Women in Sustainable Agriculture– Reflection from the National Conference

The VT Women’s Ag Network staff and several Vermont farmers traveled to Iowa last week for the National Women in Sustainable Agriculture Conference, hosted by the Women Food & Agriculture Network (WFAN)WFAN logoThe conference was three days packed with field tours, workshops, locally sourced meals and networking with women farmers and service providers from all over the country.  The conference theme, “Cultivating our Food, Farms & Future,” resonated throughout the conference as participants bounced from production focused lectures to issue based discussions, all focused on building women’s skills as sustainable farmers and leaders.

My personal favorite was a 3-hour intensive hosted by Plate to Politics called Ramp Up Your Leadership in Healthy Food and Farming.  Led by Pakou Hang, a Minnesota community activist, strategic consultant and leader of the Hmong Americans Farmers Association, thepicture of Pakou workshop emphasized two points:

  • we all carry the capacity to lead;  and
  • leadership from women is needed on all levels, from the co-op board to Congress.

With overwhelming and sincere encouragement, Pakou helped participants articulate an issue they cared about, the underlying value that made that issue important, and find a personal story that emphasized the issue’s relevance in all our lives.  In one afternoon, we had all written and performed our fist stump speech!

WFAN is collaborating with the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) to coordinate the Plate to Politics program.  The goal of the program is “to support and strengthen the national leadership role of women transforming our nation’s food system, from the federal agriculture policy agenda to what’s on our family’s supper plate.”  They are developing resources and information tool-kits to help educate voters about food issues, and they offer a webinar series for emerging women leaders focused on getting their voices heard.

The need for more women, and specifically women farmers, in leadership roles cannot be overstated.  The Representation Project, a non-profit dedicated to equality in representation, presents some staggering statistics from the World Economic Forum and other sources, such as:

  • The US ranks 72nd in the world for women’s representation in both state and national legislatures.
  • Men hold 80-95% of all leadership positions in the US, across all sectors (not just government).
  • And four states have yet to send a woman to the US Congress—Vermont, Mississippi, Delaware, and Iowa.

(For more stats on women leadership, follow the links found here– http://www.missrepresentation.org/about-us/resources/leadership/)

I grew up in the land of cornfields and straight roads, and, I’ll go so far as to admit, I miss those flat fields of corn sometimes.  photo 2Twenty years later and a much broader experience of agriculture behind me, I felt lucky to revisit the Midwest and experience that landscape again, especially surrounded by over 400 women dedicated to sustainable agriculture.  Iowa provided a poignant setting for the conference, framing the sustainable farming discussions in the backdrop of industrial ag, and brought urgency to the call for more women speaking up and speaking out for a sustainable food system.  With some new tools in hand, I know many of us will.

For more information about the conference, speakers, and resources visit the Women, Food & Agriculture Network conference webpage.

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