I dropped Beth off at O’Hare this past Tuesday. She was traveling to Minneapolis for the Extension Risk Management Education (ERME) National Conference. ERME is a part of the Risk Management Agency (RMA) which in turn is part off the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). As the name implies, ERME educators help farmers identify and manage risk. These include risks in production, marketing, finances, legal issues, and personal health and welfare. When we started farming in 2003, there were not a lot of resources to learn more about the type of farming (sustainable, small-scale, diverse, direct market, production) we were doing.
irst was in 2010. I’m not sure how we learned of it, but it piqued Beth’s interest as it was titled as The National Women in Ag conference. I encouraged her to submit a proposal, I probably said something like – “You’re a woman. You’re in agriculture. You ought to be at that.” Local USDA resources were (and still are) very much focused on large-scale commodity farming, while the vast majority of women entering the field (see what I did there?) are not commodity farmers. Also, these women are one of the fastest growing segments of American agriculture. (Here’s a link to an NPR – The Salt story highlighting those facts.)
So, Beth submitted a presentation proposal, “Operating an Innovative & Adaptable Small-Scale Farm. A <em>Producer’s Story</em>.” Since few others were telling the story of our kind of farming, we had started to step up and take on that role. At first – beginning in 2008, it was presentations at conferences where we were more or less preaching to the choir – the Great Lakes CSA conference, the Midwest Organic Farming conference, and the Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (CRAFT). But…preaching to the choir <strong>IS NOT ENOUGH</strong> – the message of sustainability, community, and alternative, earth-friendly ways of farming NEED to reach a broader audience which includes conventional, commodity farmers.
Beth’s presentation proposal to the National Women in Agriculture conference followed my attendance at a food policy conference focusing on the US Farm Bill sponsored by Yale Law School. I learned of the conference through my position on the Illinois Local, Food, Farms, and Jobs Council. When I looked into the conference, “Developing Food Policy: U.S. and International Perspectives” I found that farmer representation was light – no that’s not true; it was non-existent. No farmers would be at an international discussion of the United States Farm Bill – the primary driver of food and farm policy – no farmers!
contacted the organizers and wrangled an invitation and a travel stipend to attend the conference and lend a farmer’s perspective to the discussion. I learned a lot at that conference and got to share my perspective on the farm bill, so it definitely made sense for Beth to go to Baltimore to tell her story of being a woman in sustainable agriculture to an audience of educators who teach other women farmer – hopefully with fresh ideas and a new perspective.
Beth’s proposal was accepted, and she was off to Baltimore….little did she know that this 3-day trip would garner valuable contacts, fast friendships, and regular speaking engagement at national conferences. I’ll share the story of those in some upcoming posts.