On Wednesday morning, I piled into the back of a white passenger van alongside seven other women. Four more vehicles carrying ten more women lined up to form a caravan behind us. “I apologize in advance, ladies,” explained our guide for the day, Laura Krouse, with a smile. “You're never going to look at this farmland the same way again!” With that disclaimer, we rolled north out of the church parking lot in Mount Vernon to tour almost 100 miles of farmland in Johnson, Jones, and Linn Counties.
Our field trip on Wednesday, March 25th was the second gathering of Women Caring for the Land, a free McKnight Foundation conservation program coordinated by the Women, Food & Agriculture Network. Project coordinator Laura Krouse (of Abbe Hills Farm) held a series of introductory meetings in mid-February, gathering women landowners throughout the three counties to learn more about conservation practices in agriculture. This field trip was our chance to reunite and take what we learned in the introductory meetings out into the field. With Laura Krouse as our instructor, we toured the countryside, keeping an eye out for the upsides (wide waterways, impressive terraces, conservation reserve program prairies, and beautiful wetlands) and downsides (deep gullies, hog confinements, and non-existent waterways) of eastern Iowa agriculture.
Women Caring for the Land is designed to give women landowners information and confidence, helping women make informed decisions about their land. The sessions, thus far, have certainly been both informative and confidence-building. We learned more about farming and each other as we delighted in the warmth of Susan Jutz's hoop house at ZJ Farm in Solon and bonded over a delicious lunch at Gwen's in Lisbon. By the end of our field trip, several of the women in our van were pointing out the windows and shouting, “Deep gully!” or “Great waterway!” Even more important, they (and I) were peppering Laura with all kinds of questions about waterways, drain tiles, and contouring, among other things.
When we parted for the day, we did so with the promise that we would see each other again at the concluding meeting on April 15th. While I'm not a landowner or a native-born Iowan, I've been tagging along as a woman interested in farming and conservation, and I'm far from disappointed. I'm grateful to the women of Women Caring for the Land for teaching me a great deal about farming, women, conservation, and Iowa. And I look forward to seeing them again on April 15th!Continue Reading...