Women Farmer Veterans Unite at 4th Empowering Women Veterans Conference

Women farmer veterans from around the nation came together in California’s wine country May 3-5 for the fourth annual Empowering Women Veterans: Business, Agriculture, Well-Being Conference held at the Flamingo Conference Resort and Spa in Santa Rosa, California.

The goal of the conference was to bring women farmer veterans together and equip them with the business and farming tools necessary to be successful in their agricultural endeavors. During the conference, attendees participated in educational workshops, roundtable discussions, listened to distinguished guest speakers, toured a local farm and took advantage of the resort’s impressive facilities to network with their fellow farmer veterans.

“I love our Women’s Conference, not just for the information sharedm but the community of friends that always grows out of it,” said FVC Executive Director Michael O’Gorman. “This year it was especially exciting to see women who came to us six and seven years ago as beginning farmers now giving the classes!”

Kicking-off with a welcome reception on the evening of May 3, the conference got into full-swing on the second day which was highlighted by educational workshops and inspiring speeches from keynote speakers Karen Ross, who serves as Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, and disabled Army veteran Mickey Willenbring of Dot Ranch in Scio, Oregon.

This year, the educational workshops were divided into two tracks based on experience level. The Beginning Farmer Track covered the most important information an aspiring farmer veteran needs to know before starting a farm with topics ranging from business plans and financing to resources and veterans benefits. The Established Farmer Track covered more advanced topics such as land conservation, crop insurance, marketing and time management.

During the evening reception Secretary Ross addressed the audience by delivering an uplifting message to women farmer veterans about the resilience it takes to succeed in the male-dominated profession of farming. And Mickey closed the evening with a moving presentation chronicling the adversity she faced as a soldier during Operation Iraqi Freedom and her path to farming Navajo-Churro sheep.

On the final day of the conference, the contingent got an up-close look at livestock, vegetable and vinicultural production as they toured Santa Rosa Junior College’s nearby Shone Farm, offering a glimpse into the rich agricultural heritage of the region.

Farmer veterans who attended the conference said holding the event is important because it helps foster a community of like-minded women veteran farmers. Retired Navy veteran Lovay Wallace-Singleton underscored this importance by coming to the conference despite her busy schedule.

“I had a lot going on at home, but I really wanted to come and sit with some veterans that are doing what I’m doing and learn something about their experience,” said Lovay, who runs the Veterans Employment Base Camp and Organic Garden in New Bern, North Carolina. “For women farmers, it’s totally different. It makes a difference when you come to a conference like this and there’s other women there that you can talk to about the challenges you face.”

For Army veteran Rebeca Nolan, who owns and operates Dusty Hound Farms in Tetonia, Idaho, the conference was a great opportunity to network with women farmer veterans from around the country.

“Within minutes of talking to someone here, you just kind of click,” Rebeca said, who traded in a career as a project manager at an engineering company in New York to farm full time. “It’s like you both know the same language; you both have the same experiences. It’s really awesome. At first everyone’s a stranger, but after 10 minutes you’re best pals.”

Slides from each speaker’s presentation can be found by clicking here. Stay tuned for announcements about the date and location for next year’s Empowering Women Veterans Conference.