Pilot program encourages women farmers

The Impact Collaborative helped us to focus. We had all these threads of ideas flowing in different directions. The Impact Collaborative helped us develop a concept map that had an action between each idea that we had.

Women farmers pilot projectA Pennsylvania woman’s empowering experience during a pilot training encouraged her to accept a manager’s position in a male-dominated industry.

Helen Kollar-McArthur, who accepted her new position in November 2017, is one of 12 participants of the pilot program called, “Women Farmer’s Leadership and Empowerment Training,” the brainchild of Impact Collaborative participants Patty Neiner and Beth Holtzman.

“I would give a lot of credit to the training. It helped give me the confidence to accept this manager’s job,” said Kollar-McArthur, operational manager of Rising Springs Meat Company, a slaughterhouse in Spring Mills, Pennsylvania.

The 32-year-old butcher said she had an enlightening experience and learned from others just like her.

“I wasn’t alone in my struggles of trying to navigate a career in agriculture and the kind of challenges that are unique to women. It lets me know I’m not crazy. I came away with tangible action steps to try and move forward,” Kollar- McArthur said.

Some of those challenges include dealing with condescension from men, balancing the farm and family commitments, in addition to connecting with other women farmers.

The pilot program created with input from more than 15 Extension professionals from across the country, drew participation from women vegetable farmers, women livestock and dairy farmers, along with women working for agricultural nonprofits. The women participants, mostly from central Pennsylvania, ages ranged between 20-60 years old.

Patty Neiner, Pennsylvania State University Extension program associate, and manager of the Women Farmer’s Leadership and Empowerment Training said the main push for this program was to reach women who didn’t have access to training. She also said this training was created to help women pursue leadership roles in agriculture.

“There’s a lack of women farmers in leadership roles, like milk marketing boards, or different associations boards and committees. Women with smaller farms are not getting their voices heard. We would like to see more women serving so that their needs are getting a voice as well.”

Neiner acknowledges that the pilot program came together after she attended the Impact Collaborative (IC) Designathon event in Detroit.

The event, now referred to as Designathon Two, introduces four steps, which are design thinking, key informant expertise, growing base of evidence-based practice and dynamic synergy. Each step comes with objectives that serve to change the way the teams work. After completing the process, the teams leave with a new plan allowing them to work more effectively.

“The Impact Collaborative helped us to focus. We had all these threads of ideas flowing in different directions. The Impact Collaborative helped us develop a concept map that had an action between each idea that we had,” Neiner said.

The pilot program, inspired by the IC training, evolved into a one-day training session that allowed participants to watch pre-filmed videos of women farmers facing dilemmas. Pilot program attendees listened to each video, had a discussion among them, and then provided a solution for the dilemma. At the end of the discussion, they would watch the remaining video and see how the farmer handled the dilemma. As a group, they compared and contrasted each other’s solutions. During that process, pilot program participants built relationships and problem solved.

 “One of the cool things that came out of this was the ideas we generated,” Kollar-McArthur said. “Simple things like how to navigate your first agricultural auction, knowing how oddly intimidating that can be,” she said. “Some people ended up pairing up the next day, saying, ‘I’ll go with you,’” Kollar-McArthur said.

Beth Holtzman, coordinator of technical assistance programs for the University of Vermont, and one of the creators of the pilot said this training and its delivery is unique and important for the success of women farmers.

“There are excellent leadership programs for women and excellent leadership programs for farmers but many of these programs are oriented to grooming women to run for office, or for promotions within agribusiness corporations, or to be an advocate for a particular agricultural industry. We wanted to make sure that our program spanned the leadership challenges women encounter – at the family level, at the farm business level, and within the agricultural community,” Holtzman said.

In the future, Holtzman and Neiner would like the pilot to develop a curriculum with modules accompanied with videos. They would like to see it delivered in an online format.

“I would love to see us taking it online or developed into a hybrid curriculum that could be available several times a year, having multiple cohorts go through the curriculum and establish supportive networks and relationships with women across the country. I want to enable people who have constraints on travel to be able to access it. I would also like to see people who don’t have role models in their community access some online and find those role models and mentors so they can achieve their goals,” Holtzman said.

For more information about the pilot program, contact Neiner at prn103@psu.edu. For more information about the Impact Collaborative, visit https://www.extension.org/impact-collaborative.