Women Caring For the Land
About 50% of Midwestern landowners in Iowa are women. Many of these women are non-operator farm-owners whose spouses have passed away.
The Women, Food and Agriculture Network (WFAN) has been serving these Midwestern women farmers and farmland owners since their founding as a non-profit project in 1997. The network was created to provide information, networking and leadership development opportunities to women working in sustainable agriculture and food systems development.
Over the years WFAN has learned that women farmland owners express very strong conservation values, but often feel unsure of how to translate those values into action. Most of them are not the primary operators of their farmland; they lease the land to a tenant and rely on him to manage it using accepted best management practices for soil and water conservation. But an increasing number of women landowners are inheriting the land from their husbands and fathers, and as sole owners, these women have a strong interest in learning more about their rights as landowners, about best management practices, about communicating effectively with their tenants, and about state and federal cost-share and loan programs available to help them.
Women in general consistently show a preference for informal, peer-to-peer learning models, sometimes called “learning circles.” Learning circles are flexible, peer-directed, facilitated learning experiences, built upon the idea that every member has something to contribute and that every member has something to learn. Research in adult education shows that adult learners of both genders are most likely to take action when information is offered in this setting, and when they feel comfortable asking questions and sharing information with one another, as opposed to traditional classroom presentation-style methods of information delivery. WFAN has found that using the learning circles model is critical to gaining women’s trust so that they may find their voices and take action concerning their land.
WFAN has developed a program called Women Caring for the LandSM (WCL), designed to serve female non-operator landowners who are interested in learning more about conservation and other land management topics. Fifty to sixty-six percent of participants in follow-up surveys report that they have taken at least one conservation action within the following year. (For more evaluation results, visit www.wfan.org.)
WFAN has also partnered with Practical Farmers of Iowa to help facilitate communication between young farmers and these women farm-owners. Although it was not their intention to design matches, some arrangements have been made through these meetings.