By TIM THORNBERRY
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Women have always been a vital part of agriculture, be it on the farm or in related businesses. As statistics point to more women being involved in the industry, a series of conferences in Tennessee will address the topic.
Three Homefront to Heartland workshops will be conducted across the state to “educate and empower women to return to their farm, business, community and family with new confidence, ideas and tools to help them better manage finances, labor, communication and stress,” according to information from the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture.
Chris Sneed, an extension agent in Blount County and one of the event organizers, said women will leave the workshops empowered with new knowledge and skills to better manage the challenges they face as they strike a balance between work and family life.
“Topics are broad enough to impact the entire industry, but specific enough to equip each person with information to change her personal and professional life,” he said.
Those topics for each daylong conference will include such subjects as positive practices in labor management, including record-keeping requirements; a panel discussion in each general session related to funding, including a question-and-answer period; and discussions about insurance and communications skills.
Following the conferences, Sneed said an online learning toolkit will be available with a series of modules to be useful for women in small businesses and agriculture.
The idea of an event focusing on women comes at a time when, in Tennessee, Sneed said the number of women involved and participating in agriculture continues to grow.
“In fact, if you were to look at the Census of Ag in Tennessee from 2002 and compare it to 2007, we actually saw about a 6 percent increase the number of females who identified themselves as principal operators on the farm,” he said. “We are certainly seeing shifts there and we really feel like these women usually hold multiple roles, including non-farm employment.
“They also, many times, are homemakers or taking care of families as well, and so there are multiple roles they are trying to balance, and that’s what we are gearing these conferences toward: Helping them strike a balance.”
Jane Starnes, a research associate with the UT Agricultural and Resource Economics Department, said women are commonly the bookkeepers and human resource agents on a farm, and she would like these conferences to be helpful in a number of ways to those attending.
“I hope these workshops provide them with useful and practical information on payroll records, labor regulations and labor communications that will give them the confidence in these roles on the farm,” she explained.
This conference has taken place since 2009, usually in one location. Starnes said this year it was broken into three workshops to make it more accessible to those who could not travel a long distance. She also said the regional workshop idea could lead to better networking opportunities for those in each area.
“I think there are a lot of women out there who have grown up on a farm or their grandparents had a farm or they lived in a farming community, and they have a lot of passion for agriculture,” Starnes said. “They are just trying to find their role to help serve that love and passion they have.”
Workshops are scheduled for the following locations:
•Knoxville, March 16, at the UT Extension Eastern Region Office, 1801 Downtown West Blvd.
•Murfreesboro, April 13, at the Rutherford County extension office, 315 John Rice Blvd.
•Jackson, May 4, at the UT West Tennessee Research and Education Center, 605 Airways Blvd.
All run 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. For more information about the conferences, go to www.homefronttoheartland.com