Posted: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 10:46 AM
Steve Brown/Capital Press
Sheila Gray, standing, introduces local producers, from left, emu rancher Janean Parker, cattle rancher Glenda VanVleck and organic farmer Heidi Peroni. Gray, director of WSU Extension in Lewis County, organized the Women, Farms and Food conference in Chehalis, one of 19 sites across the state.
By STEVE BROWN
CHEHALIS, Wash. -- About 500 women gathered at 19 locations around Washington to discuss issues unique to women farmers, from working with gentler animals to taking over the farm when a husband dies.
"Women are uniquely tasked with the demands of both farm and family, which can make travel to one location a challenge," said Washington State University Douglas County Extension director Margaret Viebrock, who chaired the conference. "This new approach allows us to offer our headline speaker at all locations, while also making the conference specific to each region."
The theme of the conference, "Growing Your Successful Farm Business," built on a keynote presentation webcast to each location. Trini Campbell, owner of Riverdog Farm in Guinda, Calif., shared her experiences of beginning a farm in the Napa Valley in 1990 by renting two acres and sharecropping. She now owns a diversified 500-acre organic farm in the Capay Valley, an agricultural area west of Sacramento.
Campbell described her challenges in managing labor, planning finances, dealing with crop loss and market instability, and maintaining a work-life balance with her family.
Each site hosted a speaker to address the financial needs of the attendees, Viebrock said. The women themselves directed where those discussions should go.
To make the conference even more applicable, each site invited women who farm nearby.
Chehalis, Wash., rancher Glenda VanVleck discussed her 120-acre cow-calf operation. She uses rotational grazing among her cattle, horses and pigs with the help of Australian shepherds. Heavy culling makes for cost efficiency, and gentler animals -- registered polled Herefords -- are more suited to her abilities.
Janean Parker raises emus for their oil, meat and eggs, selling the products at farmers' markets, festivals and other events.
"There aren't enough emus in the U.S. to meet the demand," she said, "but whether it's a success or a failure, I'm having the time of my life."
Heidi Peroni co-owns an organic vegetable farm that has grown to 50 acres, employing 25 seasonal workers. She shared the need to keep a business plan "loose," continually relying on feedback and adjusting the business accordingly.
"Watch the trends that are working for you," she said. "You have to be able to turn on a dime."
Viebrock said small workshops on specific topics are now in the works and will be listed on the website www.womeninag.wsu.edu sponsored by WSU Extension.