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Wisconsin Women in Conservation Aims to Reach the Underserved, Yet Powerfully Emergent, Demographic of Female Farmers and Landowners

Published: Feb 2023
By: Kriss Marion, Media and Communications with Wisconsin Women in Conservation

Women farmers and landowners are a growing, and increasingly powerful, demographic. The 2017 Census recorded 38,509 female producers in Wisconsin, showing that women then made up 35% of all primary farm operators. Many women producers are new and/or niche farmers. But women have been and still are underserved by the United States Department of Agriculture, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Farm Service Agency and other federal and state agricultural education and support agencies. Women conservationists are also underrepresented in traditional media and historic content. 

A new and innovative organization aims to change all that.

Wisconsin Women in Conservation is a state-wide collaborative effort led by the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute in partnership with Marbleseed, Renewing the Countryside and Wisconsin Farmers Union.  A five-year multi-faceted project funded by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), WiWiC brings together Wisconsin women landowners to connect and learn about conservation practices, resources, and funding opportunities.

As the group begins a third year of programming, WiWiC has already engaged 2,200 participants. The core strategy is building local networks of women farmers, landowners and conservation professionals to facilitate relationships and accelerate conservation implementation. Six regional networks, facilitated by the partner organizations, serve tri-county clusters in the Northwest, North Central, West Central, Southwest, Southeast and Northeast regions of the state. A WiWiC Milwaukee Women’s Urban Ag Network debuted in 2022 with 4 events. Regional coordinators support the networks by organizing events, recruiting speakers, writing regional newsletters, and personally connecting landowners with local professionals to write individualized Conservation Plans, which are paid for by WiWiC.

In 2022 alone, 38 total events engaged 1,295 participants in a variety of conservation discussions, soil health demonstrations and networking opportunities. An experienced woman Conservation Coach from each targeted county also provides mentorship to participants.

In addition to offering expert professional content, all WiWiC events (both in-person and virtual) include peer-to-peer networking based on a Learning Circle model. Women are invited to introduce themselves and talk about their land history, their victories, their struggles and their hopes related to conservation stewardship. This format allows women to express both their needs and their experiences - creating valuable connections and resource-sharing, as well as space to problem solve and re-imagine technical support as community-generated.

“WiWiC’s Learning Circle practice is innovative because it delivers educational content but turns the typical classroom - or even the typical field day - model on its head by prioritizing peer exchanges over front-of-the-class teaching presentations,” says Kriss Marion, WiWiC Communications Lead. “We have technical experts at every event, and we advertise what the experts will be offering, like soil health demos or prairie burn tutorials. But the real stars of every WiWiC show are the landowners and farmers themselves. Most of our time is spent sharing stories and experiences.”

Through the advocacy of Wisconsin Women in Conservation leadership, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers declared July 18-24 “Wisconsin Women in Conservation Week.“  WiWiC hosted four “Happy Hour” networking events across the state for educators that week and will do the same in 2023. WiWiC also hosts Spring and Fall Educator Network Zoom Meet-Ups. A state-wide WiWiC Educator Conference is planned for April 18, 2023, in Stevens Point.

Ongoing research and evaluation enable the WiWiC team to design content on an ever-evolving basis, based on participant surveys.  Other evaluation goals include documenting knowledge gains made by participants and interest in/barriers to working with professionals on Conservation Plans. A Conservation Plan is a tool for participants to walk their land with a professional, understand the potential for conservation practices, and explore implementation options. The main research interest of the Evaluation Team is to learn how bonding and networking among the participants impacts conservation implementation.

​WiWiC aspires to connect women, empower women, educate women, and inspire women– for the sake of the land but also because of the great satisfaction and healing women experience through stewardship. Find out more and sign up for “The Buzz” monthly newsletter at www.WiWiC.org. Follow along on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and TikTok at @wiwomenconservation. Subscribe to The Queen Bee Sessions podcast on Spotify.