More and more older women without agricultural knowledge nor experience are inheriting farms, and programs are addressing their needs. The nonprofit program Women Caring for the Land teaches women (usually over the age of 65), who tend be to overlooked in farming and landownership, how to manage and take care of the land while incorporating conservation practices, from planting cover crops to meeting with a representative from the National Resources Conservation Service to review their farm plans.

More on the impact of the program:

In Iowa alone, women own about 14 million acres of farmland, which is significant because the health of the nation’s soil is crucial to the productivity of its farms and in feeding a growing population. In fact, so many older women are inheriting farms that some experts believe training them in land conservation may be our society’s best defense against Dust Bowls of the future.

The nonprofit Women, Food and Agriculture Network reaches out to people like Ramsay through a program called Women Caring for the Land. More than 2,000 women have participated in the program, which piloted in 2008. The typical participant is a woman over 65 years old who owns farmland but has never worked in the fields. Many have inherited their land and are suddenly tasked with managing it; although some have been farm wives, most were left out of the decision-making process.

Women Caring for the Land operates in seven Midwestern states—Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, and Wisconsin—and 70 percent of its participants have so far made improvements on a total of about 50,000 acres. These include direct changes to land management, like planting cover crops, installing buffer strips, taking land that borders a river out of cultivation, restoring wetlands, and planting native wildflowers for pollinator habitat. But they can also include contractual changes and training—things like writing conservation practices into the lease, or meeting with a representative of the NRCS to review the farm plan.

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