by Ash Bruxvoort, WFAN Communications Coordinator and 2018 Conference Coordinator
“I did what I needed to do for my community and my family. What I did may not look like what your community needs. I know it’s a cliché, but one person can make a difference. You have to believe that it’s you, not somebody else.” — LaDonna Redmond
The WFAN annual conference is always one of the most special weekends of the year. It’s as much a time to come together and learn and grow as it is a time to come together and ground ourselves in the lifelong, challenging work of being women in food and agriculture. This year the conference was particularly special, as we celebrated the 20th anniversary of WFAN and honored our founding mothers with the inaugural Woman in Sustainable Agriculture award. It was also a special opportunity to highlight the work of so many amazing Wisconsin women in ag, who have enriched and grown our network over the past twenty years.
Thursday: Field Tours & Intensives
About 215 women (and some nonbinary folks and men!) gathered November 2-3 for the 2017 WFAN annual conference at the Sheraton Madison Hotel in Madison, WI. We extended our regular two-day conference to three days in celebration of our 20th anniversary, which meant there was a lot more time for networking and learning. On Thursday, women began filing onto school buses at 10:00 AM and set off on three different tours that visited a wide range of food and ag businesses and organizations, from women-owned farms southwest of Madison, an herbal apothecary north of Madison, and urban ag projects in the city. Later on Thursday, two groups gathered for afternoon intensives on integrated pest management and on-farm conservation or building advocacy power.
Buses returned and afternoon intensives wrapped-up that afternoon around 5. Many women loaded back onto the buses by 5:30 to head into downtown Madison for a tasting tour of Madison area restaurants. A group of about 40 omnivores and 10 vegetarians enjoyed the tours organized by Madison Food Explorers.
While some enjoyed the tasting tours, others continued to arrive throughout the evening and exhibitors set-up their tables in the main ballroom. Around 7:30, groups of women gathered to socialize and connect with like-minded women in networking meet-ups for the Lesbian Natural Resources 25th anniversary celebration, beginning farmers, and natural resources professionals.
At 9:00, around 50 women gathered at The Harvest Lounge at the Sheraton for the inaugural Farm Tales. Inspired by NPR’s radio show The Moth, women shared stories from their lives in some good company. There was a lot of laughter and some tears as women shared stories about a Christmas goose, finding their perfect farm home, and more than one founding mother shared stories about the beginnings of WFAN.
Friday morning we gathered bright and early at 8:00 for LaDonna Redmond’s keynote address. She began her keynote by recognizing how she came to be a part of the food justice movement as a mother navigating her son’s food allergies. She went on to recognize that the food system is built on the exploitation of land and people. She challenged WFAN members to spend the next 20 years addressing oppression and dismantling white supremacy. There is a great write-up about her keynote in The Country Life and several tweets about the keynote on Twitter at #wfan2017.
The main ballroom emerged buzzing with reflections on the keynote. Some attendees gathered in small groups around the ballroom to discuss but most attendees went on to absorb more information in morning breakouts on a variety of topics, from land transition to grant writing and pesticide drift.
At lunch, we came back together for an amazing meal (shout-out to chef Kevin for working so hard to find locally sourced food for us!), and WFAN board members asked us to stand if we had accomplished a variety of acts and milestones in our lives over the past year. One surprise for me was the number of women who stood when asked if this was their first WFAN conference! Next came a truly powerful and moving activity in which women simultaneously shared their stories of how WFAN has impacted their lives and raised more than $4,000 for the organization’s ongoing work. Brava!
At 2:30, afternoon breakouts began. The Land Justice panel was particularly well-attended and featured voices from the recently published anthology Land Justice: Re-Imagining Land, Food, and the Commons in the United States in discussing land justice and its relationship to ending racial and gender-based oppression in the food and agriculture system. Other topics included vegetable crop planning, troubleshooting grazing problems, and a poetry break with founding mother Nan Bonfils.
At this point of the conference, attendees would normally start packing up and hitting the road. Luckily, we were able to continue celebrating for another day! At 4:00 on Friday women began gathering in the main ballroom to talk to exhibitors or grab a drink from a cash bar. At 6:00, some attendees enjoyed a meal together in the ballroom while others went back out to explore Madison on their own. At 7:30, a live performance by TAPIT New Works ensemble theater of Garden Party: A Comedy for Gardeners Both Casual and Crazed entertained around 50 women.
Saturday morning we got to start slightly later. At 8:30 AM the first breakout sessions began followed by the final breakout at 10:30. Morning breakout topics included farm endings; connecting the resistance and activism of Latin America to struggles in the Midwest (and what we can learn); lesbian and queer farmer research; and more.
After morning sessions, we enjoyed one final meal together. During lunch, board members invited six of WFAN’s original founding mothers to come on stage and be honored with the inaugural Women in Sustainable Agriculture award. They were each given gifts of handmade bowls by long-time WFAN member Alice McGary.
Next year we will return to Iowa and gather in Des Moines on November 2 and 3. Sign up for our updates to keep up with these plans.
Check out our growing Facebook photo album from the conference, our new Instagram account, and the conference page for presentations and handouts, which we’ll continue to post as we receive them.