By Laura Garber

There is no doubt about it, women farmers are taking American agriculture into the future! At the National Farmers Union Women’s Conference held in San Diego, CA this past January, over 80 women in agriculture
from as far as Hawaii, Wisconsin, and New York gathered for four days of learning, sharing, and connecting. The Montana delegation included two long-time small farmers, Pam Gerwe and Laura Garber. In addition, Montana was represented by two college students, Hadley Gideon and Helen Madeen. Both Hadley and Helen have participated in the Cultivating Connections Youth Farm Internship program, a non-profit, on-farm educational program that Montana Farmers Union has supported for the past three years. Thanks to Montana Farmers Union for sending our unique delegation to this special conference! The conference immersed participants in all aspects of being a woman farmer. We were coached in the logistics of running a farm business- from taxes and loans to cash flow and food safety. The myriad of ideas for diversification in farming operations were presented and discussed- from bed and breakfasts and farm dinners, to value added products. Opportunities for leadership as women in agriculture were highlighted. We were encouraged to explore our own leadership potential and to invite other women farmers to take up new leadership roles. Leadership opportunities within Farmers Union,USDA, FSA, as well as in local and state level politics were lframed as possible and important for women to get involved with. A highlight of the conference was the field trip to an urban farm and an urban community garden. With conference participants coming from Montana and other rural states, it is hard to imagine the concept of farming within a large metropolitan area without actually seeing it in action. Together we toured Dickinson Farm, a ¼ acre farm in the heart of San Diego that offers a weekly vegetable and meal subscription program. We enjoyed a light lunch prepared by Dickinson Farm’s on-site chef and then headed to New Roots Community Farm. New Roots has nearly 100 community garden plots that it rents to low-income and immigrant gardeners for year-round growing. At this special farm, we saw wide diversity in gardening techniques and garden plants, representative of the diets and habits of
each of the different immigrant groups using the farm. Something new for our Montana delegation was bananas-many of the gardeners had bananas growing in their plots! Visiting urban farms offered us perspective on our own operations as well as a chance to see how our urban counterparts farm.

In addition to practical knowledge and new insights, the conference also provided an invaluable opportunity for participants to connect with each other, share stories, offer ideas or support, and to be inspired to continue innovating and growing as women in agriculture. Over meals, during breaks, and in the evening, the conversations were deep, meaningful, and relevant to the needs of women farmers. The National Farmers Union Women’s Conference presents a unique opportunity for Montana women farmers to expand their potential. It is a chance for us to share the Montana-made success stories that are changing food and agriculture. Successes and innovations such as the FoodCorps program, which was started in Montana and is now an AmeriCorps national service program in seven states, are important for us to share. The conference also enables us to bring ideas and enthusiasm back to the women farmers of Montana. On behalf of this year’s Montana delegation, I would like to challenge Montana Farmers Union to gather a delegation of ten women farmers and send them and their ideas and enthusiasm to the 2020 National Farmers Union Women’s Conference. I challenge Montana’s women farmers to get involved, get creative, and to use the Montana Farmers Union Women’s Conference to share and expand the capacity of all our women farmers.