New Wisconsin conservation group aims to connect women landowners, foster sustainability

Wimmen Organic Flower
Organic flower farmer Jennifer Nelson of Humble Pie Farm in Plum City, Wis, is one of five regional coordinators who will facilitate workshops, field days and farm tours with Wisconsin Women in Conservation. (MOSES photo by Mike Leck)

BLANCHARDVILLE, Wis. (WKBT) — Several organizations that promote sustainable agriculture and conservation education are launching a new program to connect women landowners throughout Wisconsin with each other and with state and local agencies and experts.

Women Grazing Farmer

Grazing farmer Cherrie Nolden leads workshop participants on a tour of her farm near Dodgeville, where she raises sheep, goats and Fjord horses. (Wisconsin Women in Conservation photo)

The Blanchardville-based Wisconsin Women in Conservation aims to create a network of women committed to or exploring conservation practices, ranging from building soil health to increasing habitat diversity.
The organizations have the support of the Natural Resources Conservation Service to design the three-year initiative. Michael Fields Agricultural Institute is leading the effort, in cooperation with the Wisconsin Farmers Union, Renewing the Countryside, E Resources Group and the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service.
The program intends to engage women landowners in workshops, field days, farm tours, mentorships, a newsletter and learning opportunities. The workshops will begin in March and April on Zoom, with registration open at the group’s website.
The initiative comes as women landowners increase as a demographic. The 2017 Census recorded 38,509 female producers in Wisconsin, showing that women make up 35 percent of all producers in the state.
That represents a 16 percent increase from the 2012 census, said project director Esther Shekinah of the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute.
“Though many of these women would like to support sustainable agricultural practices that would help them leave their land for future generations in a state of oneness with nature and better soil health, their lack of exposure to or knowledge about such agricultural practices impedes their acting on these impulses,” Shekinah said.
“This new Wisconsin Women in Conservation initiative aims to address that,” she said.
Regional coordinators will focus on 18 counties to link women landowners together to share resources and connect with NRCS agency staff and programs. Women also can sign up with “conservation coaches” — experienced women landowners — to mentor them. Women outside the focus counties also can participate.
Wisconsin Women in Conservation will convene a task force to bring together Badger State organizations working with women landowners to share best practices and support each other’s work. It also will aim to highlight stories of women landowners in the media.
Angela Biggs, state conservationist for the NRCS, said, “Our peer-based learning circle models are successfully bringing women together in a space that promotes collaborative learning, relationship building and support. Through this effort, we aim to help women in their unique conservation goals, while strengthening the long-term environmental health of Wisconsin.”
Kirsten Slaughter a regional coordinator for the project who is with the Wisconsin Farmers Union, said, “Having a collaborative network to turn to with questions and for support celebrates that ability women have to learn through connecting.”
Wisconsin Women in Conservation is also on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.