What happens when you take hardworking women farmers off the farm and put them in a room together? Inspiration. Networking. Planning. World domination. (Or close.)

 

The National Farmers Union Women’s Conference offers all this and more –with a dose of sunshine and sandy beaches as the event returns to Catamaran Resort in San Diego Jan. 14-18, 2018. I was lucky to be among an incredible group of Wisconsin women who attended the 2017 NFU Women’s Conference. I walked away feeling empowered, more prepared to step up into leadership, and blessed by the friendship of women farmers from all across the country.

Above: Wisconsin Farmers Union was well-represented at the 2017 National Farmers Union Women’s Conference.

 

Registration is now open for the 2018 event, and Wisconsin Farmers Union is pleased to be offering four $1,000 scholarships for first-time attendees to the conference. You can find the simple three-question application here – apply by December 1st! 

 

Women farmers declining?

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s most recent Census of Agriculture in 2012, there were 288,264 women noted as principal operators, or the lead person, on America’s farms and ranches. That was a 6 percent decrease from the previous census in 2007. Women operators sold $12.9 billion in agricultural products in 2012, including $6 billion in crops and $6.9 billion in livestock sales. They operated 62.7 million acres of farmland, but tended to have smaller farms than their male counterparts, with 82 percent of farms with a female principal operator running under 180 acres. Seventy-six percent had sales of less than $10,000 in 2012.

 

Here in Wisconsin, the picture was similar – principal female farmers dropped from 8,411 in 2007 to 6,621 in 2012. Altogether, the census indicated Wisconsin has 33,184 female farmers (the majority of whom are in secondary roles), down from 37,259 in 2007. Of those, 21,048 have another primary occupation, and the majority were 45 to 64 years old.

 

That begs a few questions in my mind. First, how do we help women branch out of that traditional “secondary” role in our agricultural community? And, as we look toward the future, how do we help inspire the next generation of female farmers and foster their success? 

 

Now, don’t take those numbers as all gloom and doom. In the past decade I’ve spent as an ag journalist and communications director for Wisconsin Farmers Union, I’ve seen some incredible stories of women farmers building up their farms, regional networks and collaborative farmhoods. Take for example the increasingly well-known Soil Sisters, who can be found innovating, leading and stewarding the land in southern Wisconsin. Programming like the Women, Food and Ag Network’s Women Caring for the Land series, which WFU has been proud to partner on for the past two summers, and the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service’s In Her Boots workshops, among other efforts, are also helping to stir things up and connect female farmers and landowners with the resources they need to farm successfully and build upon a more vibrant vision for Wisconsin agriculture.

 

Above: A chat last year between me and WFU member Lisa Kivirist of Inn Serendipity near Monroe, who will share with Women’s Conference attendees some strategies for diversifying a farm’s business plan to include additional income streams.  

 

Prepare to conquer the world

The theme of the 2018 conference is Women in Leadership, and some of some of Wisconsin’s leading ladies will be among the presenters who will tackle topics like business planning, succession planning, running for local office, networking, telling our own stories, innovative marketing and much, much more. 

 

The agenda includes Lisa Kivirist of Serendipity Farm and Bed & Breakfast near Monroe, who will talk about her cottage food ventures and her book, Homemade for Sale. Kivirist will also lead a workshop on The Gig Economy, addressing how women can add revenue streams to their farms. She’ll join WFU member Kriss Marion, of Circle M Market Farm and Bed & Breakfast in Blanchardville, for a roundtable about the Soil Sisters emphasizing how to Build a Female Network. On the final day of the conference, Wisconsin Farmers Union Special Projects Manager Sarah Lloyd will present a workshop titled #Winning Campaigns Big and Small: Playing the long-game for success and sanity, during which she’ll share advice from her experiences running for offices both small and big, from town board to U.S. Congress.

 

There will also be featured speakers from the Farmer Veteran Coalition, USDA Farm Service Agency, VoteRunLead, Annie’s Project, Rural Women’s Project and SAGE.

 

Conference registration is open at https://nfu.org/education/womensconference/ and the registration fee is $125. Room rates are $179 per night, if reserved by Dec. 14. If you are interested in sharing costs by having a roommate, email nfu4@nfudc.org.

 

Be forewarned, you’re going to walk away from this conference feeling inspired and ready to conquer the world.

 

Above: A must-do for attendees – gather some of the gals and find your way to ocean for an early morning stroll.

A quick bucket list

 

If you do find your way to San Diego, let me pass along just a few things to add to your trip itinerary. The conference and networking will keep you hopping, but grab a few of the other gals and make your way across the street to Mission Beach one early morning to walk along the sand and hunt down some seashells before the tide rolls back in. If you’re looking for a good cup of joe with a view, I recommend Woody’s Breakfast & Burgers, where you’ll be able to prop up your elbows on the open-air wooden bar overlooking the ocean and pinch yourself in wonderment over the scene, the lessons of the conference and the incredible lasting friendships you’ve made.

 

Danielle Endvick is the Communications Director for Wisconsin Farmers Union. She is raising a hodgepodge of beef cattle, meat goats, chickens and two rambunctious boys on her family’s Runamuck Ranch near Holcombe, Wisconsin.

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