This week I had the immense pleasure of attending the 4th National Conference for Women in Sustainable Agriculture in Des Moines, Iowa. The conference was hosted by the Women, Food, and Agriculture Network (WFAN), one of PAN’s partners in our midwest Drift Catching work.
With approximately 400 participants, the conference brings together women farmers, advocates, and landowners from across the country to share resources and dialogue about solutions for transitioning to a more sustainable food system. It was an incredible event — three days of women sharing their deepest hopes and smartest strategies about how to improve agriculture.
I was joined at the conference by PAN’s Staff Scientist Emily Marquez, who spoke on a panel highlighting the work of women in science, and Bonnie Wirtz, a beginning farmer and advocate for protecting children from pesticide exposure. It was Bonnie’s first time at this conference, and it was exciting to watch her connect with farmers who share her perspective about healthy food production.
There’s something in the air
It seems like everyone I met had a story to tell about pesticide drift.
I spoke on a panel with Bonnie Wirtz and Laura Krouse about the basics of pesticide drift and how communities in the midwest are working for positive changes. The room was packed, and after we spoke we heard from several individuals and organizations who are thinking through the challenging question of what can be done about pesticides drifting onto neighboring fields and family homes.
Throughout the weekend, we handed out copies of A Generation in Jeopardy, PAN’s report about the impacts pesticides have on children’s health. The conference was a great opportunity to connect with farmers about the health impacts of pesticides — an angle that is sometimes overlooked in rural communities.
Women as leaders
A big highlight of the conference for me was a panel of Iowan women who have all been lifelong food and farm activists, including PAN’s own board member and WFAN founder, Denise O’Brien. The women shared their memories of paving a new path — by identifying as farmers instead of “farmer’s wives,” and by claiming a stake in public conversations about stewardship and farm policy.
They also shared past and current struggles with balancing activism and home life, and maintaining hope during life’s most challenging moments.
This panel, and the entire conference, made me grateful for all the work that women have done as food workers and as advocates. WFAN’s mission is “to link and empower women to build food systems and communities that are healthy, just, sustainable, and that promote environmental integrity.”
That mission was well represented by the hundreds of women who came together this past week to share knowledge and make plans together to keep moving our food system forward. Thanks to WFAN for a great event!
Photo credit: Women Food & Ag Network
Linda Wells is Associate Director of Organizing at Pesticide Action Network. A fourth-generation Iowan from Davenport, Linda brings nearly a decade of organizing experience with environmental and economic justice issues. She is based in Minneapolis.