MOUNT HOREB, Wis. – Wisconsin Women in Conservation’s conservation educators met July 14 for a "happy hour" and networking event at Brix Cider in Mount Horeb. The group brings together women landowners to connect and learn about conservation practices, resources and funding opportunities.
Angela Biggs, state conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Wisconsin, is credited with the idea of creating Wisconsin Women in Conservation. Several organizations had been asking the agency for financial support to provide conservation education and outreach to women farmers and other landowners, Biggs said.
“I thought about how the agency could provide helpful assistance and have the ability to fund it,” she said. “Bringing together the expertise of the partnering organizations was one of the best ways to assist women farmers and other landowners.”
No other state that she knows of has an organization similar to Wisconsin Women in Conservation, she said. Providing conservation education and outreach to women is increasingly important because 35 percent of Wisconsin’s producers are women. That’s a 16 percent increase from the 2012 Census of Agriculture, according to the USDA’s 2017 census.
Pat Leavenworth also spoke during the Wisconsin Women in Conservation event. She served as state conservationist in Wisconsin from 1994 until her retirement in October 2012. She was the first woman to serve in that position.
She reflected on the life of Paul Johnson, who passed away Feb. 15, 2021. He served as chief of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service from 1994 to 1997. He led the agency through its transition from the Soil Conservation Service to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which has a broader mission focused on conservation of all natural resources on private lands.
Johnson helped develop and implement the conservation title of the 1996 farm bill. The bill included the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program. In 2012 he joined three other former chiefs of the Natural Resources Conservation Service in support of reattaching erodible-land and wetland-conservation requirements to federal crop-insurance subsidies.
There's discussion about establishing an endowment in Johnson’s name, Leavenworth said. She showed the Wisconsin Women in Conservation group a book titled “Geography of Hope,” published by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. In it Johnson called for Americans to think about the nation’s farms as more than sites for commodity production. They are critical national resources instrumental to the nation’s economic and environmental health, he wrote.
The Wisconsin Women in Conservation is a statewide collaborative effort led by the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute in partnership with the Wisconsin Farmers Union, Renewing the Countryside, and the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service – with support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Wisconsin Women in Conservation brings together women landowners to connect and learn about conservation practices, resources and funding opportunities.