First Annual Report Shows Impact of Outreach to Women Landowners
In December, Wisconsin Women in Conservation released it's first Annual Report, spanning the months of October 2020 to September 2021. Highlights of the report show a surprisingly successful response to the challenges of the COVID 19 pandemic.
"We were supposed to launch the program with in-person on-farm Learning Circles in March of 2020. Obviously, that wasn't possible," said Kriss Marion, Communications lead for WiWiC. "Instead we made a quick pivot to train all of our Regional Coordinators and Conservation Coaches in Zoom facilitation. It was tough, but I actually think it worked to our advantage as we were able to engage over 1300 women through mostly virtual events."
Wisconsin Women in Conservation is an NRCS-funded project, led by Michael Fields Agriculture Institute in partnership with Wisconsin Farmers Union, Renewing the Countryside, and Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) providing conservation outreach and education to women farmers and landowners. In its first year, the program engaged 1,337 participants with 17 Zoom Events and 5 Field Days, as well as 2,300 followers on social media through Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.
“One of the best outcomes of our virtual events has been the use of Zoom Chat by participants,” said Marion. “In this space, concurrent with presenters, participants were able to share resources, ask questions, give answers, and make connections. We have archived all the videos and Chat conversations, with extensive resource lists provided by presenters, on our website Blog at WiWiC.org. These are AMAZING lists of information!”
Among the topics featured in these archived virtual events are Conservation Plans, Regenerative Agriculture, Restoring Native Habitat, Increasing Pollinator Habitat, and Soil Health.
WiWiC is planning 12 in-person Learning Circles, and 6 farm tour Field Days for 2022, as well as another 7 virtual events, beginning with a peer-to-peer Mental Health training series with Farm Well Wisconsin, January through March.
The three-year WiWiC project is focused on providing women landowners and farmers peer-to-peer “Learning Circle” opportunities to connect and learn about land stewardship in regional networks - shown on the map to the right. Programs also facilitate access to expert content, professional services and resources in each region, though women outside the regions are welcome to attend. Each county in the target regions has a Conservation Coach available to mentor women along in their conservation journey.
35% of Wisconsin's primary operators are women, per the 2017 Census, an increase of 16% since 2012. WiWiC prioritizes and funds Conservation Plans to guide this increasingly important but historically underserved demographic.
“A Conservation Plan is a record of decisions made as a result of a planning process to address one or more natural resource concerns, to better steward the land. WiWiC plays a role in facilitating peer to peer learning of what Conservation Plans women landowners and farmers in a region have undertaken,” said Esther Shekinah, research agronomist at Michael Fields Agriculture Institute and WiWiC project lead. “Conservation Plans are developed and implemented to protect, conserve, and/or enhance natural resources on a property. They speak to the women landowner’s innate nurturing spirit to better steward the land for their future generations. When a Conservation Plan is implemented, a pollinator strip laid, or a prairie established, women definitely see it as bringing their land to a better place from where it was before and helping the community as well. Achieving the dreams they have for their land gives immense pleasure and satisfaction.”
The WiWiC project includes a research and evaluation component to help the team design content and events on an ever-evolving basis, based on participant surveys. Other evaluation goals include documenting knowledge gains made by participants and tracking the number of Conservation Plans completed. The main research interest is to learn about the bonding/networking among participants relative to conservation practice implementation. Year 1 evaluation indicated that participants gained knowledge: at Spring virtual intros an average 1-point gain (on 0-10 scale), at Field Days half of participants said they learned a lot, at Fall virtual workshops an average 2.5-point gain.At the Fall Virtual Learning Circles, more than half of participants (53.1%) indicated they were VERY LIKELY to get a Conservation Plan. 37.5% indicated MAYBE.
At the conclusion of Year 1, five Conservation Plans were completed by WiWiC members, and 50 women were actively working with WiWiC Regional Coordinators, Conservation Coaches or conservation professionals to complete a Conservation Plan in 2022.
Through the efforts of WiWiC staff, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers declared the second week of July as the first “Wisconsin Women in Conservation Week." WiWiC hosted a July 14 “Happy Hour” networking event for educators. Over 40 attended, including press. Then WiWiC launched a Wisconsin Women in Education Educators Network in October with a virtual event attended by over 80 conservation professionals. You can link to resources and watch the archived event here. The WiWiC Educator Network will continue to meet bi-annually, with the next event on March 8, from 10-11am on Zoom.
WiWiC launched The Buzz monthly e-newsletter in July 2021 and ended Year 1 with over 900 subscribers. Open rate average is 54%. Regional Coordinators also send out separate newsletters to their Regional Networks, each with a subscription of 65 to 140 members.
Interested women landowners, farmers and conservation professionals can sign up for “The Buzz” monthly newsletter at WiWiC.org to stay informed about 2022 events.
Read the full 2020-21 Annual Report: