November 27, 2014

Workshops help women as more and more become ag land owners

The trends show American farmers are getting older, while at the same time women are living longer than men,  so more women are taking ownership of agricultural land. Iowa State University, the Department of Natural Resources and other organizations are sponsoring workshops to help women learn everything from fending off raccoons to dealing with troublesome neighbors or renters.

Lynn Heuss with the Women Food and Agriculture Network, talk about the new role of women in agriculture at a recent workshop near Chariton. “Sometimes it’s just being invited to the table. Agriculture has typically been a patriarchal male-dominated industry here — that’s changing, that’s really good. But it doesn’t mean we don’t need to sometimes say, ‘excuse me we like to come up to the decision making table,’ not just the bookkeeping or the bringing in the snack,” Huess said.

Only about 9% of Iowa’s primary farm operators are women, and that number is actually inching up. It’s harder to get data on how many women actually own, or co-own farmland, but organizations around the country say they’re seeing a need for more outreach to reach women landowners.

Ann Sorensen is Research Director for American Farmland Trust, which is holding similar meetings in Illinois. She said the women she’s working with often seem to approach their land from a different perspective.

“And I think it’s gonna take awhile for the men to learn to approach women differently, to hear what they’re having to says,” according to Sorensen. “To realize it’s not always about the bottom line in agriculture. It’s not always about greater yield.”

Sorensen said, for many women farmland is also about the environment, the community, passing something on to the next generation. Lyla Nennig owns land with her husband near Osceola, and said she came to a workshop because she wanted to be able to talk with him about how he manages their property.

After hanging out with the other women, Nennig said she thinks men could learn something from them. “If you want it done, I think, give it to a woman and it’s gonna get done, probably faster and probably better. That’s my personal opinion,” Nenig said. “I think men could learn a lot, if we could get them in the kitchen now, it’d be even better.”

The programs for woman are not exclusive to farmland. Oregon, Pennsylvania and Virginia are reaching out with help the growing number of women who now control private forests.