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An organization aims to help women in agriculture

BY MICHELLE NGO | FEBRUARY 07, 2014 5:00 AM

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Women are putting down roots in the agriculture industry in Iowa.

Farming may often be portrayed as a predominately male occupation, but women own nearly 60 percent of the farmland in Iowa. Johnson County is partnering with an organization that hopes to better serve these women.

The county is the newest addition to Women, Land, and Legacy, an outreach project in Iowa that gathers women around the state to talk about agriculture and natural resources on a local level. The Johnson County chapter held its first event Thursday, a listening session, at the Iowa State University Extension office, 4265 Oak Crest Hill Road.

The goal of the session was to discuss and sort out the main concerns about the land and agriculture.

“The big thing is we listen to them, we listen to their ideas and concerns, and then ask them at the end of the session, ‘What would you like to take place in Johnson County?’ ” said Tanya Meyer-Dideriksen, one of the founding members of the Women, Land, and Legacy statewide team. “It’s completely based on the local interests and local needs.”

Meyer-Dideriksen and other members of the U.S. Department of Agriculture State Outreach Council developed the legacy group 10 years ago after realizing that historically, white male farmers were the department’s traditional customers, and female farmers were being underserved.

Women, Land, and Legacy initially strove to serve female farmers whose husbands had passed away, inheriting the responsibilities of the farm. Recently, the group has expanded to include women who are gardeners, environmental activists, or wildlife enthusiasts.

Wren Almitra, an employee at Johnson County Soil and Water Conservation District, reached out to Meyer-Dideriksen in October 2013 after noticing a consistent pattern of agricultural concerns from women.

“Women tend to be more interested in conservation, caring for the land, and sustainability,” Almitra said. “… You maybe don’t necessarily hear as much from a more male-dominant perspective, not that it’s not the case or doesn’t exist.”

One of the 80 women who attended the event, Joyce Miller, an urban farmer who owns a 1/3 of an acre plot in Coralville, is looking to network at the event.

“I also volunteer at a school garden, so I’m looking for other people to assist me in that,” she said. “I thought this would be a possible area where I could find someone else interested in growing food and concerned about passing that information onto the younger generation.”

Even though there were a number of women, such as Miller, who owned their own farms, many of the women at the event did not but attended to get better educated on growing their own food or about environmental preservation. 

“I love how this isn’t just for women in farming. I’m an urban woman who really cares and wants to do the right thing,” said Kris Johnson, another Johnson County resident at the event.  “I want to learn about the ecological-based background on the environment so I can help.”

Meyer-Dideriksen said the initial event will set the stage for several years of educational events to further empower women in agriculture. 

“Women like to be asked. We’re being asked for our opinion, and it matters so that feels really empowering,” she said. “And to know it’s just the beginning of what the future will be for Johnson County and what kinds of things they will get to learn about.”


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