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Women landowners share conservation concerns

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 08/15/2013 12:41 PM

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NORTHFIELD, Minn. — Eighteen women landowners gathered at a Northfield church last week to share concerns and seek solutions.

It was the eighth meeting the Women, Food and Agriculture Network in Minnesota. The Iowa-based group started in 1997 and received a grant to hold meetings in Minnesota.

The network exists as a way for women to connect around all things agriculture, said Lynn Heuss, Woman Caring for the Land program coordinator.

The meeting brought together women landowners for conversations about their goals for their land and resources available to help them meet those goals.

Several themes emerged during the discussion. The women wanted to be better stewards of the land and they wanted ideas on how to better care for it. Several mentioned the challenges of controlling buckthorn on their wooded property. Others wanted ideas on how to earn income from their land. There was also a discussion on working with renters.

Ashley Tabery, Rice County Soil and Water Conservation District technician, and Nikki Schaffer, soil conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Rice County, joined the landowners and talked about the resources available through the conservation agencies.

Assistance is available for buckthorn removal from both agencies, Tabery said. The Soil and Water Conservation District uses state cost-share dollars to make conservation improvements.

On the other hand, the NRCS is a federal agency. Its main program is the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which landowners can sign up for year-round, Schaffer said.

A landowner inquired about the process of working with either SWCD or NRCS. She wanted to know where to start.

Tabery said either she, Schaffer or other staff from the conservation office would make a site visit and talk about a whole farm conservation plan. They can identify resources and direct the landowner on next steps.

Beth Kallestad, executive director of the Cannon River Watershed Partnership, which hosted the event, said Karl Hakanson of the CRWP is another resource person. He can make farm visits and direct landowners to the right office.

Lori Pommerenke, who manages 137 acres in Waseca County, said the meeting was frustrating because it didn't offer her any one piece of information to grab onto and act upon once she left the meeting. Pommerenke is connected in her community, having worked with the conservation office on previous projects and also serving on the advisory committee for the Southern Research and Outreach Center.

She said the farm transitions meeting put on by the Women, Food and Agriculture Network was good.

In her opinion, Minnesota does a good job reaching out to those involved in non-traditional agriculture. She is on the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture list and she recently learned of the Southern Minnesota Center of Agriculture at South Central College in North Mankato.

A huge disconnect exists within agriculture between those involved in traditional row-crop agriculture and those involved in non-traditional agriculture, she said.

Pommerenke said the large group meeting should be followed by smaller group discussions led by a resource person.

Retired equine veterinarian Judith Bechtum said the meeting was interesting and helpful for her. She said it left her with a million things to follow up on. Bechtum owns what her Iowa farmer father would have called worthless land. She calls it her hobby farm. It's 50 acres near Webster.

Bechtum is battling weeds and buckthorn.

"I hate weeds. ... I grew up that way," she said, sharing that her father hated weeds.

She, like Pommerenke, hopes this isn't the first and last meeting. Bechtum would like more specialized meetings focused on one topic. She liked the format of women sitting around the table sharing their concerns.

"As you can see, this is an exciting group," Bechtum said.

Both Heuss and Kallestad expressed hope that the large group meeting wouldn't be the last one. There is an interest in the group meeting quarterly, Kallestad said.

"We are looking at creative ways to meet the needs," Heuss said.