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Women, Farms and Food: Conference connects female farmers across Washington State

Jan 6th, 2012 | Category: Features

On Saturday, Feb. 11, a conference for women in agriculture will be held simultaneously at 16 locations across Washington State. “Women, Farms and Food” aims to provide female farmers with a chance to learn, network and share knowledge about farming.

Margaret A. Viebrock, Director of the Washington State University Extension in Douglas County, is organizing the statewide conference. When asked how the idea for this event came about (other states hold annual conferences as well), she said she designed a project to work with women involved in agriculture as part of her job with WSU. “I feel they are an underserved audience and very few educational opportunities are offered to women,” she said. “For several years we have state-wide conferences in Wenatchee but many women indicated the travel and other responsibilities made it difficult to attend.”

So last year, Viebrock continued, she piloted a series of workshops in four locations in Washington State and women attended when it was closer to home. “This is a new concept this year with using the webinar approach,” she said, adding this method offers the same headline speakers at 16 locations, while also making the conference specific to each region with local facilitators and presenters.

The planning team for the conference, Viebrock said,  includes 18 women who “represent producers, agriculture agencies, lenders and WSU Extension educators. We surveyed women in many locations to find out how far they would drive, what topics would be important to them and how much they would pay to attend.”

Viebrock said “focus groups with women indicate they want participatory learning opportunities with other women and mentors. Their priorities include business and financial management, marketing, legal liabilities, economic risk and health and well-being.”

Women farmers have emerged as an important segment of the agricultural community, Viebrock said. “According to the Washington State agriculture census, female principal farm operators increased 44 percent from 5,632 in 2002 to 8,090 in 2007,” she said. “Women manage 881,612 acres of farmland and sell $184,307,000 annually in farm products.”

Ninety-eight percent of women-owned farms, she added, are small farms with total sales less than $250,000.
While numbers are increasing, “women farmers continue to be underserved in agriculture education and technical assistance,” she said.

Some of the challenges that women may face, she added, include social stereotypes that often portray women as “farm wives” rather than farm operators or decision makers, and not being taken as seriously as men when applying for loans or insurance. Women often need off-farm income which requires working during the day and farming on evening and weekends. In addition, women face unique challenges with the demands from both the farm and family, she said.

The conference opens for the day at 8 a.m. with registration, breakfast and networking. At 8:45 a.m., the main presentation “Farming as a Woman: My Own Private Reality Show!” will be shown at each participating location via a videoconference link. Featured will be Lyn Garling, owner/operator of Over the Moon Farm, a 26-acre grass-based farm in central Pennsylvania. The farm produces organic hay, pork and poultry and grazes dairy heifers during the summer months.

Garling will discuss her decision to enter agriculture in her 50s and the “leap of faith” it took for her to get started. “Lyn Garling is a later in life farmer and she worked for other people before she took the plunge and got her own farm. There is a great message here in that it encourages women to follow their dream,”  Viebrock said. “Lyn talks about this “adventure” and the issues and obstacles and how she dealt with them.”

The other guest speaker will be Rita Emmett, who will present “Blast Away Procrastination and Get It Done Now!” Emmett is touted as a “Recovering Procrastinator” and will discuss  tips and techniques, and the tools needed to “master the art of doing it now.”

“The two main speakers were selected because we wanted people who would have a take home message that women could apply tomorrow,” Viebrock said. “Both speakers will be entertaining and have good “take away” messages. Women producers have told us they want to be able to apply what they have learned and not leave a meeting saying, “Oh, that was nice, now what?””

Part of the workshop after each speaker will be working on an “action plan” and what attendees can do with the information. A panel of local women at each location will talk about their risks and challenges, and how they keep current with markets and production methods, and other information.

Of the participating counties, Skagit/Whatcom attendees will meet at the Mount Vernon Research Center, 16650 State Route 536, in Mount Vernon. Local panel members are Tanya Dostal, a farm loan specialist, and Sarita Schaffer, Director of Viva Farms and GrowFood.org.

