Harvesting Our Potential Brings Together Aspiring and Seasoned Farmers for Retreat, Training

by Wren Almitra, Harvesting Our Potential Coordinator

In late March, six women farmers met up in central Iowa for the Harvesting Our Potential (HOP) program spring training. Through HOP aspiring farmers work directly with farm mentors to gain hands-on experience. Women develop a deeper and more realistic understanding of farm life and make connections with other aspiring women farmers, mentors, communities, and networks supporting farmers. Participants also learn about federal, state and local resources available for beginning farmers and create a deeper connection to and appreciation of the land.

The spring training provides tools for effective mentoring, including an introduction to learning styles, setting agreements with mentees, legal considerations for hosting a mentee and more. In addition to providing a space for growing as mentors and aspiring farmers, it also serves as informal networking time, a rare chance for farmers from across the state to gather in a women only environment. It was also a chance for two aspiring women farmers to meet and learn from multiple mentors. One mentee shared that it was meaningful to “hear about specific challenges related to starting and managing farms that aren’t often covered by trainers who don’t live that lifestyle, this was helpful for tackling those challenges.”

In what felt like a much needed retreat for the farm mentors before the season fully gears up, Friday evening included lots of laughter as mentors shared their farm stories and photos. While the women involved in HOP all live and work in Iowa, this was the first time some of mentors had met and learned about one another’s operations. The story sharing continued late into the night and included conversations about climate change; the devastating flooding occurring in the midwest; the struggles of being small-scale, diversified farmers in a mono-cultured, industrial agriculture system; activism and hope through farming; and the Heartland Forum taking place the next day.

Through their stories the complexities of being a woman farmer today were apparent. Yet in the face of many obstacles, the mentors passion for farming and mentoring was obvious.  “One of the best parts of the training”, one mentee shared, “was connecting, listening and observing the way the [mentors] interact and share insight, advice, struggles and successes. The community here was noticeable!” This is the kind of feedback affirming that there is an ongoing need for HOP and other programs for aspiring and beginning farmers.

Stay tuned to the HOP webpage for profiles on our aspiring farmers as we visit their host farms this season. For more information about the program visit our program page or contact Wren Almitra, wren@wfan.org.

IMG_4321.jpg