I have had two experiences with farm events specifically for women and have spent a significant amount of time reflecting on the strengths and challenges of such events. Done well, I think women’s only events are a great idea because:
1. Women’s farm events are more likely to consider the whole person
· Physical AND mental health
· Farm AND off-farm roles and responsibilities
2. Women’s farm events are more likely to focus on collective success and inspiration
However, there are many challenges to women’s only farm events:
1. Generalist focus: The infrequent nature of women’s only events means that they often try to be all things to all people. Farm women and farm extenders have very diverse interests. In an attempt to provide something for everyone, there are often not the opportunities for deep, substantive learning.
2. Lack of sponsorship: Although sponsors are beginning to realize the market influence that women have in agriculture, sponsorship of women’s only events does not keep pace with mixed gender events. This is reflected in
· Higher registration fees (especially considering many mixed gender seminars are at no cost to the producer)
· Vendor displays rather than give-aways (I cannot imagine the last time my husband purchased a hat or ag related shirt or jacket, yet his closet is full of them.)
3. Logistics: Many women have complex off-farm roles in addition to their work on the farm, which makes scheduling difficult because of competing priorities such as off-farm employment or scheduling related to care-giving (childcare or parents).
Farming is a challenging career and farm women are uniquely positioned to support each other through these challenges. As the visibility of women in farming continues to evolve, so too will the events designed by, and for, women farmers and farm extenders. We are up for the challenge.