Farms nationwide are changing as more women move from support roles into and farming themselves. In fact, according to the Women and Food Agriculture Network, the agriculture industry has seen a 30 percent increase in the number of women-run farms since 2002. Holistic Management International (HMI), an Albuquerque-based non-profit organization created to improve the health, productivity, and profitability of land through Holistic Management™®, is committed to supporting these women through its Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Program.
“A great need exists for a program that focuses on women with less than 10 years in ranching and farming to learn and hone their skills for success,” says Peter Holter, chief executive officer for HMI. “Currently, more than 942,000 farms are run by women throughout the country and we are excited to learn that the number of young women getting into farming and ranching is growing. If you look at demographic, social, and economic factors, they indicate that number will continue to rise in the coming years.”
To support women in agriculture, HMI was awarded a grant of more than $640,000 from the USDA/NIFA to teach whole-farming planning to beginning women farmers in the Northeast states of New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Maine. The Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Program was developed in 2009 and all of the participants said they will use the skills and techniques learned during the program as first-time farmers. In fact, results from HMI’s survey of first-year participants found that 82 percent of the women said they were committed to monitoring soil health on their farm and 58 percent said they would use some method to assess forage from the knowledge they gained in the holistic grazing class.
“Being involved with this class has been significant for me in two ways—it has given me a completely new approach to planning for my own land and farming aspirations, and it has shown me a system for assisting farmers that views all aspects of their lives, land, and business as equal parts of the whole that can be managed sustainably without sacrifice,” said Jessie Schmidt who participated in the program in Vermont. “From a young age, I have wanted to farm. ‘You can’t make a living farming,’ was often the refrain. The broader question in my mind was always ‘How will I ever be able to make a go of this on my own?’ Holistic Management has changed my perspective on how farming as a livelihood can be approached.”
The Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Program helps participants with the business side of running a farm or ranch. Eighty-three percent of the participants said they have developed a whole farm goal, 65 percent defined the resources available to manage their farm, and 42 percent developed a financial plan. “Before the training we took whatever profit there was at the end of the year,” said Tricia Park who participated in the program in New York. “If we wanted more profit, we would add more animals. Now, we plan for our profit. We know what is making money, what isn’t, and what’s barely making it.”
Another beginning farmer said she implemented holistic grazing after participating in the program and it has vastly improved life on her land. “I can see how Holistic Management helps to enrich the quality of life for pretty much everyone in the environment on just our little homestead,” said Elysa Bryant of Connecticut. “There is more milkweed, which means more bees and birds. We see more birds, and more species of birds. I see more plants come up that I’m guessing are part of the seedbank in the soil, because they weren’t there last year or the year before. The vet said our goats are some of the best in her practice, that the body condition is excellent with no parasites.”
Since its inception, the Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Program has trained 180 women farmers in the Northeast. At the completion of this first phase, 270 women farmers will be trained. Due to the overwhelming response of positive results and feedback from participants,
HMI is expanding the program into Texas this fall. Four one-day seminars will give participants a better understanding of how Holistic Management can help build a sustainable future, including information on how to get started, how to become successful in the farming business, the market for local foods, and how they can take part in the three-year Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Program.
Source: Holistic Management International