New conservation program hopes to serve growing numbers of Wisconsin women land managers
A new initiative hopes to connect Wisconsin’s growing number of women farmers and landowners with federal conservation programs.
Wisconsin women in conservation is a three-year program funded by the State Office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) of the United States Department of Agriculture.
Led by farmer groups like the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute and the Wisconsin Farmers Union, the initiative hopes to offer regional workshops, field days, and mentorship programs focused on land and water conservation. The program kicked off a series of regional meetings on Zoom this week and organizers hope to offer in-person activities this summer.
Kriss Marion, communications director for the project, said the NRCS started the effort as a way to increase participation in federal conservation programs.
“We want to see more conservation done on earth. We want to bring more people into the pipeline,” Marion said. “But I think the bigger goal is really to create a culture where women feel comfortable interacting with the USDA, the NRCS, their conservation offices and with women taking the lead. ‘bring visible changes on earth. “
According to the USDA 2017 Census of Agriculture, 35 percent of Wisconsin producers are women, a 16 percent increase from the previous survey in 2012.
Marion said the initiative also hopes to involve the growing number of women in the state who own land.
“Partly that’s because their husbands who were farmers are dead, and now they maybe rent the land from local farmers, and they want to be interested in how it’s managed,” Marion said.
She said women have historically been underserved by federal farm programs in part because they were unable to manage their own bank accounts or take out a loan until 1974, when the Equal Opportunities Act credit was adopted.
Marion said part of the new initiative gives women the opportunity to ask questions without worrying about being vulnerable.
“It’s an open space to talk about the fact that they may not have felt so welcomed in the farm conversations or that they are a little confused about how to access technical help from the farmer. NRCS, ”Marion said.
Donna Martinson, one of the participants who recently purchased a farm near Amery in western Wisconsin, said she was amazed to learn about all the funding opportunities the USDA has to offer. But getting started is not easy for someone new to agriculture.
“There are certain documents, filing and record keeping and deadlines, there are just a lot of them. And like in many situations, when you come in as a new person, there is no package that says, “Welcome, here’s all you need to know, ‘” said Martinson. “I haven’t found much guidance. And of course, in any system, any profession, there is specific language and terminology and shortcuts … you have to learn. “
Martinson said she was drawn to farming as a way to invest in a more sustainable lifestyle and local food. She recently converted the 10-acre property she co-owns to pasture and hopes to start grazing cattle.
She said she hopes the Wisconsin Women in Conservation program will help her navigate the complex system and connect with more experienced growers who can help her get started.