INDIANAPOLIS, April 28, 2023– Nearly 388 million acres of U.S. land—about 40% of the nation’s farmland—is now farmed or co-farmed by women. Even though their role in agriculture has increased in recent years, women still face gender barriers affecting their ability to manage their land for long-term sustainability. This includes an underrepresentation in the use of United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) conservation programs despite women’s increasing role as the primary decision maker on farms and their interest in conservation.
To help remove barriers and increase female farmers’ participation in USDA programs, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Indiana, and Hoosier Heartland Resource Conservation and Development Council (HHRC&D) entered into a five-year agreement to expand the Women4theLand (W4L) program. The new agreement was officially signed in March of 2023, in the midst of Women’s History Month, and includes assistance from several Indiana Conservation Partnership members.
W4L empowers women landowners to make good land conservation choices by providing networking, education and resources to women landowners and farmers. The agreement is part of Indiana NRCS, HHRC&D and the Indiana Conservation Partnership’s ongoing goal to work to together in order to empower rural stakeholders to prioritize the air, water and land.
“Women4theLand is a partnership of agricultural and natural resource conservation agencies and organizations working together to provide information about conservation management practices, new technology, communicating effectively with tenants, financial and technical assistance programs, and more,” said Heather Bacher, W4L coordinator. “The program uses a learning circle model which provides information in a comfortable informal setting where the group learns from professional conservationists as well as from each other. The discussions are facilitated in a way that breaks down gender gaps while building knowledge and confidence.”
W4L participants include beginning or established farmers, experienced landowners with several tenant farmers, and new to management landowners. They represent all types of farming from traditional crops to organic, from livestock to forestland. Regardless of their background, these women all share a commitment to environmental, economic, and social sustainability and learning circles help them translate their values into action. Participating women are considered the “experts” on their own production, farmland, and conservation needs, and are encouraged to speak about their own experiences and goals rather than simply listen to a presentation.
“This type of outreach is relatively new for our agency,” said David Doctorian, acting state conservationist for NRCS in Indiana. “We’re usually trying to reach the masses at our field days or workshops. However, these women’s learning circles are small and intimate. You can actually see women connecting and forming relationships. We are hearing about actions these women are taking and it’s exciting to know NRCS and its partners are providing opportunities of empowerment for women to make a difference in their lives and the lives of their families.”
W4L has been successfully serving women in Indiana for the last several years participating in over 150 events reaching more than 3,700 women. With this new funding agreement in place, W4L is gearing up for the 2023 season and planning learning circles that focus on several topics which can help private landowners improve their land, such as regenerative agriculture, reducing invasive plants, providing pollinator habitat, developing a conservation plan, improving soil health, protecting wetlands and water quality, improving forestlands, and more. If you would like to learn more about W4L or to see if a learning circle is coming to a town near you, please visit their website at: https://women4theland.org/.