Women, Land & Legacy has been a growing program since 2004, made possible only by the commitment and great outreach efforts from our local teams across Iowa. Tama Co.’s WLL team has been one of the longest-running groups now celebrating 10 years of local programming for women in Tama and surrounding counties. Their 30th event, on beekeeping, will be held this Thursday, April 6th. WLL Coordinator Wren Almitra recently interviewed Melody Bro, a member of the Tama team and previous WLL Coordinator.
WLL works through local teams. Can you introduce your Tama Co. team and mention any highlights about how it has shifted over the years?
Our newer non-agency members include Melissa Frundle, Karla Novotny and Kellie Carolan. Glenda Devick, Rebecca Dostal and Margaret and Julia Babinat have been with us since the beginning! Anna Boecker and Gail Upah represent USDA-FSA, Larry Jones represents USDA-NRCS, and the Tama Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD) Commissioners and I represent the District. ISU Extension and Outreach has played a vital role on our Local Team throughout our project life also. Its Youth Coordinator, Jenny Hulme, has joined us recently in the absence of a current director, so we hope Extension will have two representatives on our Local Team once someone is hired to fill that vacancy! I have to note that SWCD Commissioner Jan Wobeter has been instrumental with hands-on help for every event, and Anna and I bat ideas around all the time.
Have you had struggled at all with team membership and leadership?
We’ve been lucky that I’ve been allowed time to facilitate our local project as part of my job duties, and Anna graciously facilitated for a year when I wasn’t employed in the USDA Service Center. We’ve also experienced very little turnover in agency personnel, which is something several local projects have struggled with. Only four of our non-agency members have left us over the years—Camilla Dostal, Pat Oettchen, Frances Bacon and Georgette Edel. I think this Local Team consistency has been key to our local project’s continuity.
What, in your experience, makes a strong, long lasting team?
We gather each January to review the prior year’s events and the list of Learning Session topic requests. Then we work together to prioritize topics and divvy up responsibilities for each session. Please note that I’m not “in charge,” but rather simply a point of contact so we remain organized. I think it’s also really helped that our agency members have farm backgrounds.
Your team is celebrating its 10th year, making you one of the longest running WLL chapters still active today. What has kept you going?
Plain and simple–the incredible people on our local team are what makes it all click.
You’re also celebrating your 30th Learning Session event on April 6th. What have been some of your favorites/highlights from your sessions?
Wow, that’s a tough question. I’ve learned new things at each one. I don’t think I can pick one favorite, but I really love our outdoor summer events. Also, Farmhand 101 in 2007 was reportedly a new concept in Learning Sessions with attendees rotating through concurrent sessions.
Tama Co. team member at cattle health event.
Which seem to be the most well attended or well-loved events by your participants?
We’ve averaged 19 people per event. Aside from our initial Listening Session (2007), we’ve had the highest attendance at our two pasture walks, both farm lease sessions, our tour of the Meskwaki Nation’s Red Earth Gardens and Marji Guyler-Alaniz’s FarmHer.
What would you say are some of the key things women are getting from your events?
First of all, everyone’s take-away is different, depending upon their individual circumstances and needs going into a session. It’s interesting visiting with attendees and seeing how people come away with different highlights from attending the same session. But no matter the event’s topic, I think networking and the large group, small group and individual conversations have tremendous impact on attendees.
How do you get feedback?
Besides visiting with people who attend, our Local Team uses the Learning Session Evaluation found in Section 7 of the WLL Development Guide. It’s been a great tool to guide the content of our local project.
Related, what do you feel WLL has to offer women in Tama Co. that may be unique from other programs and resources available to them?
I feel event time for conversation is what sets Women, Land & Legacy apart from other organizations. Also, it’s not just scientific data–attendees request female presenters, so we do our best to provide them for our sessions.
How many women do you estimate you’ve reached through 10 years and 30 events?
Of the 247 individuals we’ve served, 174 have been women from in and around Tama County or absentee inheritors of local land.
Have you seen many changes in who is coming/who your audience is over the past 10 years?
No, our demographics have been pretty consistent—mostly women with all ages represented, but more empty-nesters than young women.
WLL operates on continual feedback from local women, meeting their needs and interests. Have you seen those needs changing over the years in Tama Co.?
We’ve definitely seen a shift toward more women with hands-on farm operation and management. And there’s always been great interest in farm business topics, but interests in arenas such as agvocacy and using online resources have really become hot topics.
Have you had any big learning curves or eye-opening moments through your WLL efforts?
There have been several, but I’d say the most incredible aha-moment came via one of our attendees. During introductions at last year’s Red Earth Gardens event, a woman shared how what she’d learned at our 2008 estate planning session had later helped her work through her own parents’ deaths and estates. That’s when it really, truly hit me that our local project isn’t just providing information and a chance to network. It’s positively affecting people’s lives! What an incredible testimony assuring us that our local project has purpose!
What advice would you offer to a prospective county thinking about joining WLL, who hasn’t yet jumped on the bandwagon?
Whether you realize it or not, you need this…in your local area!
What’s on the horizon for 2017 Tama learning sessions?
Besides our April 6 beekeeping event, we’ll be touring a farm-to-market operation in June, exploring conservation practices in farm leases in late August, and holding a “Farmer’s Share” meal in November.
Any thoughts about what the future of women in agriculture and/or the future of agriculture with women looks like based on your experience with WLL and other women in ag. work you are involved with?
Without a doubt, the role and public presence of women in agriculture have changed through the years. I remember being the only woman in many of my ag classes at Iowa State 40 years ago, and now ISU’s College of Vet Med has a student body of 75% women. Wow! I feel that today’s young women really have the advantage of having dynamic women in agriculture in their lives. They can achieve everything they set their minds to with these incredible women as their role models.
Anything else you’d like to share?
To fledgling [WLL] groups, I’d like to say don’t be disappointed by events with low attendance. Tama County’s local project went through a bad lull in interest about two years after our Listening Session. As facilitator, I was really discouraged and ready to throw in the towel. I shared these thoughts with our SWCD commissioners, who had been tremendous supporters of our project. They encouraged our Local Team to move forward with confidence, and I’m so glad they did! Poor attendance can be the result of a lot of things, but mostly I feel it’s due to calendar conflicts. So keep your chins up and keep at it! As your local project becomes more established, it will become better-known and a part of many people’s lives.
What an influence we can have on our landscapes and communities! You can connect with The Tama Co. WLL team on Facebook.
Participants at a Tama Co. vineyard tour.