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National conference to bring together women working in sustainable ag

By Lisa Kivirist, MOSES

Women from across the country will gather to exchange ideas, find resources, and network at the National Women in Sustainable Agriculture Conference this October in St. Paul, Minnesota. MOSES hosts this year’s event, which serves as the only national conference that brings together farmers, educators, activists and others who are committed to women in sustainable agriculture.

“MOSES is excited for the opportunity to bring together a diverse agenda focused on women connecting, leading, and working together to grow a larger movement of sustainability within the food system,” said Lauren Langworthy, Interim Executive Director at MOSES. “We’re looking forward to putting out the welcome mat for women from different regions and backgrounds as we cultivate an event for powerful peer-to-peer learning.”

The event will take place Oct. 17-19, 2019 at the InterContinental Saint Paul Riverfront hotel in downtown St. Paul, Minn. Tickets are $240 for the conference and $150 for full-day intensives on Oct. 17. Single-day tickets also are available. Registration opens Aug. 1. A block of rooms at a group rate is available at the InterContinental hotel. See

WISA History

Over the past decade, different organizations have hosted this national conference, known as the WISA Conference (Women in Sustainable Agriculture). The first WISA conferences on the east coast were hosted by the University of Vermont Women’s Agricultural Network (WAgN) and the Pennsylvania Women’s Agricultural Network (PA WAgN). The most recent WISA conference took place in 2016 when Oregon Extension hosted the event in Portland. Attendance runs about 200-350 women.

“The WISA Conference today serves the same goal as it did when we started organizing these events over a decade ago: to provide a national forum for women committed to sustainable agriculture to gather together and share ideas, resources and visions for the future,” explained Mary Peabody, program director for the Women’s Ag Network (WAgN) at the University of Vermont. “As the number of women farmers committed to conservation and sustainability continues to grow, it is inspiring to see the WISA Conference continue and bring more voices and perspectives to the table.” Peabody will present workshops at the October conference on negotiation and growing successful teams.

WFAN Collaboration

MOSES has been organizing the 2019 WISA Conference in partnership with the Women, Food and Agriculture Network (WFAN). The MOSES In Her Boots Project has teamed up with WFAN on various projects over the years, including facilitating Women Caring for the Land sessions.

“So much of our work at WFAN focuses on encouraging women to speak up and to speak out, to take on leadership positions within their communities, and to join foundational conversations to create change within the food system,” said Sherri Dugger of WFAN and a farmer herself running Dugger Family Farm in Indiana. “Conferences like WISA offer these female farmers, food producers, advocates, and activists a chance to turn inward, to take a break from the outside world, to reflect on and share the good work they do, and to find inspiration and renewed energy from a wonderful community of smart, powerful, and respected women. As the newly minted executive director of Women, Food and Agriculture Network, I feel really lucky to have the opportunity right out of the gate to participate in WFAN’s collaboration with MOSES to organize the 2019 WISA Conference.”

WFAN’s annual conference this year will be combined with the WISA Conference in St. Paul.  With a strong commitment to women’s leadership development, WFAN directs the “Plate to Politics” program, training women in sustainable agriculture to run for office and take on larger change-agent roles. WFAN will add its expertise to the leadership sessions at WISA, including a Plate to Politics intensive. Plate to Politics germinated between WFAN, MOSES, and Vote Run Lead and today has a permanent home at WFAN.

Workshop Lineup

With an expert lineup of workshop sessions, four day-long intensives, keynotes, exhibitors and more, WISA offers attendees a deep dive into a variety of topics related to women in sustainable agriculture, from farming-specific knowledge to business pragmatics to advocacy and activism.

“We are really excited about the workshop content and the presenters we have lined up,” said Stephanie Coffman, MOSES presentation coordinator. “The presenters come from a variety of backgrounds and offer diverse perspectives and experiences.”

In addition to workshops, the conference will also offer “meet-up” sessions—smaller breakouts on specific topics that enable attendees to engage more with each other and presenters. The conference also will include demonstrations on equipment maintenance and soil testing. Participants can browse exhibit booths featuring local resources and the MOSES bookstore on Thursday and Friday. And, participants can get to know each other better through 3-minute presentations during lunch where women can share who they are and what they do in the world of sustainable agriculture.

The WISA Conference will kick-off Thursday, Oct. 17 with four intensives that offer time and space to focus on topics and encourage deeper learning and experiences. These include bus tours to related businesses. The four sessions will be on resilience and managing the stressors of farming, women raising meat, urban agriculture, and the WFAN Plate to Politics on women’s leadership.

Farmer Forum

North Central SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research Education) will host a Farmer Forum at the WISA Conference. The Farmer Forum brings various SARE grantees together to share and present their research, demonstration, and education projects that promote profitable practices that are good for the environment and community. The projects highlighted in the Farmer Forum presentations are funded by grants from SARE, a USDA-funded program that supports and promotes sustainable farming and ranching by offering competitive grants and educational opportunities.

“This National Women in Sustainable Agriculture Conference is an ideal Farmer Forum venue as it brings together farmers to share challenging issues and solutions that can then be helpful to other farmers,” explained Beth Nelson of North Central SARE, which covers a 12-state region in the Midwest. “The projects showcased at workshops at this conference are a great example of how people, in this case women, come together to creatively and collaboratively solve a problem and share information that add up to a stronger future for sustainable agriculture.”

Sessions highlighting SARE speakers will be identified as Farmer Forum specific workshops throughout the WISA program. A meet-up will offer opportunity to learn more about SARE granting opportunities and talk to grant recipients.

One such Farmer Forum workshop will be on “How to Launch a Value-Added Bakery Business from Your Farm Kitchen,” featuring a NCR SARE Farmer Rancher project where a team of Wisconsin women farmers developed a toolkit with recipes and resources to help farmers add a baking business out of their home kitchen under their state’s cottage food law. The recipes specifically focus on using one’s farm-grown produce in baked goods such as pumpkin or zucchini to create value-added products that showcase farm produce and meet moisture-level guidelines to qualify as “non-hazardous” to be legally sold from home kitchens.

“I’m looking forward to sharing our project with other women as selling baked goods can be a natural diversification fit for women like myself who both love to farm and bake,” said Dela Ends, who runs a bed & breakfast as part of her operation, Scotch Hill Farm and Innisfree Farmstay. “The spirit of our baking project and the SARE Farmer Forum strongly reflects both the goal of the WISA Conference, that we as women in sustainable agriculture work so collaboratively together and realize we are all stronger by sharing our learnings and insights. After all the challenges we faced and overcame in court to finally make home baking legal in Wisconsin, I want to help every single baker I can have a successful home-baking enterprise.”

The WISA Conference is funded in part by a USDA-RMA grant.

Lisa Kivirist coordinates the MOSES In Her Boots project and has been involved in the WISA Conference since the initial event.


From the July | August 2019 Issue


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