A group of women landowners sit in a circle discussing conservation practices for their farms at Root & Sky Farm.

Last month, a diverse mix of widows, wives, daughters, and women farmers gathered at Riley Town Hall for the The Land Conservancy of McHenry County’s (TLC) first Women Caring for the Land Learning Circle gathering of 2022. TLC has been hosting learning circles for the past five years. These learning circles were designed by the Women Food & Ag Network to create peer-to-peer networks that support women landowners looking to implement conservation practices on their farms. 

“Women talked about their desire to improve the health of their farm’s soil and water, and to pass the farm they loved to a new generation of young farmers who would care for it as they did. But business advisors, family members, neighbors, and tenants frequently ignored or opposed these values,” WFAN wrote in a report about the first learning circles they hosted in Iowa. 

Nearly half of all farmland in Illinois is owned or co-owned by women, and many women now manage farmland of their own. But many women landowners have been left out of farm management decision-making in the past. Learning circles emerged to fill this knowledge gap and provide the resources and confidence needed by women to make educated and empowered decisions about their land. The guiding principle of the learning circle is that you are the best expert on your farmland, even if you don’t have all the answers yet. 

This year, The Land Conservancy is pairing with Savanna Institute to teach women landowners about the practice of agroforestry, the integration of trees with crops and livestock. In the morning we heard a presentation about silvopasture, and in the afternoon Tiffany Kriner led us on a tour of her farm, Root & Sky, where we got to see this practice in action. Sheep, cattle, and pigs foraged in the shady forests while the day warmed up to a hot and humid 90 degrees. The attendees kept cool in the shade, too, and swapped stories and experiences over Tiffany’s homemade raspberry chiffon cake. 

Each learning circle serves as a space to connect like-minded landowners and inspire them to think about new ways to use their land. As we went around the circle and described our “land journeys”, the array of experiences and stories shared emphasized women landowner’s desire to hold on to the roots of their family farm. 

One young woman brought along her mom to introduce her to new ideas for their three acres. An older woman recalled her grandfather growing tomatoes on their 260-acre family farm and bringing them to the Campbell’s Soup factory in Chicago. 

A soft-spoken woman from Sweden grew up eating strawberries on her family’s farm and described her desire to ensure children have spaces to observe where food comes from. She concluded her story saying, “Owning land is a tremendous privilege and responsibility. The earth needs chaplins.” 

If you would like to attend a learning circle this year, there will be one held in August focusing on lease agreements and wetland restoration and one in September focusing on agricultural education and pollinators. These learning circles are open to all women landowners in the Midwest region. Find more information and register here!