‘Learning circles’ built to benefit area women

by | Jan 11, 2019

WASHINGTON — American Farmland Trust, the organization behind the national movement No Farms, No Food announced the launch of a new round of Women for the Land learning circles in Virginia and Maryland.
WFL women learning circles help support women landowners in accessing resources and building strong networks around succession planning, landowner-farmer relations and whole-farm conservation, according to AFT.
More specifically, the learning circles serve as a forum for landowners to connect with each other and local conservation agencies.
AFT said supporting this underserved group is critical to more widespread adoption of environmentally sound farming practices, maintaining soil productivity and protecting farmland for the future.
Nearly 301 million acres of U.S. land — about a third of the nation’s land in farms — are now farmed or co-farmed by women, and at least 87 million additional acres are in the hands of women landowners.
Research shows many women farmers and landowners have a strong conservation and stewardship ethic.
They are deeply committed to healthy farmland, farm families and farm communities.
However, women face gender barriers affecting their ability to manage their land for long-term sustainability.
And while women increasingly are the primary decision makers on farms and inclined towards conservation, they are underrepresented in use of USDA conservation programs.
A recent AFT report compiling interviews from women who attended WFL learning circles in AFT’s Midwest region — where between 2014 and 2017 AFT, WFAN and USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service facilitated 13 learning circles in Illinois and 31 in Indiana — demonstrated the value of the program and the real-life impact it can have on the land.
Women reported taking action as a result of attending the learning circles, including talking to family members about conservation, speaking with their renter specifically about conservation or implementing conservation measures on their land.
Significantly, 72 percent of the women who attended learning circles were inspired to take action with almost one quarter of these women seeing their efforts result in an immediate change that benefited their land.
In the MidAtlantic, 14 learning circles have been held in Virginia and Maryland since 2014.
One circle combining attendees from Prince George’s and Charles Counties specifically focused on women of color.
Both circles were well attended and well received. Attendees were able to interact with agency, NGO and businesses available to support them with implementing conservation on their land. The majority reported they were “very satisfied” with the meeting.
“Already in the Mid Atlantic region, we have witnessed the tremendous impact the program can have on women landowners and the conservation agencies that work with them,” said Margo Mays, Mid-Atlantic conservation & stewardship program manager.
She continued, “We are thrilled to be a part of AFT’s national initiative that is addressing a vital need for these women.
Though they are an underserved population, women landowners are an important and growing part of the diverse farming landscape in the Mid-Atlantic.
The decisions they make and actions they take on their farms and with their families will have an important impact on the future of agriculture in this region.”
In Virginia, the launch of Women for the Land has received special support since the start of AFT’s work in the Shenandoah Valley and the new round of circles has drawn interest from the State office.
Mid-Atlantic learning circles will be held for landowners in in Virginia for the Shenandoah Valley and in Maryland for Baltimore County, Hartford and Cecil Counties, Queen Anne, Kent, Caroline and Talbot Counties.
For more information and to register visit http://bit.ly/2AHNxbaWomenForTheLandMD or contact womenforthelandmd@farmland.org
Future Mid-Atlantic learning circles are planned for Fall 2019 in south central Pennsylvania.

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