Diverse ag business tour part of WFAN conference
By KRISS NELSON
AMES – The theme of this year’s Women Food and Ag Network (WFAN) conference, held in Des Moines this year, was Stepping to Action: Changing Foodscapes Through Individual and Community Power.
The conference was held Nov. 1-3.
Attendees had the opportunity to attend tours on Friday, which included a diverse ag business tour.
More than a dozen women took part in the tour, which took them out of the city to three ag businesses that featured vegetable and animal production and animal processing.
The first stop of the day was at Lacewing Acres, of Ames.
Julia Slocum owns the certified organic three acre community supported agriculture (CSA) vegetable farm.
Slocum, who said she wasn’t raised on a farm, has always been drawn to the profession.
“My aunt and uncle are dairy farmers in north central Missouri and I didn’t think I could be a farmer unless I had grown up on a farm or studied agriculture,” she said. “But then I met a bunch of other young people that were interested in agriculture and some of them didn’t have a farm background either and I found out that I can do this.”
Slocum chose to be a part of the diverse ag tour to help pay it forward.
“I have so many wonderful mentors and a lot of people that have supported me in a lot of different ways,” she said. “I am so excited to be able to share some of my experiences with people who are curious about this or wanting to get more information.”
A part of the tour at Lacewing Acres took the group out to the field where they could see Slocum’s operation firsthand, where she is currently utilizing cover crops not only for environmental purposes to help to improve soil conditions, but to use as natural weed control.
Slocum also answered several questions from the women, both in regards to her operation and the equipment she utilizes on her farm.
After lunch at Alluvial Brewery, where Lacewing Acres’ farm is located, the group visited Story City Locker, a family-owned meat locker.
The locker offers “slow meat” that practices ethical animal take-down and sustainable butchery and works with farmers who raise animals through more sustainable practices.
The final stop of the day was a visit to Three Sisters Farm, near Williams.
Three Sisters Farm – whose mission is to promote a respect for the diversity, dignity and interdependence of human, animal, plant, soil and global life – is a diversified farm that raises organically-certified corn, soybeans and oats as well as non-GMO crops and sheep.
Ortrude Dial, owner of Three Sisters Farm, said they also raise all of their own hay and organic pasture for their sheep.
“We basically raise our own food supply for the sheep,” she said. “They are fed from our own farm and we also utilize the manure for our organic manure supply.”
Dial’s sheep operation consists of 400 ewes where she sells the lambs shortly after they are weaned for meat.
The sheep are also a wooled breed and they also feed out some of the sheep for local uses, one being a culinary business.
During the tour, Dial led the women to the barn, giving them a firsthand look at where most of the action on her farm happens.
“They got to see where we house the sheep, where they lamb, where we do our weaning and where we feed them out,” she said. “They got to see a little bit of everything.”
Dial said she chose to participate in the WFAN diverse ag business tour as an opportunity to showcase her operation to women of all ages that are interested in similar farming ventures.
“I look at them as women who are interested in knowing that there are people out there who raise animals in a welfare-friendly way,” she said, “and also care about the environment and soil in a very thoughtful, mindful way to get the end product that is higher quality and raised in a way that is not hurting the environment or the animals.”
Carolyn Van Meter, originally from Guthrie Center, acted as the leader of the tour for the day. This is Van Meter’s third time attending the WFAN conference.
“I have a conventional farm here in Iowa and I also have a diverse farm in North Carolina and some ag interests in Florida,” she said. “I am always up for new ideas and new ways of doing things. There’s so much I don’t know. I come here without any expectations and I always come away with a lot.”
Crystal Bigelow, a Winterset-area farmer, said she attended the diverse ag business tour to help with ideas she can take back to her own farming operation.
“I chose to attend the tour for networking with other like-minded women in the ag industry and see how they diversify their operations on their farms, to see how my husband and I can diversity our operation,” she said.
April Prusia took in the opportunity to be a guest at the WFAN tour this year.
A farmer from southwestern Wisconsin, Prusia hosted the group to her farm last year.
“I did some networking and found it was a great group of people,” she said.
Prusia is currently working on a USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program grant.
“I am working on a feasibility study on MSU – a mobile slaughtering unit that would be state/federal inspected and have a brick and mortar company,” she said. “The animals would be butchered, brought to a USDA facility to be further cut and then sold at our store.”
Attending the WFAN conference allows for further networking and feedback from others working on similar grants and/or industry Prusia said.
“It’s all about networking and making friends and food,” she said. “We all have something to learn from one another. I think it’s really empowering to talk to other women and see what their experiences are.”
About the WFAN conference
The mission of the conference is to engage women in building an ecological and just food and agricultural system through individual and community power.
Goals of the WFAN include:
– Promoting sustainable agricultural and community structures.
– Insisting on social and ecological justice for current and future human and non-human commodities.
– Providing opportunities for education on economics and environment that articulate a holistic view of agriculture, instill a sense of place and draw forward useful experiences from the past.
– Creating networks that support communities of growers, consumers, workers and others who strive for sustainability, increase effective access to and use of existing resources, engage participants in experiential learning, provide safe places for self-expression and respect the spirituality of the land and people.
– Advocating change by exploring alternatives and challenge the globalization of economies, cultures of domination and institutionalized discrimination, the disintegration of landscapes and oppressive conceptual frameworks.
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