By Wren Almitra, Women, Land and Legacy Coordinator
Fifteen years ago a group of women were brought together by Iowa’s USDA State Outreach Council and tasked with finding an effective outreach program for Iowa’s women landowners and farmers. These women represented an array of non-profits, government agencies, faith-based organizations, producers and landowners. I recently interviewed Carol Smith and Tanya Meyer-Dideriksen, two of the founding members of the group and who continue to serve on the Women, Land & Legacy State Team today.
Q: Can you talk about some of the beginning stages of getting WLL going? How and why you personally got involved?
TM: WLL became the USDA State Outreach Council’s (SOC) outreach project for women. The directors of agencies involved in the SOC fully supported forming a committee and developing a project. When WLL first started, I was the State Outreach Coordinator for USDA-NRCS. It was a perfect fit to be part of the team that developed this tremendous outreach effort for Iowa’s agricultural women.
CS: At the time I was a member of the SOC and became involved in WLL, I was a program manager for National Catholic Rural Life (now Catholic Rural Life or CRL), a national non profit. My program was focused on rural community action and support—and it was very evident that women were a key to that issue. I have a background in extension and in classroom teaching. My great interest (and eventual expertise) in process and program design framed my work in all areas.
Q: What were some memorable moments from meeting with other partners about figuring out a women’s outreach program? Did you use a particular meeting style that informed WLL program development?
TM: WLL is one of the most unique partnerships of government (federal, state and local) with non-profit organizations, small businesses and other groups. That was a very important component, especially in the beginning. The state and local teams all had this diversity, which allowed us to develop a better project for women through a diversity of voices, resources, and talents.
An early memorable moment for me was during the very first committee meeting. We found ourselves beginning to plan a statewide conference and were even listing the topics that we thought the women across the state would like to hear about. Then the light bulb went on and we realized…we needed to ask them! We knew there would be regional differences that we needed to address. Through that “aha moment”, Women, Land and Legacy was born and we began designing listening sessions. During program development, we used the style that we promote for use in WLL today. Every team member had a voice and we all listened.
CS: The first memorable moment for me came at what must have been the first or almost the first meeting of this committee. The committee was sitting in a sort of circle and introducing ourselves by sharing thoughts about what we thought was important to rural women as we/our agencies heard from them. This was leading us to the title of the project—Women, Land, and Legacy. The question was then asked “well, where and when should we hold this conference?”
Silence—and reflection—led most or all of the committee to realize that even if we had been thinking about a conference, that would not accomplish HEARING from women. So a new direction was set. We decided to develop a listening format and to pilot that format directly with rural women. The one pilot then became five—one in each of the four corners of the state and one closer to the center.
I think that the idea of listening set the stage for the interaction of the committee as well. The “meeting style” became a roundtable of conversation with lots of input using the considerable experience of the women involved. Listening also gave us the idea of developing local teams to plan the sessions around a listening process and to tailor it to their local women. We thought that USDA agency people who participated in the session development could learn a lot about the women on local teams in their area and their concerns from that experience AND the women could learn a lot from them.
Continue reading at Women, Land and Legacy’s website