WFAN 2018 Annual Conference encourages attendees to step into action

by Ash Bruxvoort, 2018 Conference Coordinator, WFAN Communications and Plate to Politics Coordinator

The WFAN annual conference is an opportunity for women in food and ag to be seen, heard,
and learn from each other.

It is always one of the most special weekends of the year. It’s as much a time to come together, learn and grow as it is a time to ground ourselves in the lifelong, challenging work of being women in food and agriculture. The 2018 conference brought together 200 women (and a few nonbinary folks and men!) working for healthy food and farming. The conference was held at the Holiday Inn DTWN in Des Moines, Iowa, on November 2-3.

Friday: Field Tours & Intensives

On Friday at 9:30, a group of 35 women gathered for our Stepping Into Action intensives, which were funded by a grant to our Plate to Politics program from Rachel’s Network. One intensive met with a certified VoteRunLead trainer, Kristen Foster, and worked on public speaking skills and a 90-day plan for taking action when they got home. Another group gathered with Pam Sparr, the facilitator of WFAN’s founding meeting, to discuss the intersections between local and global ecofeminist issues they were passionately working on.

The Des Moines urban ag projects tour visited local projects like Forest Avenue Outreach. Photo credit Julia McGuire

The Des Moines urban ag projects tour visited local projects like Forest Avenue Outreach. Photo credit Julia McGuire

Once the intensives were off, more than 70 women began filing onto school buses and set off on two different tours. One tour stayed local to Des Moines and visited two garden sites through Forest Avenue Outreach, a neighborhood-based organization with an urban orchard; Dogpatch Urban Gardens, an urban CSA farm with a variety of enterprises, including an on-site farm store; Tiny Acre Farms, a flower operation, which includes Des Moines’s first mobile flower truck; Global Greens incubator farm, which reconnects refugee farmers with land and training for farm and food businesses; and Mulberry Farms & Food, a growing program run by Central Iowa Shelter & Services staff and clients aimed at providing healthy and locally grown food options to use in the Mulberry Street Cafe, the kitchen program at CISS.

Another tour went out to three diverse agricultural businesses north of Des Moines. Lacewing Acres is a certified organic, 3-acre CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) vegetable farm north of Ames. Story City Locker is a family owned meat locker offering “slow meat” that practices ethical animal take-down and sustainable butchery and works with farmers who raise animals through more sustainable practices. The last stop was Three Sisters Farm, whose mission is to promote a respect for the diversity, dignity, and interdependence of human, animal, plant, soil, and global life. The 700-acre farm raises sheep on pasture and home-grown grain and hay, and also grows non-GMO and organic grains.

Friday: Dinner and Art Gallery

On Friday night, 100 women socialized and enjoyed fantastic food at the Des Moines Art Center. The gallery space featured feminist, plant and food-focused artwork by Katie Blanchard, Ash Bruxvoort, Caylin Graham, Alice McGary, Ariane Parkes-Perret, and Adele Phillips. Tangerine Food Company (a woman-owned catering business) brought together a beautiful meal of charcuterie with honey from network member Julia McGuire, a chili bar, and lamb tacos with meat from Luna Valley Farm. After imbibing and enjoying food for the first hour, we heard stories and poems from Danielle Wirth, Danielle Brugnone, Maja Black, and Alice McGary. We ended the night by raffling off prize packages, which were donated by Rosie’s WorkwearTougherCapital City CoffeeSeed Savers Exchange, and Midwestern Bioag.


Keynote speaker Aleya Fraser (far left) conversing with conference attendees.

Keynote speaker Aleya Fraser (far left) conversing with conference attendees.

Saturday morning we gathered bright and early at 8:30 for Aleya Fraser’s keynote address. Shelley Buffalo opened the morning session with a land blessing and Aleya talked about weaving creativity and storytelling into social justice movement. There are several tweets about the keynote on Twitter at #wfan2018.

Aleya also shared the following poem by John Alexander McCrae:

What is Good

What is the real good?
I asked in a musing mood
order said the court
knowledge said the school
truth said the wise man
pleasure said the fool

Love said the maiden
beauty said the page
freedom said the dreamer
home said the sage

fame said the soldier
equity said the seer
spake my heart fully sadly
the answer is not here

Then within my bosom
softly this I heard
Each heart holds the secret
Kindness is the word.

Conference attendees were encouraged to step into action and share their stories through dynamic workshops, like the storytelling workshop facilitated by Kasey Armstrong.

Conference attendees were encouraged to step into action and share their stories through dynamic workshops, like the storytelling workshop facilitated by Kasey Armstrong.

The Top of the Tower emerged buzzing with reflections on the keynote. Several attendees went across the hall to a storytelling workshop, where they put Aleya’s words into action. A small group of women attended a session on running for office with 50-50 in 2020 and another group attended a session on soil health.

At lunch, we came back together for a delicious meal and honored Shanti Sellz at the 2018 Woman in Sustainable Agriculture. Shanti shared how she came to farming and fell in love with local food, and shared a couple of vulnerable stories about some trials she has faced in her work and life over the past few of years. WFAN board members asked us to stand if we had accomplished a variety of acts and milestones in our lives over the past year. One surprise for me was the number of women who stood when asked if this was their first WFAN conference! Next came a truly powerful and moving activity in which women simultaneously shared their stories of how WFAN has impacted their lives and raised $3,000 for the organization’s ongoing work. Brava!

At 1:00, afternoon breakouts began. The Dismantling White Supremacy in our Food System panel was particularly well-attended and featured the voices of Christine Nobiss, Seeding Sovereignty; Dr. JohnElla Holmes, Kansas Black Farmers Association; and Shelley Buffalo. Other topics included creating pollinator habitat and cooperative business management and marketing.

After a snack, the final session for the day began at 3:00. A large group gathered in the Top of the Tower for the WFAN Advocacy: Building Coalitions for Collective Power session, and by the end of the day, they were singing together with the musical styling of Danielle Wirth. Other sessions included growing organics in Iowa, leadership opportunities in USDA, and beginning with pastured livestock.

After the final session, some women had to hit the road to go home, but others joined the WFAN Advocacy committee to share one way the conference impacted them and to discuss what they will do with the knowledge they gained. At 5:00 some attendees gathered in the hotel lounge for a drink and conversation with WFAN’s board members.

Next year we will join the Women in Sustainable Agriculture conference in Minneapolis, dates, and location to be announced. Sign up for our updates to keep up with these plans.

Check out our growing Facebook photo album from the conference, our Instagram account, and the conference page.