We recently interviewed our Southwest Iowa Women, Land & Legacy chapter on their upcoming annual conference, “Women Gaining Ground”, and how Women, Land & Legacy is impacting women in Fremont, Mills, Montgomery and Page counties. For more details on the March 10th conference in Glenwood, go to https://www.facebook.com/womenlandlegacywgg/ or call 712-246-8631.
This is your 4th annual Women Gaining Ground Conference. Can you tell us a bit about the history of the conference, why you’ve decided to do it initially and how it’s grown/evolved over the past four years?
Our planning committee was really enjoying the process of hosting small workshops several times a year, usually on weeknights. As we considered ways that we could have greater impact, and more fun, we thought a one-day conference would achieve those objectives. A Saturday is typically better for attendees, and this format allows us to explore a wider variety of topics so there is guaranteed to be something that everyone enjoys. It has also paved the way for Women, Land and Legacy of Southwest Iowa to build new partnerships with presenters, sponsors, vendors, and attendees.What’s new/what are you especially excited about for this year?
This year we added a panel discussion for all attendees that will feature three speakers who specialize in water conservation practices. The session is called “Think Global, Act Local.” Sheila O’Riley, a backyard conservationist, will address the local aspect of water quality and conservation. Lori Altheide, an Assistant State Conservationist with USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, will talk about the regional concerns associated with water. And Dr. Tiffany Messer, an assistant professor and water quality scientist at UNL, will bring us the big picture regarding water quality and conservation from a global perspective. As we made plans for this panel discussion, we were focused on exploring how what we use to treat our own backyards eventually affects the Mississippi River and flows into the Gulf of Mexico, having an impact on the world. I think it’s something we should all be passionate about.
This is a very popular conference, with around 100 participants or more every year. What do you think attracts women to it and why do women return year after year?
Despite being busier than ever, women still look for ways to carve out time to spend with friends or family members, and an event like Women Gaining Ground is a guilt-free way to do that. They spend the day, side-by-side with their best friends, or their mom, or their neighbor, embracing a fellow love for the rural lifestyle. Not only do they learn a lot of great stuff, but we also try to spoil them with great food, door prizes, and shopping, so they can go home feeling refreshed and armed with new ideas to improve their homes, their farms, and their communities.
Who should attend/who is your target audience?
Anyone with an interest in rural lifestyles is welcome to attend, but the conference is designed with the adult woman in mind. Our committee members and sponsors have strong ties to agriculture, so that is our guiding light, but we offer a broad range of topics so everyone will find something that interests them. We feel the Glenwood location is ideal because it is easily accessible for Southwest Iowa, the area that we represent, and also convenient for Southeast Nebraska including the Omaha metro.
This event is co-sponsored by the SW WLL team. What do you think WLL brings to women in SW Iowa that is unique, either through this conference or your other WLL sponsored events?
Women, Land & Legacy is an education and outreach program designed to educate and empower women. Women seem to love the opportunity to learn in fellowship with other women, especially in the traditionally male-dominated world of agriculture. When we are women educating other women, we are able to build a supportive network that helps each other bring positive changes to our communities.
Which workshops seem to be the most well attended or well-loved by your participants?
It’s always fun to guess what our attendees will like the most, but at this point, I’m not sure how they will choose! Deanna Davis, our keynote speaker, will be presenting a break-out session about stress reduction, and I have no doubt that people will want to hear more of what she has to say. Then there are sessions for those who are passionate about working the land. Those include a gardening panel discussion, a local foods session, and information about pollinators. Finally, we have some general interest topics such as the opioid epidemic, buying and selling online, birds of prey, and an interactive display where we can discover signs of destructive behavior in teens. Truly, there is something for everyone!
What would you say are some of the key things women are getting from this conference?
I think women have the opportunity to learn a lot, but I think they really come for the comradery. They enjoy learning together, discussing what they found out that they never knew before, discovering new ways to hold each other up as they struggle to support their family farms and their busy households. They are able to come together and share an experience that leaves a lasting impression.
Have you seen many changes in who is coming/who your audience is over the past four years?
Word of mouth is always the best advertisement, so as attendees have shared their positive experiences with friends and family members, they return in larger groups. We are also starting to draw from the Omaha metro area, which is full of former farm kids, as well as landowners. Nevertheless, many of our attendees have been to all of the Women Gaining Ground conferences and look forward to supporting it each year.
WLL operates on continual feedback from local women in order to meet their needs and interests. Have you seen those needs changing over the years?
Many women are engaged in agriculture while also managing many other roles. As a result, they are looking for ways to be more efficient and to make more out of less. They are also dealing with a lot of stress, and are looking for ways to reduce and manage that. Succession planning is a huge topic and workshops that address it always have large attendance. Women in our area are also very interested in alternative products like honey and hops.
Have you had any big learning curves or eye-opening moments through your WLL efforts?
So many women end up inheriting large parcels of farm ground with little knowledge about how to manage that. I love the role that WLL can play in educating these women and providing a network they can turn to when they have questions or need professional help. I’ve also enjoyed watching young farm women develop friendships that help them cope when markets are low and stress is high or there is more work to be done than is manageable. Personally, I’ve benefited so much from serving on the planning committee. I’ve become friends with women I would have never known otherwise, and each one is so special.
What advice would you offer to a prospective county thinking about joining WLL, who hasn’t yet jumped on the bandwagon?
Women, Land & Legacy is a wonderful opportunity to foster relationships, create new partnerships, and to develop a platform for improving communities through education and networking. I can’t think of much that has more potential than a group of educated women with a shared vision.
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?
I think it will be a long time before topics like succession planning and the legal aspects of owning land lose interest. When you look at the numbers, 55% of all of the land in Iowa is owned by people over the age of 65, and these landowners need to have an ironclad plan in place. Whereas once upon a time, diversification was the key to making a living on the farm, now we are trending towards very specific products that fill a niche market, and often, those ag products are a side income to full-time jobs. I think many women struggle with finding time to commit to their passion for ag, while working a full time job and raising a family. WLL is here to help women make the most of their lives!
What’s on the horizon for your Women, Land & Legacy’s other 2018 events?
We are planning a workshop in June in cooperation with Earl May in Shenandoah to include a tour of the greenhouses. We will also bring in a specialist to discuss weed and pest control, as well as the best fruit trees for the area.
Our committee has a strong interest in working with local schools to bring in a speaker with an expertise in Human Trafficking. We’ve identified it as a relevant and emerging issue in Southwest Iowa.