In February, I attended the largest organic farming conference in the United States. The 23rd Annual Midwest Organic Sustainable Education Services (MOSES) convention was hosted in scenic LaCrosse, Wisconsin.
As a newcomer to the MOSES conference, I was overwhelmed with the opportunities. There where hundreds of exhibition booths, with representatives from local Co-ops to seed companies, farm equipment to organic fertilizer companies eager to share their knowledge and information. Also offered were keynote speakers, feature films, a silent auction, book sales, and numerousworkshops.
What impressed me the most at this conference were the amazing, inspiring women I met. One workshop I attended that really made an impression on me was, “In Her Boots: Farm Diversification and Family Integration.” This workshop focused on the unique challenges and opportunities women farmers face, resulting in innovative ways to champion organic agriculture through creative, diversified livelihoods.
This workshop featured four separate businesses and their owners, sharing their experiences, resources and input to women interested in agriculture.
Green Heron Tools
The first two women to speak were Liz Brensinger and Ann Adams, of Green Heron Tools. These women recognized that men and women need differently designed tools and they came up with the solution. After a lot of hard work and research they came up with designs that made tools ergonomically friendly for women.
Brensinger’s and Adams’ advice to launch a business that supports sustainable agriculture covered networking, researching for grants, risk-taking and believing in yourself, and making all the connections between food, health and agriculture. They also recommended continuing to do what you love by taking care of yourself.
Hilltop Community Farm
They were followed by Erin Schneider of Hilltop Community Farm. Erin focused on how to find funding and resource opportunities. As the number of women-owned businesses and farms continues to grow, opportunity abounds for women of all backgrounds and ages. She suggests starting with what you know in your own backyard, finding people with a real heart to help, people who share your interest and passion. And do your research on grants—they are out there—do your homework and work toward your dream.
Holms Girls Dairy
The next two women to speak were a mother-daughter team. Mariann and Sarah Holm of Holms Girls Dairy shared their ideas for running a family farm-based business. Their story of blending farm and family was educational and entertaining. They spoke from experience. Start when your children are young and teach them to work. This will give them value and self-esteem. Diversify and don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Expect conflicts and problems. Have weekly family meetings, allowing everyone to bring their ideas and problems to the table. Involve everyone in creating solutions. These are a few strategies that you can incorporate into the family business to help you succeed.
The last speaker was Lisa Kivirist, co-owner of Inn Serendipity Farm and B&B. Lisa spoke on tips for diversifying farm income resources. Lisa shared her experience with keeping things lean and green as a way to live sustainably. She is a firm believer in strength in diversity and collaborating with other local businesses to be successful.
All of these women were very inspiring and added a very motivational workshop to the MOSES convention.
The number of women farmers increased nationally by nearly 30% according to the latest USDA agriculture census, making this group one of the fastest growing segments of new farmers, with the majority launching organic and sustainable operations for raising fresh, healthy food for local communities. More than 40% of these women are under the age of 55, a movement that can start to reverse the aging trend of the American farmer. According to the Center for Women’s Business Research, for the past two decades and continuing during the current recession, businesses owned by women continue to grow at two times the rate of all companies.
Save the date for next year’s MOSES organic farming conference which will be held February 21st–23rd, 2013 in LaCrosse. For more information visit www.mosesorganic.org/conference.html.