Number of female farmers, women in ag conference attendees, growing

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NEW PHILADELPHIA, Ohio — There are 19 Ohio counties boasting more than 500 women farm operators, according to the most recent USDA census data. Ten of those counties are located in the eastern half of the state.

Against that backdrop, Ohio State Extension and Kent State University-Tuscarawas Small Business Development Center will host the second annual East Ohio Women in Agriculture Conference, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 27, at the KSU Tuscarawas campus, 330 University Drive N.E., New Philadelphia.

The conference will feature 12 sessions focusing on business and finance, production-made and grown, entrepreneurship, and family and community.

A special youth session will also be presented by the Ohio FFA officer team and a careers in agriculture panel.
Agricultural attorney Kristi Wihelmy will be the keynote speaker.

The conference is $55 for adults and $30 for students. Online registration is available at www.regonline.com/womeninageast.

Vendor tables are available for $25 by calling the OSU Carroll County office at 330-627-4310.

Back to farming

Heather Neikirk, Extension educator for agriculture and natural resources for OSU Extension in Stark County, is one of the conference organizers. She said financial crises in the 1980s, and again in recent years, caused a number of working women to look to farming as the next small business frontier.

“Some grew up on a farm and are going back to what they know after losing corporate jobs, some have inherited farms, and the local-food movement is really growing,” Neikirk said of the myriad reasons for seeking an agricultural career.

There now are an estimated 31,000 to 32,000 female primary and secondary (those working in a partnership) farm operators in Ohio.

Running a farming operation, however, can mean coming to terms with some harsh — and often unforeseen — realities, Neikirk said.

“What I see the most is someone who says, ‘I have this (farm), now what can I do with it?’,” she said.
Support group. The conference, Neikirk said, is in some ways an outgrowth of the “promising women in ag” events her Sigma Alpha sorority at Ohio State University hosted 20 years ago.

“FFA and 4-H groups were our targets and in some ways it was recruitment,” she said. “But in other ways it was a network where they could see how someone in a professional role balanced career and family. And we always wanted to do that on a larger scale.”

This sort of support system is particularly important now, Neikirk said, with greater numbers of young women in Ohio than ever entering agricultural careers.

In its inaugural year, the East Ohio Women in Agriculture Conference attracted 90 participants. Organizers feel that number could double this year.

“At this point last year we had 10 or 15 people confirmed,” Neikirk said. “This year, we are at 60.”
For more information, call the OSU Stark Extension office at 330-830-7700.

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