Harvesting Our Potential Retreat Brings Together Aspiring Women Farmers

2019 HOP mentees Nicole, Caitlin, Brigham, and Emily, along with HOP mentor Alice at the HOP retreat on Mustard Seed Farm.

2019 HOP mentees Nicole, Caitlin, Brigham, and Emily, along with HOP mentor Alice at the HOP retreat on Mustard Seed Farm.

In August, four mentees in our Harvesting Our Potential (HOP) program met at Mustard Seed Farm in Ames for our first HOP mentee retreat. The weekend was spent harvesting garlic, eating farm-grown and cooked food and talking about a range of topics from soil health, pollinator habitat, workers’ rights, farming according to a farmer’s values, and more. The discussions were a reflection of the particular backgrounds, interests and passions mentees bring to HOP, which is what makes our program unique. Participants in the retreat included a woman who grew up on a farm in southwest Iowa and has started a non-profit organization that grows and donates sweet corn; college students who are exploring career paths that will align with their passions for healthy food and communities; and a woman who recently bought land with her partner and is gathering tools and experiences to help her farm dreams become reality. Another mentee recently left a corporate job to explore where food comes from and a career path that she knew would make her happy. Her future goals are to work with farmers to improve soil health.

Empowering Brave Decision-Making

The retreat ultimately served as a way for women to work side by side on a farm project while having a chance to build connections with others in similar places in their lives. We know that farming has the potential to be isolating for women especially, which was a large motivation for why WFAN was founded in the late ’90s. We know that women often learn best in informal settings and with other women. Bringing together these aspiring and beginning women farmers is a proven way to assist women in building their visions and enterprises through networking and hands-on, immersive education. One mentee noted“brave decision-making in the experiences shared by fellow mentees when it comes to getting started in your own operation. Having met other women, a couple, also new to agriculture, who’ve said ‘Yes, I can do this, and I’m going to start now’ definitely makes me hopeful, but also aware of self-confidence and courage needed to take that next step.”

Building Skills and Passions Beyond Food Production

This was also an opportunity to do a collective work project and learn more from one of the program mentors. Mustard Seed is a Catholic Worker community farm operated by Alice McGary and her husband along with numerous volunteers and interns during the growing season. Alice has mentored women through HOP for years, including two mentees in 2019. As part of their farm immersion, HOP participants and other community members at the farm develop goals and build skills that benefit both the individuals and the farm. In addition to learning to grow good food, interns on the farm learn about carpentry, preparing and cooking farm-grown food, prairie and cultivated plant identification, and food justice. One of the mentees this season led a roundtable discussion on local, seasonal, and native plants and the benefits and drawbacks of a globalized, industrial food system. In discussing the benefits of the HOP program, that mentee shared “farming is most closely aligned with what I want to be doing the rest of my life. Mustard Seed was the perfect place to discover this.”

Interested in getting involved with Harvesting Our Potential? If you’re an aspiring or beginning woman farmer, please join us at our next learning circle, September 16thin Decorah.  

Interested in participating in the HOP program next year? Get on our mailing listto stay tuned for more information! 

Also, hear more from our 2019 mentors and mentees in this short video