, WFAN took its conference out of the state of Iowa, moving it west to Nebraska City, Neb.

Many of the women farmers I talked to this year were unfamiliar with the conference or organization. This was an opportunity to introduce women farmers to WFAN and plug them into the resources that we’d heard them ask for at Center for Rural Affairs’ women farmer learning circles. Decidedly, this conference was the best place to take a “field trip” as an end of the year gathering with 10 women who had been involved in the learning circles.

I’ve been thinking about what makes this conference different and why I was so excited about it. In the weeks leading up to it, I continued to hear from co-workers and women in the learning circles express their excitement. So, it was a bit catching!

I also had the opportunity to spend some time with Karryn Olson-Ramanujan ahead of the conference. Karryn was helping to facilitate the permaculture intensive, a pre-conference session, and gave the conference opening keynote speech on Saturday morning. As we lunched at a farm-to-table restaurant the day before the conference, we visited about a variety of topics. At one point, Karryn mentioned that when we talk about farming in Nebraska, it means something entirely different than when she talks about farming in upstate New York, where she lives in an ecovillage with her family growing and producing in the village’s own food system.

I thought that was interesting and true. When I speak to a state agency about beginning farmers, the person I am speaking to often pictures row crop farmers on 10 acres or more. I picture a small to medium sized diversified farm with animals, some row crops, and fruit or vegetable production. The reason Center for Rural Affairs exists is to make sure small to medium sized farmers have a voice. That means all farmers, but in Nebraska, we aren’t always thinking of farming as growing the foods we eat.

The absence of men and the topics offered also set the WFAN conference apart from others.

Among all the different types of programming available to women in agriculture in Nebraska, this conference stands out. It is fairly absent of agribusiness and focused more on growing food. It supports women who are feeding their families and communities and highlights how they strive to do it in harmony with the land. It is an empowering feeling to know there are other women whose passions and challenges are the same as yours. It provides inspiration and guides us to take action and be bold! Developed by women, intended for women, and led by women, the sessions also provided a breadth of topics from carbon farming, to beyond start-up and middle years, and diversifying farm income. These topics dig deeper, allowing women to take what they learn at the conference and apply it back home.

If you were unable to attend the conference and wondered what you’ve missed, the speakers graciously provide their presentations online at the Women, Food & Ag Network website. If you’re interested in learning more or getting plugged into the 2017 women farmer learning circles, feel free to contact me at sandrar@cfra.org. We’d love to have you join this growing network of women in eastern Nebraska!