Women now own or co-own half the farmland in Iowa, and the number of sole female owners is rising as they inherit land from their spouses and parents. Women express strong soil and water conservation values in meetings and surveys, but often are unsure of how to translate those values into action. Most are "non-operator" landowners, leasing the land to tenant farmers. However, they are still in control of land management decisions, including taking steps to protect soil and water resources.
Women, Food and Agriculture Network or WFAN has created a new curriculum manual designed to help conservation agencies, non-profits, and community groups bring women landowners together in "learning circles" meetings, to discuss their goals and challenge related to soil and water conservation on their farmland.
The manual, "Improving Conservation Outreach to Female Non-Operator Landowners," was created by a team of conservation professionals, women landowners, and WFAN staff, and is available as a free PDF download at this link. The manual contains an overview of the background and methodology of the learning circles meeting format, instructions on how to plan and facilitate a meeting, and nine field-tested activities designed to serve as conversation starters and teaching tools for facilitators.
Women landowners are some of the most dedicated conservation partners around
"Women landowners are some of the most dedicated conservation partners in the Midwest," says Leigh Adcock, WFAN executive director. "But most conservation outreach efforts target the operator, who in many cases is a tenant farmer." Once women landowners know that they have the right and responsibility to make stewardship decisions for their farmland, they are eager to make improvements.
Since 2009, WFAN has held Women Caring for the Land meetings throughout Iowa and neighboring states. Women who attend meetings share information and encouragement with one another, and half or more take at least one, subsequent conservation action to protect the soil and water on their farmland, according to WFAN follow-up surveys. These actions can include installing or repairing grassed waterways and terraces, completing a whole-farm conservation plan with the help of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), or creating a conservation-focused lease with their tenants, among others.
Help is available for creating farm conservation plans, and conservation-focused farm leases
WFAN works with conservation partners such as the NRCS, Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and local soil and water conservation districts to host the meetings. Agency staffers have been among the most enthusiastic supporters of the learning circles methodology, and of the need for better outreach to women landowners. Karen Grimes, an 11-year conservation education veteran at the Iowa DNR, wrote: "Most of us have to be engaged at an emotional level to make a change. The [learning circle] format is a great way of doing that."
To learn more about the Women Caring for the Land program, please visit the WFAN website or call Leigh Adcock, WFAN executive director, at 515.460.2477. Hard copies of the manual may be ordered at cost plus shipping and handling by sending an email to WFAN. The manual was prepared with support of the Resource Enhancement and Protection Conservation Education Program (REAP-CEP), grant number 11-06. Additional funding was provided by a grant from USDA North Central Region Sustainable Ag Research and Education (NCR-SARE, project no. LNC10-317).