May 3, 2012


Sam Sanders, left, and Reno County County Conservation
District staff explain Sam's alternative watering system
to the women who participated in the pilot workshop
of the Women Caring for the Land Project.

Women Caring for The Land: Education Program Launched for Women Landowners 

     By Mary Fund  

On March 30, a small group of women gathered to exchange stories about their connections to the land, their farms, and their families. They did something their male counterparts would likely never consider. They talked relationships. They talked values. They talked the past and the future. And they talked about their intense connections to the land.

The group of seven women ranging in age from mid-30’s to late 80’s were part of a pilot group helping the Kansas Rural Center and the Cheney Lake Water Quality Project test drive a format for future meetings. Called a learning circle, the informal approach encouraged the women to share stories as they also asked questions, identified challenges and topics for future study, and learned about conservation needs and practices.

The Kansas Rural Center is part of a multi-state program with the Center For Rural Affairs in Nebraska and the Women Food and Agriculture Net-work in Iowa. The program’s purpose is to develop materials and oppor-tunities for women non-operator farmland landowners to learn about USDA conservation programs and conservation practices so they can make better management decisions.

According to research, women landowners own about half of Mid-west farmland acres, and make up about half of farmland owners. The American Farmland Trust estimates that about 70% of America’s farmland will change hands over the next twenty years. Much of that will end up under the control of women, who will have a wide ranging degree of management experience.

Many women non-operating farmland owners, according to Iowa State University research, are insecure about their decision making abilities. This applies to both younger and older women who have not been actively engaged in the operation of the farm. Due to death of a spouse or parent, they find themselves suddenly in charge of landlord-tenant farmer negotiations and decisions about land management.
Typical educational meetings feature classroom lecture style presentations, and often women are not comfortable attending, or asking questions if they do. The learning circle format at the March 30 meeting in Partridge, Ks. was designed to make everyone comfortable as well as to educate. Participants included widows, a young farm woman with small children, a daughter recently moved back to the area to help her elderly father manage his farm and affairs, and retired women whose husbands still do the primary management, but who recognize the need for more information on land management and conservation.

“I was hesitant to come,” noted one woman, “But I am so glad I did!” The women were also quick to list topics for further study: leasing information—pasture, oil and gas, and hunting; no till practices; river conservation; estate planning; elder care in rural communities, and more.

Hands-on activities showed soil erosion under varying crop residue scenarios and soil types, and a quality of life planning session engaged the women in an exercise they could continue at home.

A van rented for the afternoon two-hour tour took participants to the farms of Sig Collins and Sam Sanders where the women could see former CRP land now being pastured, alternative watering systems- one with a solar pump and the other a tire tank installation, as well as no -till fields rotation.

Reno County District Conservationist Robert Wimer and his soil technician Ben Allen and Cheney Lake Watershed field staffer Howard Miller also attended the tour and offered information on conservation practices and cost-share and planning programs.

KRC and Cheney Lake Water Quality Project will hold at least two more learning circle sets of workshops within the Cheney Watershed by the end of the year. From these the women will identify single topic workshops for more in depth workshops or presen-tations at additional meetings.

In addition to providing educational opportunities directly to women, the project hopes to pass on materials and a process for working with the growing demographic of women farmland owners to other organizations and agencies who work with conservation programs.

.The project is currently working in Cheney Lake Watershed this year, but inquiries from other areas of the state are welcome as we explore the need for and interest in the project. For more information contact Lisa French at 620-669-8161, or Mary Fund at 785-873-3431, or

No comments:

Post a Comment