Monthly “Women in Agriculture: Voices, Experience, Skills” Discussion Group Makes a Splash!
It is hard to overstate the essential work and skill sets women provide the local farm economy. Many of the new farmers in our region are women, while other women with previous growing experience are moving into the area and have difficulty connecting with their colleagues. Western NY is also fortunate to have many farms anchored by long-time, highly-skilled and innovative “Farm-Hers”. We have noticed at our Cornell Vegetable Program meetings that women:
- are underrepresented at meetings
- seek out longer-term networking opportunities
- desire research-based best management practices that meet their specific farming needs
- highly engage in discussion and field tour based educational programming
- tend to be underrecognized for their agricultural roles and accomplishments
The Cornell Vegetable Program and CCE Erie County teamed up to create a monthly workshop series tailored to the needs and interests of local women working on horticultural operations. Thanks to funding from Farm Credit East’s AgEnhancement program, we have so far conducted six workshops covering greenhouse production (nursery and transplant vegetables), urban farming, maple production and sugar bush management, organic small fruits & vegetables, apple production, and compaction management.
Vegetable production was a feature of five of the six workshops thus far. Every workshop included a tour and hands-on lessons in crop scouting, pest and disease management, and cultural techniques. Every guest speaker was also female. Guest speakers had expertise in biocontrol, woodlot management, berries, integrated pest management, and tree fruit.
The success of this series was pinned upon our expert host Farm-Hers: Karyn Sullivan (Agle’s Farm Market), Mayda Pozantides (Groundwork Market Garden), Lynn Gabel (Gabel’s Maple Syrup), Gayle Thorpe (Thorpe’s Organic Family Farm), Bree Woodbridge (McCollum Orchards), and Megan Burley (Burley’s Berries). Thank you to each of our hosts!
Not only did each host share her production approaches, she also candidly discussed the business management aspects that made each of the farms standout. Business management topics included establishing management teams, community relations, agri-tourism, CSAs, family farm transitions, niche marketing, business planning, and auxiliary farm income streams. Specifically to increase farm resiliency, the August meeting theme was “Building the Farm Support Network”. Farm service providers joined the WAVES group for an informational, networking picnic.
Our objective was to enhance the knowledge, skill set, confidence, and professional network of women working in horticultural crop production. Already, women participating in this program have found new mentors and peer resources, and report feeling better prepared to manage their crops next year.
As a true testament to the value of this program, regular participants drive in from a four-county area, often travelling more than an hour to attend. New women continue to join each meeting.
The few men who accompanied their female farming partners enjoyed the dynamic of the WAVES discussion group format. The Cornell Vegetable Program is currently seeking out funding to continue (and hopefully expand!) this program next year.