By Mike Beacom
Since 2013, the Women, Food & Agriculture Network (WFAN), the American Farmland Trust, Indiana’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts (IASWCD) and other conservation partners have been working together to reach out to women farmers and forest landowners in Indiana. This effort, called Women4theLand, aims to provide information, networking, education, and resources. The objective is to empower them to make good science-based land use and land management decisions that lead to more viable communities and stronger farm enterprises while improving and sustaining the quality of natural resources.
Indiana’s soil and water conservation districts organize project workshops (called circles) and often provide follow up assistance to participants. Each circle includes a farm visit to showcase practices that are explained by local technical staff, providing participants a chance to see conservation in action and network with local resource professionals.
“The Women4theLand project gives the local soil and water conservation districts a new venue to share valuable conservation information directly with the women landowners and operators. In turn, these women learn about the resources and technical assistance that is locally available to them through the districts,” said Jennifer Boyle Warner, executive director for the Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts.
Indiana’s Women4theLand project is part of a seven-state group receiving funding from a Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) that seeks to develop a pathway for reaching absentee owners.
The steering committee provides the methodology for reaching women, templates for advertising, agendas, and outlines for the half-day training event. “The format of an all-women interactive learning circle creates an interesting dynamic,” said Women4theLand Coordinator Heather Bacher. “The participants share their own experiences and challenges. In the context of these experiences, our trained facilitators guide the discussion, share information on soil health and best practices, and make sure that the women are introduced to available resources.”
The critical points of the project are in creating better gender-specific ways to communicate with these women landowners and helping them understand their rights and responsibilities as landowners – a group who is usually very receptive to stewardship and a holistic approach to caring for their land.
“The underlying focus is to get them to adopt conservation practices,” said Paula Baldwin, a member of the Women4theLand steering committee and Marion County SWCD associate board supervisor. “Because of this, it seems an excellent program to keep tied to our districts.”
To learn more, visit http://women4theland.org.