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The 18th annual Mid-Atlantic Women in Agriculture held on Feb. 12 and 13, 2019 at Dover Downs reflected Cooperative Extension’s successful role in partnering with community. Working across state lines to coordinate and present purposeful content the conferences goal is to empower women with the resources and tools to make informed decisions in their roles as owners and managers of agricultural operations, farms and entrepreneurs.
The optional pre-conference offered two separate themes or tracks for attendees to select from:
- “The Family Farm Legacy: Keeping the “Family” in Your Farm;” and
- “Connecting Through Effective Agriculture Communication: Building Trust, Respecting Voices, Engaging New Audiences.”
A full day on Feb. 13 included an early morning talk from Delaware Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long who celebrated the significance of women in agriculture. Noting that more than 30 percent of American farms are owned by women. Hall-Long embraced the conference’s motto to ‘Educate, Engage and Empower.’
Hall-Long compared women to air traffic controllers in the home and as decision makers in the economy, and in the forefront of environmental issues and food security and health.
“In agriculture, we have the smartest people. There is nothing more important than what you are doing,” Long-Hall said.
Long-Hall zeroed in on the engagement part of the conference’s theme. She urged her audience to share their personal and business stories and remain in contact with local government and elected officials.
Relating stories through shared values was continued as keynote address by Roxi Beck of The Center For Food Integrity (CFI). Beck presented CFI’s research on consumer attitudes about food and food production and how producers, growers and farmers can build relationships with consumers.
When facing customers who are increasingly skeptical of science and exposed to an abundance of misinformation about food production, communicating as a farmer or food producer and earning trust can be challenging, Beck emphasized.
“People are connected to their food,” Beck said. “They celebrate with food, and mourn with food.”
CFI’s surveys indicate that 65 percent of consumers want to engage with food producers and want to trust where their food comes from.
Beck revealed CFI’s “Trust Model,” which encourages farmers and food producers to listen to consumers’ concerns without judgment. Beck relayed the importance of showing respect and acknowledge the public’s point of view, even if it is one based in misinformation. Beck advised resisting an urge to educate or set the record straight. Instead, welcome an opportunity to find something in common — look for a way in the conversation to connect through shared values (similar community, age of children) and offer, not insist, to share what you know about the topic.
CFI research indicates that shared values are three to five times more important than scientific statistics.
The conference included 15 break out sessions, including two taught by Delaware Cooperative Extension staff. Michele Walfred and Tracy Wootten presented on “Smartphone Mobile Studio,” and Maria Pippidis continued her efforts promoting farm vitality with her presentation “Practicing Mindfulness and Intentional Harmony.”
According to surveys conducted after the conference, 97 percent of attendees “felt better prepared to make informed decisions about specific areas of agribusiness,” including risk management, legal and financial information, business planning and marketing.
Ingrid Hopkins of Covered Bridge Inn in Lewes, closed the conference by sharing her journey to preserve her family farm’s historic buildings by creating a bed and breakfast. Hopkins’ entertaining talk covered the renovation process and how her business plan has evolved to respond to increased demands as a wedding venue and agritourism destination.
Similar to Delaware Agriculture Week in January, Extension planners arranged for free health screenings courtesy of Beebe Healthcare.
The Mid-Atlantic Conference is a regional partnership including Cooperative Extension staff and volunteers from New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.
University of Delaware staff serving on the planning committee were Georgie Cartanza, Susan Garey, Michele Walfred, Laurie Wolinski and Tracy Wootten.
Photos of the Conference can be found on Mid Atlantic Women in Agriculture Flickr site.