Soil health workshops for women farmland owners spark conversation

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Guest column by Jean Eells

The Women, Food and Agriculture Network (WFAN) promotes outreach to women farmland owners – an audience often overlooked, but significant in terms of their ability to influence conservation practices on their land. In Iowa, for instance, women own or co-own 47% of farmland, and gender ratios of farm owners in other states are generally similar. Even though most of these women landowners aren’t the primary operators on their land, they shouldn’t be overlooked as important decision-makers.

Jean Eells gives a soil health demonstration during a recent workshop held in central Iowa. Photo credit: WallacesFarmer

I work with partners across seven states to promote soil health through an innovative program that reaches women who live in urban areas, but own rural farmland. Each program we hold is small and involves people at the local level where natural resource decisions are made, including conservation districts which are often key partners in supporting women landowners.

Many of the women we work with are widowed, new inheritors, or trying to manage land for elderly parents. We connect them to information, a community of women just like themselves, and the women in local offices or districts who will help guide them to assistance they need. 

In April, a group of women from in and around the Squaw Creek Watershed came together to participate in a WFAN workshop near Stanhope in central Iowa. The workshop offered participants the chance to discuss conservation farm management practices with local conservationists in a relaxed, peer-to-peer, hands-on learning environment.

Jean Eells demonstrates how different soil health practices affect soil structure. Photo credit: AgriNews

“In order to spread awareness and increase the use of conservation practices in the watershed, we have utilized tools like the Women Caring for the Land model to target specific groups of landowners,” Kayla Hasper, a watershed coordinator at Prairie Rivers of Iowa (the workshop’s co-host), told Wallaces Farmer. You can read the full article here.

Most recently in August, more women met in Chicago to talk about the virtues of soil health. At that meeting co-hosted by American Farmland Trust, AgriNews reported attendees learned the “Four Soil Health Principles:” (1) use diverse species to increase soil diversity, (2) disturb soils less, (3) keep plants growing throughout the year to feed the soil, and (4) keep the soil covered as much as possible.

Jean Eells is a contractor for the Women, Food and Agriculture Network and the founder of E Resource Group. She also has served on Iowa’s State Soil Conservation Committee, and continues to serve as the board commissioner for the Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District in Iowa. Jean can be reached by email at

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