Women Caring for the Land Expands Eastward

NY4WomenWFAN's Women Caring for the Land conservation outreach method for women farmland owners began with a pilot project in Iowa in 2009. Since then it has expanded to hold meetings in 12 states -- most recently, western New York state. In partnership with American Farmland Trust and Cornell (University) Cooperative Extension, women landowners gathered June 30 in Warsaw, NY, to share goals and challenges and learn about resources, in a peer-to-peer, women only gathering facilitated by female conservation professionals.

Jean Eells, a long-time partner of WFAN and developer of the WCL curriculum, was a facilitator at the meeting, attended by 9 women landowners and several conservationists. As always, the meeting began with a peer discussion, and included an afternoon field tour to view conservation practices on agricultural land in the area (see photo, courtesy of Joan Petzen, Cornell Cooperative Extension).

"Although the landforms dictate a different style of agriculture, it was neat meeting women who have similar goals for their land and families as we find in other states," said Jean. "I would love to have these women landowners meet some of the women we've talked to in dairy country in Wisconsin, for instance. They care about healthy soil and water just as deeply."

The New York project team received funding for their pilot from the Great Lakes Protection Fund and is supported locally by staff from various state conservation agencies.

At the first learning circle, the project team learned that:

  • Conservation is a priority for women landowners. Women want to understand the practices farm operators are implementing on their land.
  • The relationship between landowner and farm operator requires a great deal of trust.
  • For farm operators, gender is less important to the relationship than the level of understanding of farming practices of the landlord. Operators are more concerned about the stability of the relationship with their landlord when ownership moves to a new generation.
  • It takes a few years to see the results of implementation of conservation practices. Therefore, longer term leases, five years or more, provide more incentive for operators to implement practices to improve soil health.
  • In general, women landowners have a lot to learn about conservation practices, how they work, resources available for implementation, and ways they might incorporate their conservation goals into their business agreements with farm operators.

These findings are being used to develop a model focused on women non-operating farmland owners and their tenants in the Great Lakes Basin to increase conservation practices on their land. The end goal is to improve the long-term health and productivity of leased farmland. The Pilot Program will: 1) Create awareness of the importance and impact of the current situation (socially and personally for both women landowners and tenants); 2) Create a “toolkit” of informational materials, a list of “what’s-in-it-for-me” objections with matching arguments for action and incentive opportunities from which solutions appropriate to specific situations can be applied; and 3) Stimulate mutually beneficial change actions.

Note: Thanks to Joan Petzen of Cornell Cooperative Extension for providing much of this information. Read more about the project in this newspaper article from the Wyoming County (NY) Free Press.