In Snohomish County, the conference will be held at the WSU Extension Office Adopt-a-Stream Center, 600 128th Street SE, in Everett. Local panel members are  Kate Halstead, Workshop Coordinator with the Snohomish WSU Extension, and Mary Embleton, director of the Cascade Harvest Coalition.

In San Juan County, participants will meet at the  Skagit Valley College, at 221 Weber Way in Friday Harbor. The local panel member is Candace Jagel, the Ag Education Coordinator with the WSU Extension in San Juan County.

Other participating counties include: Benton/Franklin, Chelan/Douglas, Clark, Ferry, Jefferson, Okonogan, Spokane (central and north), Stevens, Thurston, Walla Walla and Yakima.

Halstead, who will speak at the Snohomish location, said some of the risks and challenges that women may come up against are not being taken seriously and not being prepared for the amount of physical demands. She added other issues could be low competency level with farm equipment and a lack of practical knowledge.

When asked what she believes are the keys to success, Halstead said smart planning, finding and filling a niche, hard work, the ability to self-promote, and location, location, location.

Following the speakers, participants can discuss what’s next for them. “This event will kick off a series of other workshops that will be presented throughout the spring and next fall,” Viebrock said, adding the workshops will be based on input received at the event and will be designed specifically for women, but like the conference, will be open to anyone.

The registration fee is $25 per person, and includes lunch. The student fee is $20.

For more information about the conference, including registration and the day’s agenda, visit womeninag.wsu.edu/

AREA LOCATIONS & PANELISTS

The objectives of the conference are to: promote Washington women engaged in agriculture; make a positive difference in the lives of women involved in the agriculture industry; create a culture of sharing knowledge and skills among women in agriculture; provide women with the tools and skills to deal with current challenges and build long term resilience to risk; and develop the decision making and leadership skills of women in agriculture to effectively impact industry and public policy.

Following are regional locations and local panel members:
Skagit/Whatcom Counties: Mount Vernon Research Center, 16650 State Route 536, Mount Vernon. Local panel members are Tanya Dostal, a farm loan specialist, and Sarita Schaffer, Director of Viva Farms and GrowFood.org,

Snohomish County: WSU Extension Office Adopt-a-Stream Center, 600 128th Street SE , Everett. Local panel members are  Kate Halstead, Workshop Coordinator with the Sonohomish WSU Extension, and Mary Embleton, director of the Cascade Harvest Coalition.

San Juan County: Skagit Valley College, 221 Weber Way, Friday Harbor. Local panel member is Candace Jagel, the Ag Education Coordinator with the WSU Extension in San Juan County.

Other participating counties include: Benton/Franklin, Chelan/Douglas, Clark, Ferry, Jefferson, Okonogan, Spokane (central and north), Stevens, Thurston, Walla Walla and Yakima.

For more information, visit womeninag.wsu.edu/

Editor’s Note: Published alongside this feature are profiles of three local farmers, all with different stories to tell. Read about Blue Heron Farm, Pure Nelida, and Rabbit Fields Farm here:

http://grownorthwest.com/2012/01/profile-anne-schwartz-owner-blue-heron-farm/

http://grownorthwest.com/2012/01/profile-nelida-martinez-lisette-flores-owners-pure-nelida/

http://grownorthwest.com/2012/01/profile-roslyn-mcnicholl-owner-rabbit-fields-farm/

One Comment to “Women, Farms and Food: Conference connects female farmers across Washington State”

  1. Joanna says:

    We had a great time at the conference! It was so inspiring to see all kinds of women with so many different ideas about growing food, but with so much in common.
    My partner & I are looking forward to the next conference, and to getting to know more of the women farmers in our own neighborhood. We also came away with many ideas to bump our farm to the next level.

    -Joanna
    Seven Trees Farm

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