Learning Circle Focuses on Power of Networks

In early May, approximately 25 beginning and aspiring women farmers gathered in Solon, Iowa, for a day of networking, resource sharing, and farm tours. Participants of a variety of ages and backgrounds represented a range of experiences and visions, from conventional Midwest farmers dreaming of diversifying their crops to include fruits and veggies, to urban food educators working to share gardening knowledge with youth and create more access to healthy food options.

The Learning Circle provided resources and connections attendees will be able to use as they move forward with their farm dreams. The energy, excitement, and conversations throughout the day provided affirmation that connecting women through events like this are needed.

“I was impressed, but not surprised, by the amazing work these women are already doing and was inspired by their visions of being strong growers and leaders in our food system,” said Wren Almitra, WFAN’s Women, Land and Legacy Coordinator who facilitated the learning circle. “As the farmers reminded us several times during the tour, farming takes a community. Harvesting Our Potential and all of WFAN's programs are providing a community of support for women in the field.”

Mentorship & Networking

The afternoon included discussion and farm tours led by Carmen Black, Sundog Farm and Local Harvest CSA; Kate Edwards, Wild Woods Farm; and Bonnie Riggan, Calico Farm. All of them shared one specific recommendation: Build your network of farmers and have a mentor.

Both Carmen and Kate were mentored by Susan Jutz of the former ZJ Farm. Carmen purchased Susan’s farm last year. She said that living with Susan during the farm transition was helpful and working with Susan through mentorship, coworking, and farm transition helped her become confident she could run Sundog Farm.

Kate said she started a farm without farm work experience, which she described as “stupid.” “I knew I needed a mentor,” she said, and added that she was intimidated by Susan because she was a seasoned and well-known farmer. When they first met Susan told Kate, “We need more young women farmers,” and she agreed to help Kate. Having that resource and mentor to turn to was necessary to the success of Wild Woods Farm.

Resources & Education

“If anyone offers you something for free take it. You might need it later,” Bonnie told attendees at Calico Farm. Kate and Carmen echoed the sentiment on their farm tours and encouraged aspiring and beginning farmers to take advantage of the resources at organizations like WFAN, Practical Farmers of Iowa, Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Sustainable Iowa Land Trust, and more. Attendees had the opportunity to hear from each organization during the morning session.

Free Resources from WFAN:

  1. WFAN email newsletters include stories and advice from women in food and ag. Subscribe here!
  2. Check out our video library for recordings on a variety of topics, including conservation practices and women's leadership development. Browse videos here.
  3. Read our publications on topics ranging from soil health to fence laws. Download publications here.

Stay tuned for details on the next HOP Learning Circle coming to western Iowa in September! For more info on next HOP Learning Circle, sign up for our email list here.